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Shared Ownership: why we deserve far greater transparency

Glossy ads present a rosy picture of shared ownership. But some first-time buyers are discovering the reality doesn’t live up to the rhetoric. Why are shared owners demanding greater transparency from housing associations and the National Housing Federation? This article breaks down some home truths about shared ownership, and what one housing campaigner is doing about it.

Shared ownership isn’t shared and it isn’t ownership. It’s arguable to what degree it constitutes affordable housing. Yet housing associations market this complex tenure with the same degree of levity with which a company might sell, say, comic books or whoopee cushions. The National Housing Federation (Nat Fed) marketing campaign promotes shared ownership schemes with slogans including: ‘Painting every wall luminous green’ and ‘Cooking in your pants on Sundays’.

My younger self would have enjoyed the jocular tone of Nat Fed advertising. My older self thinks the campaign does home buyers a great dis-service by failing to live up to laudable claims of ‘myth busting’ and ‘explaining what shared ownership means’. Taking out a mortgage could be one of the most expensive decisions first-time buyers will ever make. And, if they get it wrong, the consequences can be catastrophic.

An advertorial published during Shared Ownership Week 2020 included a quote from first-time buyer, Laura: “I think a lot of people don’t understand it, they think there’s a catch. There isn’t.” And there’s the problem in a nutshell… It’s perhaps a moot point exactly what constitutes a ‘catch’ but there’s no shortage of possibilities.

For a start, shared owners are often surprised to discover they don’t ‘own’ their home in any meaningful sense. The ‘part buy, part rent’ slogan is widely used in promoting shared ownership. But legal experts suggest that such terminology is potentially misleading as it misrepresents the legal form of the tenure. One law firm, Walker Morris (in a 2017 article ‘Shared Ownership: Risks and Rewards for Lenders’) say: ‘It is incorrect, and therefore misleading and potentially an offence in contravention of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (2008) for housing associations, landlords, developers or lenders to advertise or refer to shared ownership schemes as ‘part buy, part rent’, or indeed by using any other terminology or slogan which suggests that the customer purchases anything other than an assured tenancy leasehold interest at any time prior to the 100% staircasing stage’.

The Nat Fed campaign appears to confuse a marketing strategy (defining ‘it’s yours’ as ‘not sharing’) with the legal reality (it’s not ‘yours’ and there are therefore risks of forfeiture, possession, and loss of or reduction in equity).

Shared ownership isn’t even that good an investment. The Homes England model contract specified a minimum lease length of 99 years for flats up until 2016, and 125 years thereafter. Shared owners have been shocked to discover a need for expensive lease extensions with no benefit other than to maintain the market value of their home. And, of course, some simply can’t afford to do so, and find themselves in possession of a devaluing asset. The London Mayor recently addressed this issue by unveiling a plan to ensure all shared ownership homes built in the capital as part of the new Affordable Homes Programme are sold with a 999-year lease as standard. But this doesn’t address problems faced outside London and also by legacy owners, many stranded with an increasingly unsuitable and undesirable housing product.

It gets worse. Shared owners have no statutory right to lease extension unless they’ve staircased to 100%. I contacted Mike Shone, Homes England’s Monitoring and Reporting Manager, in 2019 to ask what percentage of shared owners achieve full staircasing. The response: ‘Unfortunately this is not something that is recorded by Homes England or the Regulator of Social Housing’. But Parliamentary Research briefing CBP-8828 reports: ‘The increasing costs of shared ownership have made it more challenging for households to progress to full ownership. Around 4,000 households staircased to 100% ownership in 2018/19, equivalent to 2.3% of all shared-equity homes owned by housing associations’.

What about much vaunted affordability claims? These appear reliant on comparison with private rental or open market purchases over a relatively short timescale. They don’t factor in whole life cycle costs such as lease extension; rents that increase annually regardless of whether average market rents are increasing, static, or even declining; and full 100% liability for service and management charges regardless of the % share purchased. (Fire safety remediation costs are too complex to go into here but are self-evidently a source of huge emotional and financial distress for affected shared owners).

