Former residents speak out as demolition work begins to make way for Liverpool Football Club's stadium redevelopment
Over the past 14 years, the neighbourhood surrounding Liverpool Football Club’s ground has slowly emptied to make way for the stadium’s redevelopment
Howard Macpherson was the first to go. In 1996, he sold the house he had bought a decade earlier to Liverpool Football Club. It stood opposite his childhood home. His early memories are, he says, of a well-to-do neighbourhood: "You couldn't play out on a Sunday. All the steps were scrubbed, and so were the pavements. It was all cobbles, like Coronation Street."
He looks at the boarded-up houses of Lothair Road. "If this house was anywhere else, I'd never have left," he says.
The end-of-terrace building had four bedrooms and a garden. It was perfect for him and his wife to bring up her two children in. Now, the windows of the proud double frontage are covered in metal sheets, as are those on almost every house in half a dozen nearby streets.
Mike Butler, whose mother has lived in the area since 1981, is clear who's to blame: "People were forced out and the football club, through various agencies, bought their properties." Along with property group Your Housing, the club began buying up houses in 2000, sometimes backed with compulsory purchase orders, and leaving them empty. At least 22 houses in the two streets behind the main stand are owned by the club, it was reported last year, but Butler suspects the true number across the area could be as high as 200.
Looming over the garden in which Macpherson's stepchildren used to play is the main stand of Anfield Stadium, home to Liverpool Football Club. Demolition of houses on Lothair Road has now begun to make way for the extension of the stand into one of the largest in Europe, with an additional 8,500 seats. In the high-salaries game of Premier League football, the revenue from these seats is crucial if the club is to compete at the top of the table.
Residents have fought a lengthy battle to protect a community that they remember fondly. "Mum bought the house in 1981," says Butler. "She wanted to live next door to Stanley Park which is right at the end of the road. You almost needed a blood test to get into the area back then. It was beautiful."
He labels what has happened to the area 'stage-managed dereliction'. With each boarded-up house, property prices in the area fell further. Some ex-residents say they had no choice but to accept offers under the asking price, while others say the club were fair or generous. In many cases, they were assisted by Bill McGarry, a qualified town planner and vice-chair of the Anfield Neighbourhood Forum which has been set up using the Localism Act 2011. The group hopes to agree on a compromised long-term plan with the Anfield Project.
The latter – set up by Liverpool Football Club, Liverpool City Council and the housing group Your Housing to oversee the area's regeneration – say the problems percolated under former administrations. The club was bought by current owners Fenway Sports Group in 2010, the same year that Labour won a majority on the council and Joe Anderson became the first directly elected mayor of the city. They can't atone for the sins of their fathers so why should they be held responsible for them?
Anderson said: "A total of £260m is being invested and we have seen more than 100 semi-derelict homes refurbished and 346 new homes built. Plans are also well advanced for a further 300 new homes to be built, the refurbishment of a further 200 homes and the construction of a new hotel, offices, community facilities and shops which will all create jobs for local people.
"The new owners of Liverpool FC said two years ago that their preference was to expand the existing stadium. They have shown great commitment in exploring this preference and last month submitted a planning application to expand the stadium and improve the public area around the stadium to benefit the wider community.
"It's important to note that at every stage over the past two years we have consulted extensively with local residents and businesses and have had overwhelming support.
"Would we have liked to have gone through this process earlier? Yes, of course. But we have made massive progress in the past four years in the face of horrific budget cuts and a global economic downturn. I think the future of Anfield has never looked brighter."
This promise of a corner turned does little for those who have had to live with the reality of the area's degeneration. One elderly resident points from his doorstep to two young men as they climb over a wall behind a row of empty houses. They are gone for a few moments. An alarm rings and they bolt back over the wall and run away down the street. The man's wife calls from inside the house. She rarely comes out, he says, as she suffers from anxiety, in part brought on by the decline of the neighbourhood.
Around 2000, the area was beset by vandalism. In one house fire, three people were killed and in a separate incident, a woman working as a prostitute living on Lothair Road was murdered.
"It's just so sad to think what it used to be," says Suzanne Woods, 31. "All these houses were lived in when we moved here. Now, people come to the football ground and they look at you when you go out to walk the dog. They think you're scum because you live like this. But we're only living like this because of that," she says and lifts a hand heavy with shopping bags to point at the stadium.
Today in the Premier League, Everton face Manchester United, and Arsenal take on Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium. A victory for Jose Mourinho's side, and they could win the Premier League title as soon as Wednesday with a win over Leicester.
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