The History of Council Housing

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6 A New Urban Vision

The country was still faced with large areas of slum housing with many houses described as unfit to live in and many more people living in sub-standard conditions. Many of these houses had been due for demolition under slum clearance plans devised before the war under the 1930 Housing Act and had been neglected since. Inner city populations were growing rapidly and the shortage of good quality housing combined with inner city vacant and derelict sites left by the bombs created an opportunity for modernisers to promote a new urban vision. Architects and planners favoured a modernist approach and the 'streets in the sky' were devised. This was against a backdrop of political change, a new Conservative government was elected in in 1951 and after initially pledging to increase council house production in line with manifesto targets, sizes and standards were reduced and a greater emphasis of house building was given back to the private sector.
Councils could act under slum clearance powers to compulsory purchase inner urban land and housing for redevelopment, most of the existing housing was old and lacked any modern amenities however there were some communities saved from redevelopment following protests from local residents who fought and saved their neighbourhoods from ‘slum’ status and demolition. Following in the themes of modernist ideas, many local councils built pre-fabricated blocks of flats. Derelict inner city sites were cleared of any remaining old streets and houses and pioneering new schemes were planned.

The individual developments often included the coherent construction of blocks of various sizes with a 'hub' that provided heating and hot water services. Communal facilities such as a laundry, creche, doctor's surgery, children play areas and stores for bikes and prams were often intended to be part of the scheme. Many of the schemes were controversial in their day, on the one hand people were allocated modern flats with the all the modern facilities, however they often paid the price of the break up of their established communities.

However, the concept of council high rise flats was criticised in later years for creating poor quality badly built housing and high-density estates and many of the new estates had become hard to let and hard to live in by the 1970s. In reality many of the flats were built at low cost on run-down inner city areas or alternatively on remote low cost surburban sites, some quickly gaining a poor reputation. One example is the Netherley Estate in Liverpool. Begun in late 1960s, the estate was built to house people moving from the south dock area - the Dingle. From the start the estate was poorly located with no local employment and difficult and poor transport to the city centre. upon completion in the early 1970s, the five storey concrete slab blocks of flats were plagued with construction problems and rapidly required expensive maintenance. The estate developed a bad reputation with a high concentration of problem tenants. Within ten years of completion, the council began to move people out and rehouse them elsewhere. Netherley Estate has since been demolished at massive cost. 
The increased development of high rise blocks of flats during the 1950s and 60s can be directly attributed to a response to the Government's subsidy system. From 1956, subsidy was confined to new houses built to replace those lost to slum clearance and there was more money available for blocks of more than six storeys high. Helped by this subsidy, neighbourhoods all over the country were being demolished and rebuilt according to modern town planning concepts of mixed estates with low and high-rise building. Council house building redoubled in London and by the 1960s over 500,000 new flats had been added to London’s stock. Many of the new dwellings were in the form of multi-storey tower blocks which seems the ideal solution to the housing problem at the time.
©2008 University of the West of England, Bristol
except where acknowledged
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