When thousands upped sticks and moved into a growing new community in the east of Northampton back in the 1970s, the pristine estates were a symbol of pride. But 40 years on, one of the original “settlers” says years of under maintenance has changed all that.
Back in a Northampton Chronicle and Echo editorial in 1975, we took a glance at life in the new estates in a feature we titled East Side Story.
It took a snapshot of the 11,000 people who had moved into Thorplands, Lumbertubs, Standens Barn, Lings, Goldings Overstone Lodge and Bellinge, following the new arrivals as they visited the area’s two new pubs, ate meals at home and got involved in community groups.
The housing areas built on “virgin land” were constructed by order of the Government to relieve the overcrowding in London.
Colin and Anita Gordon were among the many to migrate north from the capital to live in Southfields One in 1977.
It was a good move initially. In their early days they describe a community feel among the settlers, with many gathering for street parties. Stories at the time show hundreds of people getting together to plant bulbs and new saplings on the freshly turned earth.
But in 2016 Colin is among many in the area who feel the east side of the town has been let down by the authorities since those optimistic early days.
Walking around Moorfield Square where he and Anita live, the grandfather-of-seven pointed to overgrown brambles, cracking concrete and broken pavements covering the area. Grass patches are punching through the asphalt.
Those young trees, planted with such good intentions back in the 1970s, are now 40ft high monsters, their roots pushing up the pavements, blocking drainage, blocking out TV aerials, and causing localised flooding.
“In the 39-40 years we have been here, to my memory no maintenance has been done on these roads,” he said. “The footpaths, nothing.
“They have only painted the front of our fence once.”
It’s not that Colin and Janet think the estate is a bad place to live.
But as early settlers they feel a sense of responsibility for their surroundings.
Those overgrown bushes, creeping into alleyways, covering public spaces, have become a draw for fly-tippers and the recent debacle, which saw the grasses areas left to grow over a foot in length across a large swathe of the Eastern area was a final straw for the former maintenance man.
“It was a great success when we moved here,” he said: “It was a lovely atmosphere at the time. This estate used to win awards.
“But wherever you go now it’s so dirty. There is rubbish lying around everywhere.
“People just dump things, they don’t think about it. It’s becoming a slum.”
Indeed the latest lot of fly-tipping by his house, comprising of furniture paint tins, broken toys, stayed there for nine weeks, even after he reported it.
“People would take so much more pride in their surroundings if it was being looked after,” said Colin, pointing to a sit-on toy 4x4 car shoved into an alleyway.
There are several theories as to why the East of Northampton appears to have been given the short straw in terms of funding.
Councillor Dennis Meredith, (Lib Dem, Talavera) who claims to have been one of the first 10 families to move to the East of Northampton from his home in Harrow, believes the placement of the A43 served to “cut the eastern side off” from the rest of Northampton. The district was built with several open spaces too, which following successive cutbacks, have proved hard to maintain.
“At one time we used to have designated gardeners come down here to look after the lands,” he said. “We get the contractors come round once a year now.
“It’s the only maintenance done and it’s done in a slapdash way.”
The eastern side of town is missing a parish council too, often thought of as a good way of attracting funding for smaller schemes.
But the feeling of neglect isn’t just the concern of those who have lived in the east since the start. Councillor Meredith says a recent poll he carried out with the 5,500 homes in the Talavera ward saw 99 per cent of households say they felt dissatisfied with the level of service from Northampton Borough Council.
Community groups and Big Lottery funded projects are helping to do wonderful things in the east side of town.
But few can deny the area has suffered from a historic maintenance dearth, that surely needs to be rectified.
New leader of Northampton Borough Council, Councillor Jonathan Nunn, agrees that the recent environmental services contract with Amey, needs to improve.
He said: “The standard of maintenance around the town is acutely on our mind.
“A lot of people felt it wasn’t satisfactory. I think the grass cutting over summer just wasn’t as good as it could have been.”
The borough has set aside £100,000 in this year’s budget to maintain troublesome trees, which will see workers start in the Eastern District and work their way south.
The executive director of property services at Northampton Partnership Homes, Geoff Prior, says the organisation is planning a round of exterior renovations to social housing in Northampton.
He said: “Upcoming work will include further internal improvements but will focus more on the exterior of properties, communal areas in flat blocks and making homes more energy efficient.”
It’s a start. But in an area that needs ongoing love and attention, a £100,000 tree maintenance fund could amount to a drop in the ocean.