Welsh Streets, Liverpool
|Type||Victorian Terraced Streets|
|Owner||Place First Northwest|
|Area||Toxteth, Liverpool, England|
|Known for||Birthplace of Ringo Starr|
The Welsh Streets is a moniker for a collection of late 19th century Victorian terraced streets located in Toxteth, Liverpool, England near Princes Park. The houses were designed by architect Richard Owens and built by Welsh workers to house immigrants seeking work from Wales, named after Welsh villages and landmarks.
Following a period of decline in the late 20th century, plans were announced in the early 2000s as part of the Housing Market Renewal Initiative programme to demolish the estate and build new, but fewer, houses in their place. Despite the area being cleared of residents and houses prepared for demolition at a cost to the council of nearly £22 million, funding was withdrawn in 2010 upon the change in Government and the demolition never materialised.
Subsequent revised demolition and renewal proposals by the council and housing group Plus Dane were rejected by the Government on the grounds of the affect it would have on cultural heritage. Instead, a housing renewal company took ownership of some of the properties, initially on a pilot scheme, to extensively renovate and make available for rent. The first tenants moved in to Voelas Street around September 2017. Place First, the company renovating the properties, won an award in November 2018 as a result of the standard of the refurbishments.
The Beatles member Ringo Starr was born in Madryn Street, before moving at aged 4 and the house is a frequent tourist attraction. Whilst some houses were lost through wartime bombing and rebuilt, albeit to a different architectural style, the majority of the terraced properties in the original street configuration remain to the current day.
The streets include Wynnstay Street, Voelas Street, Rhiwlas Street, Powis Street, Madryn Street, Kinmel Street, Gwydir Street, Pengwern Street and Treborth Street. Other streets, such as Vronhill Street and Pimhill Street were built on the west side of High Park Street as shown on maps from the early 20th century, although have since been lost through regeneration of newer housing. The Welsh Streets moniker is named as such given they were constructed by Welsh builders for immigrants seeking work and housing from Wales, named after Welsh towns, valleys and villages. When constructed, the street widths were generous, with the inclusion of trees planted in the early 20th century that did not protrude upon the housing and positioned with sufficient clearance.
The streets are within a close proximity to Liverpool City Centre and within 15 minutes walking distance to Liverpool Cathedral, which is clearly visible from the streets. Situated right next to the streets is Princes Park, designed and laid out by architect Joseph Paxton in 1840. The area falls within the Princes Park ward for local councillors.
Maps from 1846 show that South Street, the road which runs along the end of each of the Welsh Streets, would have been a rear access lane. A map from 1846-1848, prior to the housing estate construction, shows an area clear of any significant dwellings, with a Tanyard located in what would become Kelvin Grove. By 1850, there were over 20,000 Welsh builders working within Liverpool who required housing. Land in Toxteth was leased for housing development, with the streets designed by architect Richard Owens and built by D Roberts, Son and Co, who together constructed over 4,000 houses predominantly during the 1870s. In the latter part of the 19th century, just under a third of the city's population of 450,000 were Irishmen born in Ireland, just ahead of Welsh immigrant numbers, of which there were 80,000 who had been persuaded to migrate by the promise of work opportunities.
The terraced houses have outlived many subsequent housing developments, such as towers and tenements. Some properties were lost during wartime bombing and were replaced during the 1950-1960s with housing typical of that period, but not in keeping with the original architecture. The streets with post-war houses were Kelvin Grove, Wynnstay Street and Madryn Street, with the replacement houses built as a combined standalone structure and thus reducing the number of properties in the available space compared to the original terraced arrangement. A map from the 1970s shows partial demolition and redevelopment had already started on the opposite side of the Welsh Streets, specifically Jolliffe Street and Foxhill Street, with those streets and others to the south having been entirely redeveloped by the end of the 1980s. In 2006, then-Leader of the Opposition David Cameron visited the streets with Michael Heseltine and said he was baffled with the proposed clearance plans. The area went through decline during the latter parts of the 19th century, with half of Voelas Street being demolished and properties gradually becoming derelict as residents moved out. Most of the houses were still inhabited until early 2007.
Around half of the houses originally constructed by Richard Owens around Liverpool had already been lost by the early 21st century, with the original clearance plans potentially accounting for a further 10% loss of the remainder.
Decline and Pathfinder renewal
In the early 2000s, the Housing Market Renewal Initiative programme was launched, intended to renew housing stock across the country and raise house values in perceived areas of deprivation, with the Welsh Streets area incorporated into the renewal programme. A survey in 2003 found that 72% of respondants were at least satisfied with their home and over half were at least satisfied with the quality of housing in the area, whilst only 1% believed demolition would improve the area. The renewal programme's proposals were to demolish 500 Victorian terraced houses and replace with 370 new build houses, with a smaller scale refurbishment elsewhere. When the plans were submitted, over half of the properties were under social landlord control. The basis of the demolition plans was due to the location affording an attractive development site once cleared.
Council survey data published in 2005 showed the Welsh Streets were broadly popular with residents and in better than average condition, but were condemned for demolition because of a perceived over-supply of obsolete terraced houses in Liverpool. When residents were consulted over the clearance plans in 2005, a 58% majority favoured retaining the houses over demolition. In Madryn Street alone, residents voted 33-1 against plans to demolish the houses. The land was offered to private developer Gleeson's and social landlord Plus Dane, with proposals published for lower density houses. Some residents were happy to be offered new homes, while others were determined to stay, dividing the local community. Some residents who were keen on staying expressed concern that the planned hew housing would cost around double (£120,000) what they were being offered for their home (£62,000), with mortgages unlikely to be offered to older residents. The Neighbourhood Renewal Assessment in 2005 stated that the environment around the Welsh Streets was bleak and that effective redevelopment following a clearance would significantly contribute towards regenerating the area. Much of the propertys' value came from investors who acquired the properties during Liverpool's European Capital of Culture period in the hope they could profit from reselling to the local authority.
