Sunday, 4 August 2019

100 years of council housing ...

One hundred years ago, on 31st July 1919, the Westminster Parliament passed the Housing Act (1919). It was momentous legislation that amended the earlier Housing of the Working Classes Act (1890) and brought forward ambitious plans for the provision of council housing with low rents.

The Housing Act had its legislative roots in the Tudor Walters Committee report of 1917 and is known as the Addison Act after the Health and Housing minister, Christopher Addison. It is also linked to the pledge from the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, that he would deliver “habitations fit for the heroes” who had served in the First World War, though his words are more generally remembered as “homes fit for heroes.”

According to the UK Government, the Act “made housing a national responsibility, and local authorities were given the task of developing new housing and rented accommodation where it was needed by working people.” It promised significant subsidies from central government towards the construction of half a million houses within three years and, though subsequent economic problems meant that the funding had to be reduced, a total of 213,000 homes were completed through the provisions of the Act.

The Tudor Walters report specified that new housing should not be tiny terraced units squeezed onto very small plots, but “generously proportioned” houses with good-sized gardens.

The new rental properties provided by St Columb Rural Council in my local area in the early 1920s were certainly as foreseen by MPs. These included Barnfield Terrace in Indian Queens, as shown in the above photograph, Beaconside in Summercourt and Westbourne Terrace in Penhale – where my own father was born about ten years later. 

Another Housing Act followed in 1924 which allotted further funding to local councils, while additional legislation in 1930 lead to the clearance of a large number of slums. Figures show that “inter-war Housing Acts” helped local councils to build 1.1 million new homes.

Strategically, this new approach placed public sector housing at the very heart of government policy and this lasted for more than six decades.

Sadly, this all changed with the sell-off of council housing, which was commenced by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government of the 1980s and, I believe, this is one of the reasons why we have such a dysfunctional housing market in the UK today.

[This will be my article in this week's Cornish Guardian].

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