Pensioner ‘can’t wait’ to leave Port Sunlight village

A pensioner who has lived in historic Port Sunlight village for 52 years says he can’t wait to leave, claiming his roof has not been fixed.

Port Sunlight was a model village built in Wirral in 1888 by William Lever for workers in his soap factory. It boasts 900 listed buildings, including the Port Sunlight Museum and Lady Lever Art Gallery.

Known for its beautiful houses, residents in the village however say things are different on the inside with mould issues, delays fixing repairs and some tenants seeing rent increases of 26%.

One resident, Trevor Jones, spoke to the LDRS in January about mould issues and problems in his house. At the time, tenants were informed their rent was going up too though this was later paused for four months

The Port Sunlight Village Trust which manages the village has also been criticised by local councillor Jo Bird for leaving tenants in “considerable distress” by not tackling the issues while raising rents though the trust said it had “a robust repairs and maintenance policy.”

In May, Mr Jones claims the issues with his house have still not been sorted, adding, “They haven’t done the windows. They haven’t touched it. This house was built in about 1896 and they are rotten. They are rusty and literally falling apart. It needs replacing but just nothing gets done.”

Mr Jones said the issues with his house have also had an impact on his health.

He said, “The health issues I am going through at the moment, it’s all to do with stress. After 48 years of living in this house, I can’t wait to get away from this. My family were all brought up in this house. Their life started in this house and now I can’t wait to get away.

“I thought let’s leave this bl***y place because it’s killing me. I’m packing everything up and ready to go.

“The thing that is really sad is that for the last 15 months we have redecorated this place from top to bottom and the wallpaper to do the last room is just sitting there.” He said Wirral Council is now helping him find social housing elsewhere.

After the LDRS approached the Port Sunlight Village Trust, a letter was sent to Mr Jones that his property will see new loft insulation, double glazing, and new extractor fans fitted. He said he still plans to move out.

A spokesperson for the Trust said, “Over the past few months, PSVT has worked with Mr. Jones to carry out a significant amount of repairs to his property. This has included fixing reported leaks and radiators, fitting draught excluders and repairing extractor fans.”

“As part of an inspection in March 2023 by our Conservation and Maintenance Manager, Mr. Jones’s windows were measured for secondary glazing. He was informed that the installation of secondary glazing will take place over the coming months.”

They added, “As most properties owned by PSVT are Grade II listed, we need to ensure we are taking the right approach with any works carried out, which we do in consultation with Wirral Council.”

The issues appear to be wider too. At a resident’s association meeting, people said they were having to cut back on things due to the current cost of living crisis with some saying they are having to choose between eating and paying rent.

Meanwhile, a recently opened scheme giving away free food destined for landfill in New Ferry also said about 25% to 30% of the people visiting them are from the village because they are unable to afford to buy food.

Sam Jelenski, who runs a zero food waste unit in New Ferry said they were seeing people coming in in their 70s, 80s and 90s, adding, “The rent is constantly going up and people just can’t afford it. They are having to make financial decisions and cutting back on their food.

“People are saying it’s paying their rent increase or the heating and some are afraid they are going to be evicted because they are worried that the rent will go up again.”

Some of those collecting food from the zero waste unit may be private tenants as the Port Sunlight Village Trust owns less than a third of the homes in the village. However tenants of the trust told the LDRS they were still struggling to pay rent.

Fair rent tenants in the village will see their rents go up 10.1% later this year but others have seen increases of 26%. However, The trust said their 54 fair rent tenancies are well below market rates and the rest of the rents are increased every two years as set by an independent body.

Emma Murphy who lives in the village with her family, said, “It’s getting to the point where we can’t live here anymore. It’s just going to the point we are going to have to move out. You can’t afford to live here with kids.”

A Port Sunlight Village Trust spokesperson said, “We understand this increase may be coming at a difficult time for our tenants, which is why we are offering a four-month rent increase concession to all PSVT tenants. This means the 10.1% increase will not be applied until four months after their next tenancy anniversary date.

“We will be reviewing our Rent Setting and Service Charge Policy this year, with any changes being introduced from April 2024.”

Rental income from garages and residential properties accounts for 93.1% or £2.6m of the trust’s total income. The rest of the income from things like the Port Sunlight Museum, schools, donations, and events.

When asked how they are looking to increase income outside of rents, a spokesperson for the Trust said, “Unfortunately, the pandemic had a significant impact on visitor numbers across the tourism sector, and Port Sunlight is no different. We have recently grown our Public Programme team to develop our events and school learning programmes, following a number of years where opportunities were limited.

“It is important to recognise that Port Sunlight is a public, open space and community, which makes large-scale public events such as festivals difficult to monetise for PSVT’s own profit.”

The Trust also said it would like to explore the possibility of increasing an annual ground rent of £1 for everyone, including private owners, though this would need to be voluntary. It said it is also planning to use reserves to carry out repairs.

Image: Ed Barnes

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