St Helens: Man still living on abandoned estate
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A man living on a derelict housing estate is refusing to move until he is given more money for his home.
Phill Campbell thought he would see out his remaining days in the house he moved into 16 years ago.
However, the 70-year-old is now “living in the middle of a demolition site” with only one neighbour and claims his home is infested with vermin.
His home on Union Street in St Helens, Merseyside, forms part of the Gerard’s Bridge estate, where housing association Torus wants to demolish 61 homes due to concerns about their “future sustainability” and ” wider environmental issues”.
All tenants have now been rehoused except for Phill and his neighbour, who own their homes and are yet to reach an agreement with Torus to buy them out, reports The Liverpool Echo.
Phill said: “They first approached me about three years ago now. They said ‘what would you say if we made an offer to buy your property?’
“Since then and now they’ve rehoused all of their tenants in this area. So there are two houses that remain occupied – there’s myself, and the people two doors down. We both own our properties.”
Phill said Torus offered him £81,000 to buy his three-storey home around 18 months ago, but he turned this down on the grounds that he would need more money to able to buy another house elsewhere.
He said he has sent a counter offer to Torus and is open to the idea of a property swap if he is offered a suitable home elsewhere.
However, he claims he has not heard back from Torus since then and has been left “living in limbo.”
Torus said that both remaining homeowners were “made an offer for their property based on an independent market valuation.”
The housing provider said it cannot move forward with any regeneration plans until all the residents have moved out and it will “reengage with the owner occupiers to discuss the situation in an attempt to find a resolution.”
Phil said: “I’m not being unreasonable in anything I ask. I bought this house as a retirement property and I was prepared to spend the rest of my days here.
“The problem is I’m a pensioner, I’m 70 years old now, and I’m living in the middle of a demolition site and my kitchen is infested with vermin. I do feel isolated and quite vulnerable.”
Torus recently sent someone out to help tackle the rat problem in Phill’s home, but he said they have since returned.
Phill said: “If your property is in the middle of empty properties and people are throwing refuse into the empty properties you’re going to have vermin.”
A Torus spokesperson said: “We appreciate that rats are an issue in the areas and continue to work with both our own and the council’s pest control teams to manage the situation.”
Residents were asked to vote on the plans to demolish 61 houses on Union Street, College Street, Crab Street and Fox Place in July 2019, with 78 per cent of those that voted backing the demolition.
Torus said the final decision to demolish them was made “following meaningful and extensive consultation with residents.”
It is understood there are currently no agreed plans to develop the site once the demolition takes place.
Speaking in November last year, Torus said: “Torus is committed to the regeneration of Union Street and the wider community but there is no agreed scheme for the redevelopment of this site at the present time.”
Residents said anti-social behaviour has been an issue on the estate for years, but it’s gotten worse since houses became empty.
Twenty-four-hour security now roam the estate to help stop vandals from breaking into the empty houses which are boarded up.
Ewa Wilinska, 36, who lives in the shadow of Union Street, said gangs of youths regularly set fire to the empty houses and throw bricks through the windows.
This summer, Ewa said fire crews were called to the same street nine times in seven days after homes were torched and rubbish was set alight in the street.
She said: “We have quite a lot of problems with kids around here. They’re burning rubbish and it’s not really safe for us.
“If you walk over there all the time some place is burning. All the time there’s rubbish, all the time there’s glass.
“It’s frustrating. I can’t go out with my little lad because all the time there’s something – glass, rubbish.”
Ewa had no idea until she moved into her home, which is owned by a private landlord, last year that she would be surrounded by so many derelict houses.
The 36-year-old said she would like to see a regular police presence in the area and better street lighting to be installed.
Ewa added: “That street is so dark. Many times we’re afraid of walking even at 6/7 o’clock when it’s dark, going to the shop because there’s one light over there and it’s all the time flashing.”
Like Ewa, her neighbour Angelika Tysko, 38, also feels forgotten.
Angelika said: “This area has a problem with drugs and anti-social behaviour. The kids are doing everything – smashing windows, everyday they are setting fires.
“When people started to move out, kids started breaking windows, damaging everything and moving fences.”
When Denice, 49, first moved to the area ten years ago she said: “It was a community in my eyes.
“My daughter had friends at the back who she used to play out with. You could ask any of your neighbours if you needed anything.
“Since they started emptying the houses that’s what’s changed. We’ve had drug users in there, kids setting them on fire. People have gone who lived there before – it’s just a derelict estate now.
“They’re overrun with rats because of people dumping rubbish. If they’re not going to demolish them put people in them.
“I don’t want to stay now my friends have gone. There isn’t that community spirit anymore.”
Doreen, 68, who asked only to be referred to by her first name, said: “I think it’s disgusting that they’re still standing.
“They should have been demolished when they said they were demolishing them. The estate is empty.
“As it stands they’re a danger to people. There’s a big hole in the roof of one of the houses where the fire has been. I’ve seen people climbing in there.
“The rats live around there and the mice. They’re upstairs in my roof, fighting in the loft. I’ve got to put up with this every day and night.”
Paul Warburton, Torus Group Housing Director, said: “Torus are fully committed to the regeneration of the areas and we understand the length of time this is taking has been frustrating for residents.
“Unfortunately, Torus cannot move forward with any regeneration plans until all the residents have moved out, as partial demolition is not an option due to utility supplies and prioritising people’s safety and wellbeing.
“Although we cannot comment on an individual case, we can confirm that owner occupiers have been made an offer for their property based on an independent market valuation, unfortunately these offers were refused, we will remain in contact with these residents to try to reach a solution.
“Our focus, over the past few months, has been rehousing Torus residents, which has taken some time.
“We can confirm that as of last week, they have been rehoused to other properties.
“Our focus can now return to the two owner occupiers and do apologise for any delays in getting back to them.
“We are aware of the ongoing issues around anti-social behaviour, and we continue to work with the Police to try to address these issues as well as the 24-hour on-site security we have implemented.
“We appreciate that rats are an issue in the areas and continue to work with both our own and the Councils pest control teams to manage the situation.
“We have also provided fencing to the site to prevent access and fly-tipping.
“We are sorry these ongoing issues are causing upset to the surrounding residents and we will be in contact with them over the next few weeks to provide further updates, we will also be looking to reengage with the owner occupiers to discuss the situation in an attempt to find a resolution.”
Merseyside Police’s St Helens local policing Inspector Stacey Pope said: “We take the issue of antisocial behaviour very seriously and would urge residents to report any concerns and we will take action.
“We continually work with local organisations and schools in the community to engage and educate children on acceptable behaviour.
“Our local policing team have also given advice to the housing association on improving security on the site.
“In addition we attend regular meetings with partner agencies, including housing associations and the local authority, to discuss any incidents of anti-social behaviour so we can respond accordingly and provide a visible presence to tackle any issues.”
Anyone who has information about anti-social behaviour in the area can contact us by sending a DM to @MerPolCC, calling 101 or contacting Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
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