LETTERS : The price of a Yorkshire roof

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The Independent Online
I AM glad that Su Pennington based her excellent article "Debt, the old-fashioned way" (22 January) on Leeds and, particularly, in Bramley. She drew attention to the paradoxes of poor people borrowing beyond their means to purchase basic consumer goods and about the parents who do without essentials to ensure that their children keep up appearances at school. But she failed to focus on housing policy over the past 50 years and its disastrous effect on the people of Leeds.

Housing costs are the biggest single factor in most people's budget and it was an old Yorkshire adage that, even before food, you made sure you had a roof over your head. Thirty years ago, there was still a wide choice of reasonably priced housing. Thousands of cheap back-to-back terraced houses provided a young couple with their first step on the housing escalator, which, if they progressed at work and their family increased, would carry them on to a through-terrace, then perhaps a semi-detached and, e ventually, as children left home, back to a smaller house.

This evolutionary pattern has been all but destroyed by a deliberate policy of demolishing back-to-back housing, forcing families always to live at the financial margin and catching them in the poverty trap. Liberal councillors from the late 1960s fought- against both Labour and Conservative councils - for improvement of these old houses, rather than their demolition. The fact that even today thousands still survive is a consequence of those campaigns but their future is threatened by a lack of renovation. Unless capital is urgently provided to maintain the fabric of the "tidy Victorian terraces", they will have to be demolished, thus adding still further to the people's trials and tribulations.

Michael Meadowcroft MP Leeds West, 1983-87

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