|Issue 17 - December 1973|
|Council Vandalism At Langley Moor|
So as the winter nights draw in, you stoke up the coal on your living room fire, settle back in your armchair, feet up, and watch the pictures on your television set and think nothing can happen to alter things. You've got your own home, you're safe and secure. Right?
Mr. Dick Shell lives at 95 High Street North, Langley Moor, and he's got a nice home. The hall's nicely decorated, green plants growing all over the place. The living-room is warm and inviting, comfy armchairs, glass and wood cabinets and wall-to-wall carpeting like the other rooms in his house - three bedrooms and bathroom upstairs, dining room and kitchen downstairs. Mr. Shell is fighting a compulsory purchase order by Brandon & Byshottles Urban District Council to demolish his home.
Born in Brandon, Mr. Shell was living in the same house in Langley Moor when he got married 32 years ago, only then it consisted of two rented properties and he was the tenant of the three rooms at the front part of the building. As soon as he got married he put his name down for a council house. Time went on and Mr. & Mrs. Shell had two children but the Council told him they considered the three-roomed house big enough for him and his family. Twenty years after Mr. Shell put his name on the Council's housing list, they decided he could have a flat, but Mr. Shell wanted a house not a flat, turned down the offer and had his name removed from the list.
Eventually his landlord decided to offer him both the front and back of the house, and, with the help of a building society mortgage (which he's still paying off) and a discretionary grant from the Council, Mr. Shell bought and modernised the building. The Council told him the house was good for another 25-30 years: that was 10 years ago.
Mr. Shell claims that the Brandon & Byshottles U.D.C. have always been biased against Langley Moor, which stands right on the edge of their boundaries, but whatever, in the autumn of 1972, after various decisions to first of all demolish all bad properties in the village and then to allow people to modernise blocks of buildings, the Council announced that modernising Langley Moor was not a viable proposition and they had decided to apply for permission to demolish about 100 buildings in High Street North, High Street South, Littlebum Lane and Herbert Street. They propose to grass over and plant trees on the resultant 90-odd acres of waste ground and thereby "beautify the approaches to Brandon New Town".
Langley Moor's representatives on the Council - Mrs. Holliday, Mr. Sowerby and Mr. Graveling - held a meeting to tell the villagers of the Council's proposals. Mr. Shell was one of the villagers present but the meeting was sufficiently well-organised to prevent him upsetting the applecart. One point none of the councillors answered satisfactorily, however, was why the Council were allowing people to modernise buildings at Meadowfield but not at Langley Moor, both of which are Category D areas ( - Category D areas allow for no new development, but do not necessarily mean demolition). They argued that the buildings to be demolished were not worth retaining or modernising - the rooves were uneven and heavy traffic on the Durham-Brandon road had affected the foundations. Yet the houses adjoining both the road and the railway line, whose foundations are surely subjected to greater stress, are not among those due to come down.
The Council have also said the clearance will improve the amenities of Langley Moor. Presumably, this is a reference to the one building they are planning to erect amidst all the grass and trees - a public convenience. The village's shopping centre will remain untouched by the plan - apparently to cater for passing trade as a large number of homes round about will have disappeared under bulldozer clouds. (The Council has already reclaimed allotments in the village without providing an alternative site.)
"It's not to improve the amenities," says Mr. Shell. "The Council's objective for years has been to annihilate Langley Moor. Over the years this local authority have rejected applications for modernisation and improvements. They have allowed properties to become dilapidated to the detriment of others and now they say the only cure is to demolish the whole lot.
"At the present time there are perfectly good houses, which, if the occupiers were allowed to improve them, could be made into good homes. There are also houses standing empty which could house many a needy family, but the Council, in their despotic way, have blocked all attempts to make and keep them respectable. This authority's way of thinking is better an avenue of trees and grass than homes - to me it's an insult."
have also made noises in the past about the large amount of vandalism
in Langley Moor, but Mr. Shell points out that vandalism has increased
since it became general knowledge that the area was due for demolition.
Since the last public meeting Mr. Shell has even had stones thrown at
the windows of his house. "It makes you think," he says. "In
my opinion the biggest vandals are the Council. This was the main centre
of activity in this area and they have destroyed it".
levels more specific charges against Brandon & Byshottles U.D.C.,
"It stinks to high heaven what's going on here," Mr. Shell alleges. "If there is sufficient outcry, the public will get to know what is going on in this local authority - it's time an ombudsman was appointed to look into it all.
"It's political bias to destroy a locality which has dared to oppose the ruling body. Our East Ward had three representatives and we're only going to have one in the new authority. They destroyed Littlebum for an industrial estate and they have destroyed Browning, but Langley Moor is our home and we do not intend to move for grass and trees - it'll take the Army, Navy and Airforce to get us out."
Mr. Shell believes the Council will eventually build on the land, but in the meantime the people of Langley Moor will lose their homes.
He points out that none of the Council officials, whose decisions and influences rule the lives of those within their authority, live within the district themselves, let alone in Langley Moor - the chairman lives at Bear Park, the clerk at Belmont, the health inspector at Pelton, the engineer at Spennymoor. "Why should we be under their thumbs to do what they say we're going to do?"
The Council have offered those villagers affected by the demolition plan alternative housing in Brandon New Town - "their concrete Utopia" Mr. Shell calls it.
"It's a shanty town - they've got bigger slums up there than they have here," states Mr. Shell. "Old people have to walk a mile for a shop. Rents are higher in Brandon as' well".
Mr. Shell admits that the inhabitants of Langley Moor have been rather slow to voice their opposition to the Council's scheme and that so far the fight against the demolition proposals has been more or less a one-man crusade on his part ( it was through him that a state inquiry into the project recently took place - the result of the inquiry has yet to be made known). "People seem scared of the Council. Most of the people here now are old - they are bewildered by it all".
The straight press has shied away from printing Mr. Shell's side of the story, while his M.P., Mr. Armstrong, eventually granted him a five-minute audience and then promised to keep in touch - since when Mr. Shell has heard nothing.
However, Mr. Shell has contacted the local Shelter representative, Mr. Keith Murray, who is prepared to address a meeting of the people of Langley Moor to see if anything can be done about the situation. A strong community association could probably have nipped the Council's plans in the bud, but Mr. Shell is hoping that the villagers will now show enough concern about their future to contact him with a view to holding a meeting in the Salvation Army Hall.
"I'm fighting for my home and the homes of other people. How much longer are the citizens of Langley Moor going to remain silent about what the Council is doing to their village? The longer they stay silent the village of Langley Moor is going to be annihilated".