In the second part of The Gazette’s focus on the closing down of Blackpool’s housing slums, STEVE CANAVAN joins council teams as raids begin.
NINE dangerous houses have already been closed as part of Blackpool’s biggest ever crackdown on the resort’s rogue landlords.
Trading Standards chiefs today revealed the locations of the nine properties which have been shut down – and have warned this is only the start as they strive to eradicate filthy rental properties.
>> A property on Coronation Street where 35 Chinese nationals were found sharing 11 rooms and living in squalid conditions. There was no kitchen and two toilets.
>> A house on Alexandra Road where a 41-year-old man was found dead last month.
>> A property on Windsor Road - 100 needles were found inside
>> A house from hell on Charles Street amid fears it would explode. It had been turned into a three-storey drugs den and a wrecking spree inside caused £20,000 of damage.
>> Four houses on Lytham Road and Dean Street, described as “third-world like”, have also been shut.
The other property closed is on Bright Street – the house The Gazette was invited to look around.
It is now boarded up and quiet, but it was once very different.
For years it became a meeting place for dozens of men, women and children, some known criminals, taking drugs and terrorising and intimidating the neighbourhood.
Angela Allen, who runs Hotel Bambi on Bright Street – which had, in better times, been a quiet road a couple of rows back from the Promenade in the South Beach area of the resort – went through years of torment.
She said: “When we arrived a decade ago there were 11 other businesses on the street. Now there are two.
“They’ve just turned into bedsits. One 17-room hotel turned into 17 bedsits with all sorts of undesirables, all let in by the council.
“The police were here every two minutes and they turned up with guns at one point. It was like Beirut.
“What was once a lovely street turned into an absolute nightmare.”
The worst problems came from one particular house.
Mrs Allen added: “There were up to 30 people, including a lot of children, going in every day at all hours. We relentlessly called the police and the council. The police eventually raided it, pulled everyone out, and told the owner to keep his door locked. But they just came back and it was worse than ever.
“They called the owner vulnerable but he’s not the vulnerable one, we are. We became prisoners in our own home. We had our business up for sale for three years but who would want to buy it?”
But after the introduction of selective licensing this year the council had the legal clout to sort the situation out, closing the property down on anti-social behaviour grounds.
“It was for the landlord’s own sake,” explained Alex Bracken, Blackpool Council’s housing enforcement officer. “It was a filthy and dangerous house. We cleaned 100 needles out. There were no working toilets. It was infested with vermin and it was damp. There was no heating, they were lighting candles and there could have been a fire at any time.
“We had to take swift action for the sake of the occupier and the residents on the rest of the street who were suffering.”
The Bright Street property is now boarded up and the council hopes to force a sale and convert it into a family home.
“There are too many HMOs and that causes problems,” added Mrs Bracken. “We want sustainable family homes instead.”
The owner of the house has been placed in temporary accommodation and is getting help from the council to deal with his issues.
“The way he was living was just wrong. It was freezing cold, being taken advantage of by others, and it was the right thing for him for us to close the property,” said Coun Gillian Campbell, cabinet member for housing and enforcement.
“He is being supported now and that’s an important part of what we’re doing – we don’t just move people on because they will go to the next street and the problem goes on.”
As for Mrs Allen, business has improved on Bright Street.
“With the house boarded up, we finally feel as though we’ve got the help we asked for, for so long, from the authorities,” she said.
“It’s taken years of phone calls, a lot of moments when I felt as if I was banging my head against a brick wall, to get to this position. But hopefully, if the council continue like they are, they can sort out a lot more streets in the area and make this the kind of place where people are proud to live.”
The need for better living
AS well as targeting rogue landlords making a fast buck out of poor properties, Selective Licensing is designed to help people living in squalid conditions.
Some big houses in the South Beach area, which used to be B&Bs but have now been turned into bedsits, have as many as a dozen young men living in them.
And while some properties are perfectly fine, run by responsible landlords, others are squalid, dirty places unfit for human inhabitation.
“There are two separate issues here,” said Coun Gillian Campbell, cabinet member for housing and enforcement.
“We are targeting landlords who don’t take their responsibilities seriously but we are also helping the people in our town who need help. The fact we’re actively going round knocking on doors – as part of weekly sweeps of the South Beach area – means we can help people early, before it becomes a crisis.
“There might only be a couple of things a person needs help with – but leave it six months and it escalates.
“Six months down the line they might need hospital treatment or mental health care, or the police might need to get involved, and that drains a lot of resources.
“If we get them early and help them, we can avoid that.
“So this is about being pro-active rather than reactive and it should benefit everyone.”
With nine houses closed since Selective Licensing began that means many people have been left without a place to live.
Coun Campbell added: “We don’t just go in and say ‘you’ve got to leave’. These people are fully supported afterwards.
“And it’s actually better because we’ve had some properties where there are quite a few people with different problems all living under the same roof.
“But we can split them up, which is good, because we know where they are then and we can actually support them, instead of them living somewhere without our knowledge and in terrible conditions.
“Whatever they need then, whether it be a social worker, or a mental health worker, or whatever, we know where they are living and what their problems are and they are really fully supported – and that’s great because they’ve gone from having nothing to having that.”