Housing sector professionals appear to believe that lawyers should provide information on such issues. Wanda Goldvag, chair of the Leasehold Advisory Service (LEASE), interviewed on Radio 4’s consumer affairs programme You and Yours in January 2019 said: “lawyers have an absolute duty to explain complex clauses to people”.

But it’s hard to understand such reliance on lawyers. Research funded by the Leverhulme Trust (Exploring experiences of shared ownership, 2015) found that: ‘Modern conveyancing practice is not equipped to provide information to buyers about the specifics of shared ownership leases. […] That increases the onus on providers to provide relevant, simple and clear information to buyers’.

Shared ownership is pitched as the ‘affordable’ route into housing. Marketing rhetoric implies that ALL buyers benefit from shared ownership as a ‘step onto the housing ladder’. But this is over-simplistic and fails to recognise that the wider housing market creates both winners and losers.

Moreover, a rapidly rising property market will benefit buyers who interpret ‘a step onto the housing ladder’ as obtaining a first property as an investment generating a gain to help buy their next property, but will disadvantage buyers who interpret it as an opportunity to purchase their forever home in staircasing instalments (the original intention of the scheme per the 1979 Conservative election manifesto). And the converse is equally true.

Whilst risks and opportunities arising from property markets are clearly not restricted to first-time buyers purchasing shared ownership homes, this demographic is particularly vulnerable to financial difficulties and poor outcomes arising from inadequate information and advice.

Housing associations have a dilemma; too much transparency could compromise achievement of sales targets. It’s pragmatic to assume housing associations will continue to place emphasis on short-term benefits to shift units. And, unless there are fundamental changes to the shared ownership model, many shared owners will continue to discover that shared ownership isn’t anywhere near as affordable as those glossy ads suggest.

Could the shared ownership model be improved? Could it be made more affordable? To some degree perhaps… A sector-wide commitment to cease taking advantage of the 2019 Zucconi precedent (a discretionary change in the method for calculating leasehold extension premiums which creates a windfall for housing associations, but pushes lease extension even further out of reach for many shared owners) would help some. Widespread adoption of the London Mayor’s proposal for 999-year leases as standard would render lease extension costs obsolete (except for increasingly disadvantaged legacy owners, of course!).

But here’s the rub… housing associations’ overall funding model has historically depended in part on profits arising from shared ownership schemes (for example, the receipts from staircasing shares sold at current market value rather than original market value) to generate cross-subsidy for social rented homes. So the financial interests of individual shared owners are directly in conflict with the wider objectives of housing associations. Shared owners are discovering they are, in many respects, the benefactors of affordable housing rather than the recipients they thought they were. It’s complicated!

If I had to choose one key policy reform…? “To stop using the term affordable for housing that isn’t” (a phrase I’ve stolen from Tom Murtha). To stop using the term ‘shared’ for housing that isn’t. And to stop using the term ‘ownership’ for housing that isn’t. Though that may not happen anytime soon. First-time buyers, shared owners and leaseholders deserve better. Which is why I’ve created a Crowdfunder project to raise funds for an independent shared ownership website with comprehensive information, analysis, and signposting to sources of professional expertise and advice. The Crowdfunder ends at 2.52pm on 9th February 2021.

Click here: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/shared-ownership-resources

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Sue Phillips</span></strong>
Sue Phillips

Sue Phillips is an accountant (ACCA) who spent much of her career working in the not-for-profit sector. She is now semi-retired. She says she never expected to become a housing campaigner! 

She purchased her own flat via a shared ownership scheme in 1999, staircased to 100% in 2013, and completed a lease extension in 2020.

Her own experience of shared ownership led her to start campaigning in 2019, with a particular focus on greater transparency on potential long-term costs and risks of shared ownership. She campaigns under the moniker Shared Ownership Resources.

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Housing as a universal human right

When Leilani Farha, the former UN Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, spoke at the Labour Housing Group (LHG) Connected 2020 Fringe meeting, she argued that housing should be a universal human right. Is this achievable and if so how do we organise to achieve it? And will it bring an end to homelessness?

