Two years after John Prescott took Lord Rogers on a tour of a run-down estate in Hull, Tom Broughton visited the city to find out if things had changed. He found an urban renaissance barely able to keep pace with the disillusionment of residents.
Two years ago this week, John Prescott gave urban taskforce head Lord Rogers a tour of the deprived Preston Road estate in his Hull constituency.

The deputy prime minister had been charged with the task of solving the nation's urban problems. His idea was to take Rogers to Hull to look at how to regenerate the Preston Road area – in particular a waterway at its heart, known locally as "the drain".

Walking through the estate, Prescott and Rogers were confronted by an angry mob of residents furious at their deteriorating living conditions.

More than a quarter of the men living on the east Hull estate were jobless, and of the 3000 houses located there, 10% were boarded up. Today things appear little better: crime is still rampant and residents are moving out in droves.

At the time, Labour was enjoying the honeymoon period after its landslide general election victory, and there was more than £1bn of investment planned for the city. The month after his visit to Hull, Rogers unveiled his urban taskforce report, setting out how cities were to be transformed: things were going to get better.

Two years on, with Labour again looking set for election victory, Building visited the city to ask Prescott's constituents if there was any sign of an urban renaissance in Hull.

"Politicians are forever telling us how everything's going to be improved, but it's just spin and false promises – and the yobs and slobs around here believe them," says Ted Store, 74, a resident on the Preston Road estate. "Things won't change, I guarantee it."

Nevertheless, the estate is on the verge of a £55m regeneration project as part of the council's New Deal for Communities scheme. The project focuses on renovating and building new houses and aims to make the estate a safer, cleaner place to live.

Val Arnold is moving from one of the most run-down parts of the estate, an area facing demolition. She realises that she is one of the lucky ones. "Everyone is jealous that we have been given a new house on the other side of the estate. My neighbours are all waiting for the call to be told their houses are also to be bulldozed," says Arnold, a 43-year-old poultry washer employed by supermarket Morrison.

"We are lucky though; there are still families that look like they are going to have to stay living in, and next to boarded up, smelly, run-down houses for quite some time," she adds.

Arnold's sister, Mary Wray, 52, a retired machine operator, agrees that it's time her sister was moved on. "I wouldn't let any kids of mine play near the drain; it's disgusting, like a sewer, and Val's had to live in it," she says. Staring sternly at a group of empty houses, she shouts: "It's only now that there's a general election that some nice newer houses look like being built. But for many it's just too late; they're leaving."

Elsewhere in the city, however, there is a lot more optimism. According to Wolf Ollins, the branding guru appointed to transform the downtrodden city's image, the aim is to become one of the country's "top 10 places to live".

The city council's website claims that housing conditions in Hull are "among the best in the north". And Hull certainly is one of the most cash-rich councils, having sold off more than half its stake in high-tech telecommunications group Kingston Communications for £225m in 1999. The city now has £55m in cash and, after the meteoric rise in the stock since flotation, £2.5bn in shares left over.

Big plans for the redevelopment of the city centre are in the pipeline. A 30 acre slab of land north of the railway station is set to be transformed into the £100m Ferensway commercial district, designed by Lord Foster. The development could be what's needed to catapult Hull into the 21st century, aiming to transform wasteland into a cosmopolitan boulevard with late-night shopping and entertainment.

Currently on site is The Deep project, a Terry Farrell & Partners-designed aquarium that is set to open in spring 2002. The city has also recently seen work begin on a £15m maternity hospital, as well as a £10m multiplex cinema on Bond Street.

Yet when Building arrived at a grotty cement-block train station in the heart of Hull, it all looked in urgent need of modernisation. The pace of the transformation of Hull concerns the city's residents. Most remain largely unaware of the planned changes, despite the local media trumpeting that Hull will shortly become Britain's "Barcelona on the estuary".

Katie Mouatt, 18, a student who lives in the centre, isn't impressed by the hype and can't wait to get out of what she sees as an ailing city. "This place is more like Bosnia; run-down and breaking up. The state of the station epitomises the city – it's not exactly modern and stylish is it?"

