Washington TV property man appointed Government empty homes advisor

TV architect George Clarke on a visit to the Echo.

TV architect George Clarke on a visit to the Echo.

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RESTORATION Man George Clarke will be thinking of Sunderland when he takes on his new job with the Government.

The Great British Property Scandal presenter, who grew up in Washington, has been appointed as an independent advisor to Number 10 on the problem of empty homes.

FILE PIC TAKEN  18 JUNE 2010'18/06/2010   Photographer: PB ''Architect and TV presenter George Clarke in his old seat at Blackfell Primary School, Washington.  He attended the school with his sisters in the early 1980's and is pictured with the current Year Six class.

FILE PIC TAKEN 18 JUNE 2010'18/06/2010 Photographer: PB ''Architect and TV presenter George Clarke in his old seat at Blackfell Primary School, Washington. He attended the school with his sisters in the early 1980's and is pictured with the current Year Six class.

George tackled the issue on the Channel 4 show last year after becoming angry at the state of housing in areas such as his native Wearside.

Millions of viewers tuned in to the series and a petition calling for action now boasts more than 115,000 signatures.

George told the Echo that, after giving it careful thought, this support was the reason he accepted the offer.

He said: “The role I’ve taken on is an independent advisory role.

“I’m not a politician and I’ve got no desire to be a politician.

“It’s something I’ve accepted on behalf of the British public, it would have been wrong of me not to take it.”

As well as advising on policy decisions, George will be raising awareness within communities of the benefits of restoring empty homes to their former glory, attempting to ensure publicly-owned properties do not become empty and negotiating to put a stop to programmes of demolition scheduled to take place.

The 37-year-old’s television series shows his passion for good-quality housing that was fuelled by what he saw happening when he visited his home town during his studies in the capital.

“This all came about after I had moved to London in the mid-90s to study.

“I’d get the train back to the North East all the time to visit family and friends and see all this scandalous demolition. You could see so many rows of empty houses, while at the same time people were struggling to find a home. I couldn’t work it out.”

Some of those very people were his own three sisters, who were living in the family home with their mother.

All three had looked into getting council houses but finding a way on to the property ladder was proving difficult.

“The council were putting them on waiting lists but they were told there was a minimal chance of any of them getting somewhere,” said George. “I just thought, ‘my sisters can’t get a house but we’re demolishing perfectly good Victorian terraced homes?’

“You can quite easily, economically and ecologically refurbish (the empty homes) and I thought, ‘I know how to do that’.”

It is a situation George continuously refers to as “a scandal” and while not against new-builds, he warned that we are in danger of repeating the mistakes of the slum clearance projects that ran through the 1950s and 60s.

“A good, stable home can make all the difference for a family,” he said. “We’ve destroyed so many perfectly good communities. Hopefully we can bring that sense of community back to what have become ghost towns.”

The Washington lad remains proud of his roots and hopes the work he is about to undertake can have a positive impact for families on Wearside.

He said: “Sunderland is a proud city, a brilliant city with brilliant people but there are still so many people looking for homes. I want to see stable, affordable homes and Sunderland needs that more than most areas.”

Twitter: @sunechomark