Sylvia Wilson in some ways is the grande dame of the anti-demolition movement which sprung up in the North a decade ago. A local historian from Whitefield in Nelson, she steered opponents to her council’s clearance plans through two public inquiries, famously defeating the authority on the heritage value of the housing. The Whitefield plan pre-dated John Prescott’s HMR Pathfinder but was pulled into the masterplan later. Sylvia then founded the Homes Under Threat network, after residents from other areas began contacting her for advice on public inquiries.
Still though, winning the fight on heritage value wasn’t the end of the story. A few refurbishment schemes have been undertaken on the margins of the site. Yet nothing compelled the local authority – which by now owned almost all the several hundred affected houses – to bring the properties back into use or prevented them coming back for more. The vast majority have sat tinned up and rotting for more than nine years. Now there are plans afoot to knock them down to make way for a new primary school in Whitefield. Sylvia says there are alternative sites, but the authorities don’t agree. Whitefield is one of the only cases where a community has overturned a HMR CPO. Even this can be a hollow victory.