And nurse Lisa Marcen, 27, appreciates the new maternity hospital but is disgusted at the general state of the city's hospital, the Royal Infirmary. "It's the actual buildings – they're grotty. They're clean, but there is only so much cleaning you can do to old grotty structures. There needs to be more spent on hospitals – the maternity unit is a shining example," she says.

Standing proud at an information point in the centre of the city's main shopping street is Carl Norton, 22, a £150-a-week city navigator. A New Deal prodigy, his job is to help members of the public find their way around. He explains why Hull is the place to be. "The Deep will bring the tourists in and the Ferensway development will make this a place where people will hang out and spend money. It's going to be great; this city is going places," he says.

His enthusiasm knows no bounds: "It's my job to promote this city and make sure people wandering around it are aware of all the great places they can visit."

Colin Brown, chief executive of The Deep project, agrees: "The Deep is eliminating a 'can't do' attitude in the city. The public has learned that if the city can do The Deep, then other projects are possible too."

Brown's enthusiasm is barely more contained than Norton's: "John Prescott has raised the profile of the city – bodies like the Millennium Commission, that fund The Deep, have proved that the urban renaissance can and will happen."

Architects, too, believe that Hull is on the brink of a transformation, but are sceptical about how much credit Labour can claim. Colin Embleton, associate director of Gelder and Kitchen Architects, says: "In terms of regeneration, the shape of Hull is beginning to change. But how much is down to the government and how much to private initiatives, I couldn't comment on."

Figures released at the end of April by the Treasury and the Office for National Statistics revealed that Labour spent less in each of its four years in office than the Conservatives spent in their final year in power. However, according to the government's three-year spending plan, capital investment will rise to £17.3bn by 2003/4, the highest since the 1970s.

Paul Gammond, director of Gammond Evans Architects, says: "Our practice is in the centre of town and there is certainly a lot of spirit and excitement here about what is happening."

Surprisingly, for a city represented by the man who has failed to make the trains run on time, residents in Hull are very positive about the state of the city's transport links.

Last September a new company, Hull Trains, was set up and now provides a three-hour direct service to London, eliminating the need to change at Doncaster. The city also boasts the country's first fully integrated transport system – although all this appears to mean is that the train and bus stations are located next to each other.

Although Hull seems on the brink of transformation, the patience of the city's residents is being tested. A second Labour term will be greeted in Hull as a last chance for the government – John Prescott in particular – to deliver regeneration. If Prescott is to walk trouble-free around the Preston Road estate – or, indeed, around Hull – five years from now, the improvements will have to come thick and fast.

Ted Store, 75, a resident on the Preston Road estate

"This place is a pit, it always has been and it always will be. The schools are bottom of all the league tables, the roads are falling apart and there are so many empty houses. The government is all talk and no substance. You must be nuts if you think I will ever vote for Prescott again"

Michael Turner, 63, a cleaner from Hedon, Hull

"John Prescott is rubbish. He flies around in his Jags trying to look flash, and only comes here when he wants publicity. I helped vote Labour in, but I won’t bloody vote for anybody ever again. How can this ever be a really nice place when there’s no money coming here?"

Val Arnold (left), 43, from the Preston Road estate

"I’m moving because the council have told me they are knocking my house down, to help sort the area out. We are lucky though; there are still families that are going to have to stay living in smelly, run-down houses for quite some time. But it’s not just the houses that are terrible; a school was shut down, down the road, the community centre is pretty tatty, and the kids run riot and do what they like"

Carl Norton, 22, a Hull city navigator

"Things have definitely improved in Hull since Labour came to power, especially in the city centre. There have been improvements in the cleanliness and there is a lot more street furniture so it generally looks better. There is also a lot of development happening that will increase the amount of tourists that come here. I don’t know whether that is because John Prescott is the MP, but the government is getting it right for Hull"

Gary Kent , 28, a labourer on The Deep project

"I’ve noticed a different feel about Hull – people seem happier because the city is looking in better shape. I don’t have any problems with the quality of the hospitals and the transport system here. The trains run on time and there are always plenty of buses. I don’t think Prescott is doing a bad job but I’m keen to see whether he can bring improvements to the city and whether the public will notice it"