Ancient Rome had high rises, 10 storeys high, lower floors occupied by higher patrician class, precarious upper levels left to the lower plebeian class.
Some residents of Queens Town, Layton’s 16-storey high rises, associated with the post-war obsession to build up, rather than out, as slums were cleared, and communities relocated, joke the Romans probably had better bathing and central heating.
They also laugh over a leaflet, from election time, which at least one resident has had framed. It was issued on the eve of the election on behalf of the two Labour candidates who are now sitting tenants at the Town Hall for four years.
Headed “Queens Park Estate Special: 15 hours to save your home”, it warns: “We believe that if they (Conservatives) win today’s election, they will SELL your homes, and those they don’t sell, we believe THEY WILL DEMOLISH them”. The capital letters are theirs.
History will judge whether Thursday’s demolition decision, by the now Labour-led council, to bulldoze five tower blocks, four of them 14 storeys high, on the estate, will prove far sighted or folly. Some residents cheered. Others are in tears.
The jury’s out on the estate, where only 317 of the 1,200 residents of 504 properties affected, took part in the council’s consultative process, 103 favouring total demolition, 84 partial demolition, 75 no change, 36 no preference, 16 wanting two blocks retained, one expressing “multiple preferences”.
Some 138 residents stated if they were affected by redevelopment they would rather stay at Queens Park. A “large majority, 93.3 per cent”, according to the council’s summary, wanted to stay as council tenants, for all the “decades of neglect” diatribes.
A previously silent majority is now turning vocal. Queues form outside the residents’ association, housed in the first block tipped to come down, Walter Robinson Court, work likely to start at the end of next year.
Where do we go? What do we do? they ask.
Staff at the association say they are “out of the loop”. Staff at the local housing association can’t comment. Canvas passing or queuing locals and some say they will be glad to see the back of their high rise “hells”, tired of waiting for new kitchens, bathrooms, windows, that never came.
Some talk of grabbing the “compo money”, £4,700, and running, but private rental options may be limited by lack of references, cash for hefty deposits, and, with housing allowance falling next year, the balance will come from Job Seekers’ or other allowances.
“We will see a rise in shoplifting,” cautions one resident. “People will steal to eat. We will see a rise in criminality.” Words no one wants to hear in post-riot Britain.
Blackpool-based psychotherapist Steven Pope, who has clients on the estate, hails Queens Park as “a grim monument to Britain’s failed post-war experiment in social housing”.
But Gwen King, chairman of the Queens Park Residents’ Association, (pictured) which has built the estate’s sense of identity over the last 10 years, the office a drop-in for those worried about the future, says: “Just because you haven’t got someone walking past your window doesn’t mean you haven’t got community spirit.”
Charles Court, Ashworth Court, Elizabeth Court and Churchill Court were built in the 1960s, Walter Robinson Court in 1972, born of the architects’ vision of building up when times were hard, space limited, and terraced homes, fallen on hard times, were cleared.
What had been Queenstown, since the 1870s, an old district of Blackpool, as echoed in terraced streets nearby, became Queens Park. The blocks were a quick futuristic fix to housing problems, until high rise but low cost accommodation, and so many one-bedded units, attracted some low-lifers, allied crime, risk of arson, anti-social excesses.
Gwen adds: “Of the 500 properties here, I’d say only 15 are nuisance properties. Could you say that of similar numbers in the suburbs?”
While many see the blight, others see “sky streets”, ill-maintained, but not slums, not on the scale of high-rise hells razed to the ground in Glasgow’s Gorbals or Liverpool’s Piggeries, which became running sewers, walkways a muggers’ or druggies’ paradise.
A Scottish couple say: “They’re heaven compared to what we left behind.”
Most tower blocks are tumbling down, but others are being tarted up, transformed to adapt to changing demographics.
Gwen, who has a two-bed flat at the top, is likely to get a one-bed replacement. “What if you’re ill and want your daughter to stay over? Your grandchildren to stay?”
She favoured partial demolition, and considered applying to have the blocks listed, but we’re not talking Le Corbusier’s high rises here. “It’s a lost cause. That’s why many didn’t do the survey.”
Each block has a distinct identity. No shortage of characters either. At 10.15am yesterday a police van blocks my exit. Officers intervene in an altercation between two men, one tearfully protesting to the other: “Don’t do it mate, I’ll be evicted. I like it here.”