Owners streets behind in the compensation stakes: Thirty householders are trapped in crumbling properties

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THOSE finding it difficult to sell their houses at the moment may want to consider the plight of 30 home-owners in Erdington, Birmingham, whose chances of selling up and moving house are, at present, zero.

From the street, these houses on Pype Hayes Road look well maintained; the sort of traditional family home that might sell locally for, perhaps, pounds 45,000. However, the houses have a hidden defect dating back to their construction in the late 1920s by a Wolverhampton developer called Boswell.

Experimenting with new methods of building concrete houses, Boswell mixed clinker and waste dust from nearby industrial sites with the cement. As a result, the concrete is cracking and the houses will eventually fall down.

In the other streets of the Pype Hayes estate are many hundreds of similar houses built at the same time by Boswell. Thanks to a campaign by residents, Boswell houses have been officially designated under the Housing Defects Act of 1984. This means that home- owners can be bought out by the local authority, receiving 95 per cent of the defect-free market value. Birmingham City Council, which is redeveloping the whole estate, has already bought 400.

Ironically, however, the designation has merely increased the problems of the owners of the 30 houses in Pype Hayes Road, known locally as the Dunlop houses. The Housing Defects Act only applies to houses previously owned by the local authority. The Dunlop houses are unusual in always having been privately owned.

'We're not covered under the legislation, but we're blighted by it,' said Roy Troth, one of the residents affected. 'Some people think we should be treated in the same fashion as ex-council house owners, but I can't see the Government changing on this.

'Our local councillors and MP have been to see successive ministers at the Department of the Environment, but they don't want to know.'

Next door, David Evans, the chairman of the Dunlop Home Owners Group, echoes his views. 'This has been going on for about four years. To be honest, the city council has done as much as it can but it's being held up by government restrictions.'

At present, therefore, the Dunlop home-owners are in effect marooned in unsaleable houses. In fact, most have no wish to move: many are retired and have lived in the street for many years.

Norman Owen and his wife Doreen, for example, bought their house about 30 years ago. 'We moved out of Birmingham when I was 40-odd. We were going to stay here for the rest of our lives. We've spent a lot of time and money on the house,' he said.

Without compensation under the Housing Defects Act provisions, moving to a new home could also mean taking out a new mortgage or beginning to pay rent. 'I've got hardly any savings. If I've got to start paying a mortgage, where's the money coming from?' Mr Owen said.

Some younger residents have the additional problem of owing money on mortgages for their Dunlop houses: one, for example, has a pounds 17,000 mortgage outstanding, more than the estimated land value of pounds 15,000.

Despite its limited powers, the city council has been trying to devise a solution and has been talking to the Nationwide Building Society about a possible scheme to buy out the Dunlop home-owners and rehouse them in new shared-ownership houses.

The deal could involve rent- free and mortgage-free accommodation, although residents would no longer own their homes outright.

Mr Evans said that Dunlop home-owners are still waiting to be given the full proposals. However, some are still reluctant to accept anything less than the full 95 per cent compensation paid to neighbours across the road. 'We're not there yet, not by a long way,' he said.

Even in his lifetime, Mr Boswell's building work attracted widespread criticism. He was already facing court action in the 1920s for using poor construction techniques and - at least if local stories are correct - later committed suicide.

In 1927 one city councillor graphically complained of Boswell's concrete houses: 'You have given them margarine when they thought they were buying butter.' More than 60 years later, owners in the margarine houses are still awaiting a solution to their problems.

(Photograph omitted)