A collapsed front garden wall, cans of Special Brew strewn about, piles upon piles of rotting rubbish dumped in back yards and alleyways, graffiti, boarded-up windows, overgrown plants covering entire frontages, even a squatter crouching in an out-house.
This was the scene on Friday at some of the empty houses earmarked for Morecambe’s Chatsworth Gardens housing development.
“Can you imagine living in the middle of this?” asked Steve Ogden.
Steve, from the West End Community Partnership, showed me around houses on Albert Road and Chatsworth Road which have been left to rot for 10 years.
News that work is finally due to start on the housing scheme - 10 years after it was first mooted - cut no ice with residents.
Alan and Lesley Cain moved in to a house on Albert Road in 2004, just as the scheme was first being talked about. They have lived opposite a row of rotting, council-owned terraces for 10 years.
Alan said: “We came here from Cornwall, bought the house outright, took out a mortgage, spent £50,000 to redevelop it how we wanted it. Then two years ago I lost my leg. We’ve had a very traumatic couple of years. I had prostate cancer as well. Living here is now not the best place for me. We could do with moving, but we can’t afford to.
“This house is not worth anything. It’s dropped £40,000 in value in the last two years. There’s been bits blowing off roofs opposite us. A piece came down and hit my car. There’s weeds growing everywhere and lots and lots of rats.
“It’s going to get to the point where it’s going to be dangerous and the whole lot will come down.”
Lesley said: “We were told the work would all be done in three years. The council reassured us. We wouldn’t have moved here otherwise.”
Gordon Knight, 79, has lived on the corner of Chatsworth Road since 1974, the West End’s heyday. He says the empty house next door has been burgled three times.
“It’s horrible really,” he said.
“(The council) just don’t do anything. They let (the houses) get broken into and vandalised.
“There are people dossing in them. I’ve had rubbish flying over the wall. They are forever in the back streets flytipping. It’s very frustrating and very annoying. It’s brought the whole area down.”
Steve Swithin, who lives on Albert Road, said: “Millions of pounds has already been spent on purchases, properties in the West End that are currently in an absolutely terrible condition
“The area has sunk to an all-time low while (the council) has been dithering about trying to sort it out, without any apology.”
Here is a timeline of key events in the Chatsworth Gardens saga.
Background: In 2005, the Chatsworth Gardens project appeared in Lancaster City Council’s ‘West End Masterplan’ to improve the West End of Morecambe as a place to live and work. The Government’s Homes and Communities Agency gave £7.8m to the city council, who used some to buy 48 properties in Albert Road, Westminster Road and Chatsworth Road. Some residents didn’t want to move. The original plan was to demolish two terraces on Chatsworth Road to create a central garden area surrounded by new refurbished family homes for sale. There was no interest from private developers and the scheme was dropped
November 2007: National property developers Places For People came on board with a new plan to demolish all the houses and create new terraced homes with roof gardens
July 2008: Planning permission was given for Places For People to create six blocks of 101 flats and houses
December 2009: The scheme was scrapped after Places For People pulled out, blaming the recession
February 2010: The city council agreed to pay a consultancy firm £60,000 to review all options for Chatsworth Gardens.
May 2012: The Government awarded £1.9m funding towards the project. This had to be match funded by the council
December 2012: The city council cabinet agreed to press ahead with the scheme
July 2013: Didsbury-based firm PlaceFirst was chosen as the developer after no other firms showed interest. Their plan was to renovate all the council-owned houses in two terrace blocks creating 92 houses and apartments. PlaceFirst also agreed to match fund the £1.9m
December 2013: The project was delayed for six months after extra Government funding over and above the £1.9m was withdrawn at the 11th hour
February 2014: Planning permission was granted for phase 1, for 51 homes for rent
July 2014: PlaceFirst decided to apply for a loan from Lancashire County Council for extra funding. Further delays were caused by complex legal wranglings
December 2014: PlaceFirst finalised a loan deal with the county council, and signed a final agreement with Lancaster City Council so work can finally begin, 10 years after the plan was first mooted