Tenants to decide future of crime-hit estate

Sandalwood Drive
Sandalwood Drive

Surviving residents of a vandal-hit, half-empty street are being given the final say on its future.

Wigan and Leigh Homes have opened a consultation with those still living on Sandalwood Drive in Beech Hill, which has been plagued with anti-social behaviour in recent years.

I would stress no other part of Beech Hill is affected

Janice Barton, chief executive of Wigan and Leigh Homes

As a result of these problems, many have left the area and with the street looking increasingly worse, the council says it is struggling to fill the remaining houses.

Currently just 13 of the 30 properties are occupied and discussions have now been opened with residents.

The Observer visited the street and found many buildings boarded up with graffiti plastered across them as well as smashed bottles, windows and unoccupied properties that have clearly been broken into.

There are contrasting views as to what the future should hold for the street with one resident saying that the council should flatten houses and those living there re-homed, while another argued that the council should invest in improving the area.

Martin Gray, who has lived on Sandalwood Drive since 2009, had a simple message: “Get us out!”

He added: “They need to flatten it; it’s been like this for well over 12 months now. It’s horrendous to live here.

“You get kids smashing things up and breaking into places. My car window was put through recently.

“They asked me should they spend money improving it but I just said as soon as they do that they will all be back again causing the same problems so it will be a waste.”

However, Mr Gray’s views on what should happen to the street in the future are not shared by all his neighbours.

While Mary Fazackarly says it is becoming an increasingly worse place to live, she thinks it can still be saved with investment.

“The council has told me that they are struggling to find people who want to move in but I know of people who do,” she said.

“I think they need to spend money on the properties doing them up. It’s their fault it has got like this, they’ve left it too long.

“It’s so bad with vandalism and gangs smashing windows and breaking into some of the houses.

“There’s a gang of girls who come down and break into the flat at the bottom.

“But I still think more can be done, I’ve even suggested putting refugees in there.

“We did have a foreign family living here though but they moved because they kept getting threatened.

“There are some real problems but I am quite happy here. I’ve got bad health and I’m close to my family so they can help me.

“My daughter lives around the corner and she doesn’t want to move either.”

The council says that the cost of keeping properties in a good condition has been high.

Coun Phyll Cullen, who represents the Beech Hill area, said: “Ultimately any decisions about the future of Sandalwood Drive lie in the residents’ own hands.

“There has been a lot of anti-social behaviour in that area, more than in most places for that matter and that is why so many people have moved out.

“The homes have been vulnerable from open land at the rear and Wigan and Leigh Homes have really secured the land off but the padlocks were broken and local youths were gaining access.

“The houses have been empty for a while and have been very badly vandalised and these days it is sometimes cheaper to rebuild and repair.

“But until the consultation has gone ahead I would not like to comment further.”

Coun Cullen said that residents would be presented with a range of options for them to consider.

When asked if those options would include them staying in their homes, moving to other accommodation and the possible demolition of the houses with a view to them being replaced with other types of housing she said yes.

Janice Barton, chief executive for Wigan and Leigh Homes, said: “Wigan and Leigh Homes is committed to investing in our communities to improve the lives of all of our residents.

“Despite trying a number of initiatives to boost demand and improve the environment around Sandalwood Drive it has been extremely difficult to attract new tenants into the vacant properties.

“The views of residents and owners in the area are essential in deciding future options for this part of the estate.

“These views will be presented to the Wigan and Leigh Homes board and the council to help them decide on the best way forward.

“I would stress no other part of Beech Hill is affected.”