Her organisation, The Shift, set up in 2016, and the Municipalist Declaration of Local Governments for the Right to Housing and the Right to the City which was signed by 11 city managers across the world in 2018, plan to reclaim and realise the fundamental human right to housing:

THE SHIFT recognizes housing as a human right, not a commodity or an extractive industry. The Shift restores the understanding of housing as home, challenging the ways financial actors undermine the right to housing. Using a human rights framework, The Shift provokes action to end homelessness, unaffordability, and evictions globally.

In the film Leilani exposes the role that private equity firms play within the private rental market in city after city, and country after country, pushing up rents so that ordinary people are priced out of their own communities, alongside the mass replacement of homes where people had lived with buildings bought as an investment opportunity and now kept empty.

We are getting used to seeing the centres of our British cities hollowed out by investors buying up properties which they don’t intend to live in, but as the film illustrates, the scale of it is staggering. Two London examples are the multi-million pound unoccupied houses left empty in Belgravia, resulting in almost entirely traffic-free streets; and the replacement of council flats in one estate in Southwark – which previously had over 3000 residents – by homes that are left empty because they are simply seen as assets, mainly with foreign owners. The presenters talked about these as “dead zones”.

Other cities around the world are experiencing this form of social cleansing. In Toronto, tenants took part in a rent strike because so few repairs were being done by the new owners of their blocks, at the same time as rents were increasing by vastly more than average family incomes[1]. Tenants called the rent increases “eviction by any other name” and experienced harassment and threats for being involved in the protest.

In Kreuzberg in Germany, rent increases were seen to be forcing out both tenants and small businesses, to be replaced by corporate businesses and multi-national food companies. Footage shot in Milan, New York, Valparaiso (Chile), and Barcelona showed the threats (and violence) to families resisting being forced to leave the areas and communities they lived in.  The trend is even affecting Sweden, with its strong social democratic tradition.

We learnt tenants in many cities around the world now have the same property owner as their landlord, a private equity company called Blackstone which is now the largest property owner in the world. Their typical way of working appears to be the same across many countries: buy up blocks of flats, use plans to renovate them to force rent rises by far greater amounts than the cost of the renovations, and replace as speedily as possible the tenants who cannot afford the new rents. Blackstone also makes sure that they are pretty inaccessible to tenants, an office open just a few hours a week, as in a Swedish example.

The film describes companies buying up huge swathes of homes in inner cities as “vultures”, and “monsters than no-one can see”. What makes this all the more distasteful is the fact that private equity firms use investment from our pension funds. So our own pensions are involved here, without our knowledge or permission. Also, a chilling example was given from Italy of how Mafia money is laundered through housing investment.

Fortunately, some people can see what is happening, and are trying to stop dirty money from destroying our cities and shoving people out of the way.

41 cities included London, Manchester and Birmingham, inspired by Leilani’s campaigning work, have set up the Cities for Adequate Housing Group and signed the Municipalist Declaration of Local Governments for the Right to Housing and the Right to the City. Together and individually, they are working to combat the destruction of their cities. Several mayors talked about how they are buying back empty properties, surely what needs to be done in London, whilst others are bringing in laws aimed at stopping companies from buying up large tracts of land or property. Control of the growth of Airbnb is also part of the story, given that this sector also serves to drive ordinary people out of their cities.

Working to create an entitlement to housing as a human right is clearly the only way forward. Whilst we are waiting for a Labour government, we must urge as many cities as possible to join in. As the Cities for Adequate Housing Group says: “local governments cannot stay on the side-lines and need to take a central role.” In order to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal for housing[2], we all need to sign up to a worldwide commitment for the right to housing.

If we want the next generation to be able to live in the cities we currently occupy and love, something has to change. And we need urgently to explain to them what is happening so that they can help us make those changes.

Labour Housing Group Executive has agreed that we will work, with the Front Bench team, towards establishing the Right to Housing as a human right in the UK. This will be a fitting campaign for 2021, to celebrate our 40th year of existence.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Sheila Spencer</span></strong>
Sheila Spencer

Sheila has been Secretary of the Labour Housing Group (LHG) since 2018, having re-joined LHG Executive after a gap of many years.

