Families fear homes 'filled with love and memories' could be flattened

Sandra Davidson, with husband Peter, at the Palace Fields estate
-Credit: (Image: Colin Lane/Liverpool Echo)

Residents of a housing estate are "furious" at plans to flatten hundreds of homes.

In May this year Halton Council’s Development Management Committee met at Runcorn Town Hall where it approved plans by housing association, Riverside for the next phase of a £80m regeneration scheme in Palace Fields, Runcorn.

It will see 343 homes in Palace Fields demolished, along with Palace Fields Community Centre and closure of two subways. This will then be followed by construction of 391 new homes as well as further community spaces, roads, footways and cycleways. The plans are part of a scheme by Riverside aimed at regenerating the area over the next decade.

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Some local residents have objected to plans due to the prospective loss of their homes, including those who own their properties or have adapted them for their own specific needs, such as for disabled family members. Many have lived on the estate since it was built in the 70s.

Riverside said it remains committed to working with residents and listening to their feedback, and completely understand that some households were concerned about how the changes might affect them.

Speaking at the meeting, objector and local resident, Mr Davidson said many residents were struggling to sleep due to worry and stress, with some needing to take antidepressants.

He said: “For Riverside, these properties appear to be like pieces on a Monopoly board, which can be bought, sold and moved. But for residents they are so much more. These properties are homes filled with love and long-lasting memories.”

In light of recent events, residents of the Palace Fields estate spoke to the ECHO, criticising the move which they claim could see them "turfed out" of homes where some of them have lived for decades.

Residents on The Uplands in Palace Fields, Runcorn, including Sandra Myndiuk-Davidson, third from left
Residents on The Uplands in Palace Fields, Runcorn, including Sandra Myndiuk-Davidson, third from left -Credit:runcornweeklynews

Carl Storey is a homeowner on The Uplands. His parents live next-door while his elderly grandmother also calls the estate home. He claims he has spent "about £45,000" on his house in "the past two years" and that all of his money is now "gone".

Calling the situation "a huge mess", he said: “They’re actually knocking down more than they’re building, which makes absolutely no sense. My nan is 92 and has lived in her house since these were built; she’s lost her daughter and her husband so all of her memories are in that house. But as far as Riverside is concerned, it’s just: ‘Go somewhere else’."

Carl claims Riverside has offered homeowners the market value of their house plus 10% of that figure. However, the dad explained his dissatisfaction with the proposal. He said: "That’s whatever the market value is at the time but it could be low at the time that they start offering us amounts.

“If they give you the market value and the house is worth £100-120k, and then they give you 10% which is £10-12k, you’re not going to find a lot of houses for £130k which have all your memories in it, or a kitchen or bathroom the way you need it. For example, I've had to make modifications to my home because my son is in a wheelchair."

He continued: “All the estate agents around here are going to put the prices up because they know people are going to want to stay in the area for hospitals, schools and for work. So the market is inflated because more people are going to need homes."

Palace Fields is in the Weaver Vale parliamentary constituency. Before the dissolution of parliament for the July general election, Mike Amesbury was the MP for the area. He was a member of Keir Starmer's shadow cabinet, most recently as Shadow Minister for Building Safety and Homelessness.

The Uplands, Palace Fields estate, Runcorn where proposed plans to knock down houses in their street
The Uplands, Palace Fields estate, Runcorn where proposed plans to knock down houses in their street -Credit:Colin Lane/Liverpool Echo

Carl claims residents had to "almost argue" for him to attend the local community centre to give them some answers. He added: "After about 12 months, he finally came in and said he could only give us half an hour of his time.

“He said that he didn’t want any compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) to be given out but that he has to welcome in regeneration money - and I do get that - but there’s plenty of land around here to build on and there’s plenty of other really old housing estates which really could benefit other than this one."

Carl claims "everyone is devastated" by the plans. He said: “I’d prefer that they didn’t knock this down but if they’re adamant about it then it has to be like for like; if they want my three-bed house then they need to give me one of their three-bed houses - or at least more than the extra 10% because this house alone has set me back at least £160k.

“There’s people who’ve missed birthdays, weddings, events so they can work to pay their house off and now they’re just taking it off of them."

Sandra Myndiuk-Davidson has lived in Palace Fields for more than 40 years. While her home is not planned for demolition, she founded The Uplands Group in September 2022 in order to help other residents.

Speaking to the ECHO, she said: “It’s dreadful. I found out about what was happening from a neighbour.

“The group now meets every month and has grown from three to 12 people on the committee. Members include councillors Alan Lowe and Dave Thompson - they’re superb for their support."

Sandra Davidson and husband, Peter, who set up a group to "help local residents"
Sandra Davidson and husband, Peter, set up a group to "help local residents" -Credit:Colin Lane/Liverpool Echo

She continued: “Riverside are not thinking about the people. Tenants will all be moved out and put into other houses in Halton. But where are they going to find 200 houses to put people in? One or two people think that they are going to be coming back to brand new houses - that’s not going to happen.

