Fighting displacement and demolition in Rochdale

By College Bank Support Group (@save7sis)

“A lot of residents are socially vulnerable and need people to speak up for them,” said one resident. “Unless someone stands up for this group of people, their lives are going to be totally destroyed.”

Housing policy by consecutive Governments in the Noughties created Arms Length Management Organisations (ALMOs). All Rochdale’s Council Housing was put in the hands of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH). They have now completely broken away from the Council and are an independent Housing Association. Once they achieved this status they decided to raze four blocks of the College Bank estate, affectionately known as The Seven Sisters, in the centre of Rochdale. We were given ‘consultation’ meetings back in 2017 where three options were offered to residents. The third option, which included demolition, was the one RBH pushed for and mirrors similar dispossession consultations throughout the country. At a third ‘consultation’ residents were coldly given the news that the proposals were to demolish the big four blocks. Many people were in tears.

The immediate objective of the College Bank Support Group’s Save the Seven Sisters campaign is to prevent the imminent demolition of the four blocks. RBH are looking to demolish 480 properties and construct 120 town houses on the College Bank footprint. This is an obscene and unnecessary loss of high quality social housing units.

There is a lack of human concern here. The RBH Head of Strategic Regeneration divulged in front of two residents that demolition of the big four was considered to be the best option to attract funding. The rationale is that RBH can access funding for demolition and new build but not for refurbishment. They also state that it would cost £10million per block to refurbish. In fact, the blocks need very little immediate refurbishment. There have been structural improvements with expensive under-floor heating being replaced by night storage heaters. UPVC windows and balcony doors were installed, as were new kitchens and bathrooms. Most recent improvements have been new lifts.

These proposals are driven by greed – access to grants and lower maintenance fees – instead of the welfare of residents. RBH say that rent receipts do not cover the cost of managing and maintaining the flats but, even if that were the case, they took on the whole portfolio of Council housing, part of which is the responsibility to ensure the security of vulnerable residents, many of whom, including frail elderly, live on the estate.

The College Bank high rise estate was built in the centre of Rochdale in the mid to late 1960s, with a view to attracting professional people into the town. Consequently, they were built to an exceptionally high specification, with rooms 20% more spacious than Parker Morris standards. Many of those professionals still occupy the properties, albeit most are now retired. There is now a broader mix with some other residents, born and bred in Rochdale, having also lived here for many years.

“It’s terrifying me now, looking at packing up a life-time of possessions” said one resident in his seventies, “I can’t do things like I used to do. This is my retirement home. I have a heart condition and it could literally kill me to be forced to move.”

An 83 year old says she won’t be leaving her flat without an almighty fight.

“I don’t want them knocked down, I love where I am, really love it. When I’m coming back from my holidays, come off the motorway and see The Seven Sisters, I love it. I want to stop here, I am stopping here. They’ll have to drag me out, I’m not going to go!”

RBH initially claimed that their ‘regeneration’ scheme would result in an additional 500 properties. However, in an interview for Granada Reports on 22nd March, 2019, their Managing Director, Gareth Swarbrick, stated that at the end of the regeneration there would be the “same number of properties but a better mix”.

In January, in an article published on Rochdale Online, RBH said they would not expect all residents to move at the same time. “Households living in College Bank would be rehoused in small phases as we build new homes.”

So, how come at the end of March they issued Initial Demolition Notices to all four blocks, with a view to clearance over seven years, and are already asking people of Mitchell Hey, the first block in their sights, to start bidding for existing properties, without a vacant new build on the immediate horizon? This puts them in direct competition with those already on a vastly oversubscribed housing waiting list. Is it surprising that we no longer believe a word RBH say?

It is Social Cleansing at its worst.


Show your support for College Bank by signing their petition or via JustGiving / Facebook.

11 June 2019