She believes that housing is a critical issue across the country and that Labour has great housing policies – but many people, including many members, do not yet know how Labour intends to solve the current housing crisis when next in power.

Sheila wants to see Labour in the forefront of people’s minds when they consider what needs to change. She has worked all her life in housing – in the areas of homelessness, supported housing and housing need. Sheila was a city councillor in Newcastle and is now retired.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Andy Bates</span></strong>
Andy Bates

Andy is a long-standing member of the Labour Party.  He is a member of the  Old Southwark and Bermondsey CLP.

Andy is on the executive of the London Labour Housing Group. For LHG Executive Committee, he is promoting and co-ordinating LHG members going out to speak to CLPs and branches about housing issues.


[1] Over 30 years, rents in Toronto have gone up by 425% compared to 133% for average incomes.

[2] SDG11: “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” by 2030

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First Homes should be affordable to local median earners

As many commentators had predicted, a concerted lobbying campaign by many local authorities and members of parliament has led to the first signs of a softening of the government’s wider reform of the planning system. It seems that ministers are firmly in listening mode, as they are starting with a review of perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of the reforms – the revised housing targets for each individual planning authority.

The “housing algorithm issue” has tended to dominate the broader debate about the proposals, but it is only one of a wider series of concerns that ministers need to consider when assessing what further amendments they need to make.

Our greatest policy concern is the issue of First Homes and the potential effect that focusing on homes created by this policy would have on the delivery of other affordable housing. In high-value areas, such as inner London, even at discounts approaching 50%, they will remain out of reach for most of those for whom they are intended. Furthermore, prioritising them over other forms of affordable tenure will result in a loss of social rented and other genuinely affordable homes, which are required to meet London’s housing need.

Our response is not one of outright opposition to the policy, as it offers a viable way to expand homeownership opportunities in many parts of the country. However, the policy is unworkable in very high-value areas due to affordability, so we suggest a potential exemption from the policy in these areas.

That exemption should be based on an “affordability lock” – First Homes should be affordable to local median earners. This would effectively mean that they would not be the default affordable housing delivered unless, say, they were affordable to 80% of local household incomes and where it can therefore be shown that they meet local housing need.

If First Homes do not meet these criteria, the locality should be exempt from having to deliver them and should instead deliver other forms of tenure that are affordable to local median earners. This would cover the entirety of the inner London market, given the underlying high residential values.

In high-value areas such as inner London, shared ownership is already unaffordable and First Homes will have the same issue, while traditional social housing is in short supply and available only to those in acute housing need. In such locations, intermediate market rent should be the principal affordable housing tenure delivered to support median earners. These intermediate homes can provide a steppingstone into homeownership, low-cost or otherwise.

So, while it is clear that for the government the issues relating to their proposals are all about the numbers, we have to be equally clear that it is also about the type and tenure of the homes provided, not just how many and where.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Olivia Harris</span></strong>
Olivia Harris

Olivia has been appointed Chief Executive of Dolphin Living since April 2017. Previously, Olivia was Finance Director at Dolphin Living, providing financial and commercial oversight on a wide range of property and related projects, including debt and fund raising.

Olivia is a Chartered Accountant and has worked for more than 15 years in the property industry and is Chair of the Westminster Property Association.

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When it comes to building homes – planning isn’t the problem

As we enter 2021 there is no doubt that Britain is facing a housing crisis ─ a crisis of supply, demand, affordability and quality. Sadly, like an unwelcome ghost at the feast, all the Government seemed to be offering us last Christmas is reheated policy ideas, gone-off planning reform, regifted funding and a long hangover after a decade of austerity and welfare cuts.

In Hackney, where I am the Labour & Co-operative directly elected Mayor, house prices have risen by 71% in the last five years. Nationally, homelessness temporary accommodation (TA) placements have risen by 71% since 2010 and 80% of those in TA in Hackney are now estimated to be in work. And ‘permitted development rights’ have allowed landlords to turn former office blocks into homes without planning permission, leading to poor quality, rabbit-hutch homes ─ too often leading to private profit from the homelessness crisis.