“People are furious about the way they’ve been treated.”

Even though Sandra will not be moved out, she raised concerns about what life will be like while demolition and construction work is underway. She said: “My husband is very ill with COPD and has extreme emphysema; we don't know how we are going to live here because the dust from the demolitions will kill him.

"We’ve got many elderly neighbours and I know people who've been to the doctor’s because they are so worried." She added: “Also, how are kids going to play out when all this is going on? It’s not going to be safe and the noise will be dreadful."

One resident, a 59-year-old homeowner who didn't want to be named, has lived on The Uplands for 34 years, He said: "They haven’t been straight with us from the off. First of all, they said they wanted to make improvements to the estate so we thought that was brilliant, a win-win; the tenants get something and we get something.

“Then suddenly, we get a letter through the door saying that our house is earmarked for demolition. There was no ‘would you consider it?'"

He continued: “This is killing me. I’ve already had one heart attack but now I’ve got the stress and the strain of everything that’s gone on and the unfairness of it all. I’ve worked days, nights, weekends, kids birthdays, Christmas to pay off my mortgage. We’ve worked all our lives for what little we have and now Riverside has come along and done this.

“We’re going to be made effectively homeless. It’s all very good with Riverside saying that we will get 10% but what can we, in essence, buy for that extra 10%.

"There’s 50-60 homeowners who are going to be turfed out so house prices are going to go up. The only houses which we can afford are other Riverside houses. If we move over the road to another estate, in three or four years time, the same thing could happen there."

He added: “I’ve bought and paid for this place. It’s f**k all, but it’s mine!"

While the ECHO understands no CPOs have been handed to any homeowners yet, neighbours are worried that refusing to sell their homes will ultimately lead to receiving one.

The Uplands, Palace Fields estate, Runcorn
The Uplands, Palace Fields estate, Runcorn -Credit:Colin Lane/Liverpool Echo

A spokesperson for Riverside said: “We have been working closely with residents in Palace Fields since 2019, and they have played a fundamental role in shaping our regeneration plans. We want to reassure residents that we remain committed to working with them and listening to their feedback.

“Our overall ambitions to regenerate Palace Fields (across The Uplands and Local Centre sites) will provide a net increase of 48 new affordable homes and nearly 400 new homes overall available to the community.

“From our extensive community engagement and consultations, we know there is a high level of support for our aims to regenerate Palace Fields to deliver high quality thermally efficient homes and a better neighbourhood with an upgraded local centre. However we completely understand that some households are concerned about how the changes may affect them. Planning permission has already been granted for the first two phases of development, following careful consideration by Halton Borough Council.

“Riverside’s specialist housing and regeneration teams will work with individual households to talk through moving options with the aim of finding a suitable property that meets their needs.

“As part of the project, we are prioritising existing homeowners and residents for the new and existing homes, and will offer a range of options to enable impacted homeowners to be able to afford to move into the newly developed homes such as enhanced disturbance payment and equity loans. We are in the process of producing offer documents ready to communicate these offers to affected homeowners, and will meet the cost of independent financial advice for those affected.

“We will also be working closely with residents to re-provide adaptions in their homes and will follow any guidance set out by occupational therapists.

“As with all our development schemes, we make every effort to minimise impact on the community and maintain safety, including through selected working hours, using subtractors who have undergone rigorous health and safety approvals, and regular maintenance to prevent spread of waste. Works will also be phased, with any areas requiring limited access communicated to residents.

“We want to remind residents that we have a dedicated team available to provide a variety of personalised support and share any concerns or feedback with.”

Mike Amesbury, Labour parliamentary candidate for the new Runcorn and Helsby seat said: “The whole scheme represents an £80 million investment in a left behind neighbourhood. Funding for new housing, community facilities and the environment is desperately needed and is supported by the vast majority of local residents.

“The two phases of the Palace Fields regeneration will create 391 new homes, 80% of which will be affordable, with an additional 48 dwellings overall. As Shadow Minister for Homelessness, I naturally welcome genuinely affordable housing, within sustainable neighbourhoods, at both a local and national level.

“However, I understand any regeneration has an impact on existing householders and I will always stand up for residents, including the small minority affected in this case. I have supported householders by taking up concerns expressed in email correspondence and at my regular surgeries. In June 2023, I promoted a dedicated Uplands surgery where people were invited to air their views."

He continued: “Earlier this year, I attended an open meeting with The Uplands Group when I met predominantly owner-occupiers who wish to remain in their homes.

“As the then MP for Weaver Vale, I spoke up for impacted residents in a statement read to the planning committee before the Uplands application was determined. I made clear that I did not wish to see their homes subject to a CPO. The scheme must work around their properties if people do not wish to move.

“Riverside has a team committed to supporting anyone affected to relocate to suitable homes, including offering financial and physical relocation assistance. My hope is that bespoke solutions can still be agreed in as many cases as possible.”