South of the River – council housing and communities


Compass-SouthMy brother tweeted me last night to let me know that Leeds City Council have announced they will build 400 council houses. It was in the trade rag Inside Housing, so it must be true.

I had actually seen the press release the story was based on when it was issued a couple of weeks ago. We didn’t report it on South Leeds Life because although its good news, it’s not clear what effect it will have on our patch.

It is good news, by the way. Council house building was brought to a halt in the 1980s by Margaret Thatcher’s government (her again). Since then new social housing has been provided by housing associations. The number of new social houses built each year fell in the eighties and has never recovered, at the same time as the Right To Buy was cutting the social housing stock significantly.

Leeds has 24,000 people on its housing waiting list, so 400 houses won’t solve the problem, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

Leeds lays claim to building the first ever council house. I believe it was just after the First World War and was built in Holbeck. The great expansion of council housing in the 1930s was led by Rev Charles Jenkinson, the vicar of Holbeck and a Labour councillor. South Leeds Life reported last year on the blue plaque put up in Belle Isle to his memory. When Holbeck Towers were built the new streets were named after him.

Will you allow me a digression into the subject of street names? It fascinates me because it reveals the history of the area. You may have noticed a lot of Ingram and Meynell street names in Holbeck. Meynell-Ingram was the family name of the owners of the Temple Newsam estate who presumably owned the land the houses were built on. Hardy Street in Beeston is named after Gaythorne Hardy – later Lord Cranbrooke (as in Terrace) he owned the Low Moor Iron & Coal Co which sold its land holding on Beeston Hill when the coal became uneconomic to mine. One of the company managers was a Mr Tempest (Road).

Back to the good Reverend. Jenkinson pushed through bold plans in the 1930s, clearing 10,000 slum houses and building garden estates like Belle Isle and Gipton. He also brought in “differential rents” a forerunner of housing benefit, to support less well off tenants.

Leeds has continued to think big in housing policy – after all it’s a big city. Big projects such as the building (and subsequent demolition) of Leek Street flats in Hunslet bring economies of scale and make big inroads into very big problems. However, the people who are being helped are shunted around the city, seemingly with little thought.

I discovered this week that the first residents of the Cottingley Hall estate were the former tenants of Leek Street flats. Is this an issue? They are only a few miles away from each other.

Communities take time to build. A few families moving in and out each year doesn’t disrupt the social fabric, but hundreds is more difficult. Certainly when it comes to schooling, there is good research to show that moving schools disrupts a child’s education and sets it back by as much as a year.

Slums have been cleared in Holbeck once again and it’s good to hear that the funding is now (finally) in place to build to new houses. But how much damage has been done to the Holbeck community. It must be possible to devise a rehousing scheme where the demolition and building run in tandem, so that displaced families only have to move streets and not to another part of the city?

Ah! I see the problem – this would be much more expensive. Maybe it would in the short term, but perhaps it would save money spent in education, mental health, policing and social services later? I believe they call it “whole life costing” in construction circles – how apt.

Jeremy MortonSo it’s two cheers for Charles Jenkinson and for Leeds’ 400 new council houses. They may not go very far to sort out the waiting list, but at least they won’t cause widespread disruption to communities.

I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.

One Reply to “South of the River – council housing and communities”

  1. I should declare an interest: I spent most of my working life employed by housing associations. The modern growth in housing associations can be dated to the late sixties, the founding of Shelter and the TV film, ‘Cathy Come Home’ which showed the implications of homelessness in breaking up families and the inhumane treatment homeless people suffered at the hands of the authorities.

    Housing associations grew particularly in London and Liverpool (and then Glasgow) and focused in the late sixties and early seventies on improving older property and converting bigger properties into flats. When I went to Liverpool in 1974 I assumed that the enormous derelict sites surrounding the city centre were still the result of war damage – actually there were the result of Council led massive clearance programmes. My early career was spent helping to improve inner city areas in Liverpool through programmes of improving local housing with tenants enabled to move out (because of the amount of work needed to be done to their homes) and then return to their homes. It was very popular because it kept communities together. These programmes were expensive and eventually were effectively stopped by central government because of cost which was not helped because VAT applies to repairs of exiting houses but not to the construction of new housing. In overall terms of social dislocation etc I have little doubt that improvement programmes were much more cost effective in the long term.

    I think I would give the Council one and a half cheers for the programme of 400 new Council homes homes. The need for more rented homes in good condition at ‘affordable’ rents is overwhelming and it’s great that the Council recognises this. The fact that these homes could be built for less public money by housing associations is principally what concerns me. Surely, particularly in a time of economic stringency, it would make more sense to make the money go as far as possible without sacrificing building standards?

    My other concern is how well the Council will manage the housing. My view is that housing should be locally managed and that big municipal landlords have struggled to manage their stock well. I am sure that over the past ten years the ALMOs in Leeds have greatly improved the standard of housing management of Council homes and have concerns that Leeds managing over 50,000 home in one organisation will be a retrograde step.

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