It is a multifaceted crisis that the Tories think will be solved very simply ─ by reforming the planning system. Their latest White Paper, entitled Planning for the Future, sets out proposals to supposedly help increase the number of homes built every year, but will end up causing longer-term problems. Recently announced (and welcome) changes to the proposed new planning formula for house building will not undo the damage the rest of the proposals could bring about.

First, the proposals suggest scrapping local planning policies currently co-produced between councils and their communities. Local Plans and policies will be replaced by ‘national guidance’ that often just sets out the bare minimum level of standards that local people have rightly come to expect from developments ─ standards on affordability, sustainability and infrastructure.

Next, the Tories want to create a simpler zoning system, designating areas across England into three new categories: ‘growth’, ‘renewal’ and ‘protection’ areas. Importantly, ‘growth’ areas will give developers automatic planning permission to build, so long as they meet the national standards. Imagine the current permitted development rights on steroids.

These proposals are severely undemocratic ─ they will transfer power and responsibility away from local councils to Ministers and Whitehall Civil Servants, who will be able to set standards and zones in areas they have no knowledge of.

Automatic planning permission will mean local communities and councils will lose the one opportunity they have to assess and comment on developments in their areas. The scrapping of Local Plans will also mean local people will lose the chance to shape policy in their areas. This also risks that policies like Hackney’s new Child Friendly Places SPD or our commitments to green infrastructure and genuinely affordable workspace could be sidelined.

On infrastructure, the Government is suggesting ‘streamlining’ the current developer taxes into a single ‘Infrastructure Levy’. At the same time, the Government will introduce a mandatory 20% target for their new ‘affordable First Homes’, which is really just homes subsidised market-rate homes. This will hamper the already difficult negotiations the councils have to go through to push developers to provide genuinely affordable homes.

The Government also wants to implement the principles of biodiversity net-gain in the planning system, as well as a ‘biodiversity credits’ system to tax developers where they fail to meet net-gain targets. It’s a sound principle, but at the moment the credits will be paid straight to central government, and not the communities which will be impacted by the development.

At the same time, if councils lose the lever of our current planning system ─ being able to set local biodiversity policies and assess developments before they are built ─ it is unclear how the Government expects to achieve their principles. The risk is developers in ‘growth’ areas will use credits as a quick ‘get out of jail free’ card to simply pay a tax without contributing to nature recovery or biodiversity conservation which local people could benefit from. As I recently said in Parliament these conflicting policy objectives hardly feel joined up.

We know how important local green infrastructure is to local communities, particularly to those without a private outdoor space. If we didn’t, the coronavirus pandemic provided a valuable reminder. We also know the current planning system is better at achieving green space than no system at all ─ just 3.5% of new homes created through permitted development rights included access to private outdoor space, compared with 23.1% of homes delivered via planning permission.

And lastly there is the idea that these plans will increase supply; the Tory narrative is that really, it is a cumbersome planning process that is stopping homes being built. Well, in Hackney, 90% of residential planning applications submitted to the Council have been approved since 2010, but 25% of them have not been built. That is over 2,000 approved homes in Hackney that have not been built by developers, who are instead sitting on land in the Borough.

So at every turn, these plans will fail. They will not increase supply; they will reduce the amount of affordable housing; they will water down design and quality standards; and they will not tackle the biggest area of demand ─ social housing. Any planning authority, Labour or Conservative controlled, will tell you that when it comes to building homes, planning isn’t the problem.

Clearly, the private market alone will not meet the Tories ambition to see 300,000 homes built a year by the middle of this decade. This will be compounded by the economic shocks of coronavirus and Brexit. Ideology stops the Tories from seeing the clear practical contribution that large scale countercycle investment in green, social rented homes could bring across the UK and to communities like Hackney.

Building council homes is a pro-industry response. All the lessons from the previous recessions show that without council house-building, we will see a contraction of the construction industry, fewer small businesses, deskilled and unemployed workers and reduced competition ─ all resulting in fewer homes of all tenures being built.