By 2009, over 100 residents had been rehoused together into a neighbourhood nearby which they had helped to design, whilst others had left the area altogether. Homes acquired by the council were reduced in value by 20% each year to allow transfer to the council's preferred development partner for a nominal sum, whilst still being within the legal parameters for achieving fair market value. A three-storey townhouse in Kelvin Grove, acquired for £110,000 in 2011 had been reduced in value to just £1100 by 2015.
Opinions and renewal proposals
Clearance proved contentious, with some taking the view that the houses were beyond rescue, while others believed them to be fundamentally sound. Campaigning charities led by Merseyside Civic Society and SAVE Britain's Heritage asserted that renovation would be preferable and cheaper. Although predominantly of Victorian architecture, some of the properties had been constructed during the 1950-1960s as post-war replacement houses and these were described in an Affordable Housing Program assessment as having "no value in the context of the 19th century terraced houses".
In 2011, then-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles quashed planning permission for demolition and required an Environmental Impact Assessment. New proposals for demolition of 250 houses were endorsed by Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson in 2012 and Housing Minister Grant Shapps, who visited the area to announce retention of 9 Madryn Street and 15 adjacent homes. Plans submitted in 2013 suggested that 150 houses could be built and 40 refurbished, including those around the house where Ringo Starr was born. The cost was estimated to be in the region of £15 million which would have seen the demolition of houses from the other surrounding Welsh Streets to be replaced with semi-detached properties. The managing director of the proposed regeneration, Claire Griffiths, suggested that 70% of residents had favoured the plans, yet housing charity Empty Homes disputed the credibility of the public opinion report, given the criteria used would have made it difficult to conclude refurbishment as a favourable option.
The plans ultimately fell through when in January 2015 following a public inquiry, Eric Pickles halted the demolition plans, with specific focus on Madryn Street stating that "the demolition of much of Madryn Street will significantly harm the ability to understand and appreciate this part of Liverpool’s Beatles heritage." Pickles further disputed that the streets were of low significance, believing that the proposals would be harmful to what he perceived as a heritage asset. Pickles agreed with the argument put forward by SAVE and the National Trust, specifically in relation to Madryn Street, in that demolition of much of the street, together with the wider Welsh Streets region would "significantly harm the ability to understand and appreciate this part of Liverpool's Beatles heritage", citing the potential impact for future tourism if the proposals had been accepted. Although the streets had not been designated as a heritage asset, Eric Pickles believed the proposals would be significantly harmful to cultural heritage and have a detrimental impact on the character and appearance of the nearby Princes Park, directly contrasting the view of an inspector who had previously concluded the streets were of low significance to the heritage of Liverpool.
With few alternate options, refurbishment was deemed viable by the council. A partnership was agreed with Placefirst, who had experience in renewing derelict properties. A pilot scheme in 2017 involved the refurbishment of houses in Voelas Street to demonstrate how the houses could be remodelled and to determine public opinion and uptake. Upon launching the scheme to prospective tenants, all properties were taken within the first weekend, with expected residents moving in around September 2017. The renovations involve remodelling some floorplans and knocking through to adjacent homes to create larger houses, whilst retaining some of the original houses in order to cater for various residential requirements.
Following the success of the pilot scheme, refurbishment of other Welsh Streets was approved, meaning that 300 homes would be refurbished or constructed, with the council hoping that around 75% of existing housing stock could be retained. The proposals involved knocking some houses together to create larger living spaces, with over two thirds available to rent and around 10 percent available to purchase. Long standing vacant land on Voelas Street, Wynnstay Street and South Street will become occupied by 52 new-build properties, described by the contractor as a continuation of the refurbishment of existing properties with the same landscaped communal spaces to replace the traditional yards and alleys.
The cost to the council to instigate and process the scheme was in the region of £21.7 million, of which the vast majority, nearly £20.9 million was required for the purchase of properties and the associated legal fees. The cost to secure properties was a little over £525,000 and just over £280,000 was spent to disconnect all services to properties.
In November 2018, contractor Place First won the Refurbishment Project of the Year Award 2018. The following year in October 2019, the project was named as the top residential scheme at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors Awards Grand Final.
Notability and culture
Ringo Starr birthplace
Musician Ringo Starr was born in 9 Madryn Street, where he lived until the age of 4 before moving to nearby Admiral Grove. The threat to Starr's birthplace was announced in 2003, whilst a proposal was made in September 2005 to take down the house brick by brick and rebuild it as a centrepiece for the Museum of Liverpool Life, contradicting Liverpool Council's earlier claim the house had no historic value. Starr said it was not worth taking the house down simply to rebuild it elsewhere, as it would not then be his birthplace. Many suggested demolition of the area surrounding Starr's home was unsatisfactory, claiming "People liked the city's character, not packaged replicas". The house forms part of Liverpool's "Magical Mystery Tour" and tourists would still visit even during the period of neglect and dereliction.
By 2014, the value of the derelict house had fallen to just £525, having been valued around £60,000 just the year before. At one time, the house was owned by Merseytravel with frequent tourist groups visiting the property. Madryn Street remained derelict up to 2018, awaiting refurbishment by Place Northwest as with the surrounding streets.
Peaky Blinders TV series
One of the Welsh Streets, Powis Street, doubled as Watery Lane in 1920s Birmingham for the TV series Peaky Blinders. All house exteriors were painted black to achieve the desired look and feel of the period. Filming on the street had to cease in 2017 due to refurbishment work commencing.
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