Look At It This Way - December 4, 2015

Layton Flats with Devonshire Road School / Queenstown
Layton Flats with Devonshire Road School / Queenstown
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Top of the world, gran! Much has been written about the old slum dwellings and tenements of our industrial North West.

Few laud the social housing of the 19th century – the stack ’em high and rent ’em cheap terraces. Architecture born of function rather than form.

Blackpool’s tower blocks were the terraced streets of the skies, a quick and easy solution to the housing issues of the day.

They had the mod cons associated with private housing beyond the reach of many – and no outside lavvies. In fact, it was years before less desirable elements started using lifts or stairwells for that purpose. The original residents – and many who followed – had a healthier respect for their surrounds. They knew what had gone before.

The reality check came with the quality of the build – rattling windows, maintenance issues, damp, lifts breaking down, the risks associated with blind spots on stairwells, corridors or ground level.

My gran lived in a tower block at Kirkby, so I always had a soft spot for the teetering terraces of Layton – while more than aware, as a journalist, of the unhealthier excesses.

And I met some lovely people there over the years who loved their high rise living.

My gran fell into the same camp. A trip to her flat was an event because it meant looking up at a building which – to me at that age – went on forever.

It was the polar opposite of what a trip to my great-grandmother’s meant – because she lived above an opium den and I was small enough to see what went on in the basement, although I didn’t understand what I was seeing.

You could get high at my gran’s just by taking the lift. I don’t remember it ever smelling of anything other than Stardrops. The lift buttons were cleaner than those on bank cash machines today.

I’d stretch up to the top button and away we’d lurch – which was also part of the fun.

And best of all, at my gran’s I could step onto the small balcony, careful to avoid dislodging the knickers she had hung out there, so vast I used to think I could parachute below by holding them above my head.

It was a great view – still plenty of green to be seen for Kirkby linked Liverpool with the countryside beyond. People have lived in Kirkby since the year dot, the name of Nordic origin, for church or settlement, and recorded in the Domesday Book. Yet many still see it as a post-war slum clearance overspill estate. It’s a disservice to the community – just as knocking the likes of Grange Park and Mereside is today.

It took a fall - and the loss of her confidence and independence – to force my gran out.

Here in Blackpool the sky is finally falling on the final three tower blocks at Layton. Phase two of the £22m Queens park development has started ahead of demolition early next year of Churchill Court, Walter Robinson Court and Elizabeth Court.

The final residents have moved out – one couple after more than 30 years there – and are ready to make new memories in new homes.

These public housing pioneers of the 20th century reached for the skies in building upwards, but they didn’t build them to last, and that’s no bad thing because it has enabled Blackpool Coastal Housing and Blackpool Council to show vision and provide far healthier housing.

And that investment is far better than the council’s now abandoned plans to borrow millions to build a hotel for others to lease.

I’ve got a feeling we’ve bin had

Blackpool Council has to make £20m of cuts.

If it scraps fortnightly green waste collections to save £300,000 – and I for one would hate to see them to go - there’s still another £19,700,000 to go.

I’m sick to the back teeth of hearing about the Northern Powerhouse while our glib political overlords nationally pay little more than lip service to what the North really needs.

And that’s investment on an epic and strategically targeted scale, not tokenism.

We are effectively at civil war economically.

There’s such a divide between North and South we may as well turn it into a giant sink hole tourist attraction and charge visitors to abseil into the abyss.

Fracking to your left, ladies and gentlemen, just check the aquifers as you descend, we’re already prone to flooding here.

Posh compost bins to your right. Note how they are not being squeezed until the pips pop out of the grapefruit husks. Observe the fast rising landfill mountain to the left – or as we call it the North West.

Just leave our back yards alone. And do take the bins out while you’re at it.