Labour knows that when the market isn’t delivering for people, the Government must step in. Labour councils know that what we really need is a new generation of ‘Homes Fit for Heroes’.

The council-house building agenda in this country started after the First World War to house returning soldiers in affordable and high-quality homes, and we only marked that anniversary last year. Now we need homes fit for our heroes on the frontline of fighting the war against coronavirus.

The planning reforms might yet be another Dominic Cummings pet project that, now he has ungraciously left the building, may be dropped or watered down. But the Labour movement can’t take the chance of these proposals getting rushed through a Tory-majority Parliament.

If we believe in building genuinely affordable homes, with decent standards and built in sustainable communities that get a real say on development in their areas, the Labour movement must unite again to fight against these plans at every step of the way ─ and then fight for a return to mass council house building again.

<img class="wp-block-coblocks-author__avatar-img" src="https://secureservercdn.net/160.153.138.71/pb4.705.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Philip-Glanville.jpg" alt="<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Mayor Philip Glanville</span>
Mayor Philip Glanville

Since 2016 Philip has been the Labour and Cooperative directly elected Mayor of Hackney, the borough’s second directly elected Mayor. He was re-elected in May 2018.

He was previously a councillor in Hoxton for ten years, and spent three years as Cabinet Member for Housing.

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Beyond Short-Termism: How to Fix the Covid-19 Renters Crisis

Resolution Foundation report demonstrates the inadequacy of the Government’s response to the renters crisis – it must go beyond its own short-termism, writes Jack Shaw.

In March the Government said that this pandemic was an opportunity to end rough sleeping for good. New research by the Resolution Foundation has made it clear that that won’t be the case unless the Government is willing to put protecting renters and tackling homelessness at the top of its domestic agenda – and it can only do so by legislating. 

At the end of October the Resolution Foundation published its report Coping with Housing Costs, Six Months On, based on a survey in September of 6,000 working-age adults across the country. This follows the same survey carried out in May, and provides a unique opportunity to view the pandemic through the lens of housing.  The findings are stark, if not all too familiar.

The basic tenet is that the safety net put in place at the beginning of the pandemic for private and social renters, as well as homeowners with mortgages, falls short of the support required to keep people from losing their homes. 

Comparisons between tenures show that, across multiple indices, renters are hit harder. Compared to homeowners with mortgages, renters – social and private – are more likely to have lost their job or been furloughed; be in arrears; cut back on other items, dip into savings or borrow to cover housing costs; be in receipt of Housing Benefit and Universal Credit; and be less certain about where they’re going to live in 12 months’ time.

Over time the need for homeowners with mortgages to draw on mortgage holidays has fallen, while their job certainty appears to have increased – only three per cent of people with mortgages reported job losses, compared with eight per cent in the private rented sector and seven per cent in the social rented sector respectively. 

It does not appear that the need for housing support for renters has receded as much as we had hoped over the same period. Fewer renters reported being on furlough in September compared to May – perhaps because some have returned to work – but more reported losing their job.

Likewise, the number of renters seeking – and being refused – rent reductions has remained relatively stable at around one in 20. The picture is nuanced, but there are several conclusions that can be drawn.  

First, the blow to households with mortgages has been softer during this pandemic. Second, not only have renters been hit harder, but they have also recovered more slowly. Third, the interventions put in place by the Government aren’t sufficient. At best, they delay homelessness, not prevent it. True, renters have benefitted from a ban on evictions, and an uplift in Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates and Universal Credit (UC), but none of these are long-lasting.

The LHA rate rise itself follows a capricious rate freeze by the Government in 2016, which decoupled it from inflation. What that means is as inflation rises, LHA rates do not rise with it. This gives renters access to fewer and fewer properties, which has undoubtedly undermined the resilience of private renters who benefit from LHA during this pandemic. 

The uplift essentially returns LHA rates to pre-2016 levels, although in another blow the Spending Review has since revealed that LHA rates will be frozen in cash terms from next year – so rates will once again fall back below 30th percentile over time, pushing renters back to square one just as they’re running out of cash. The ban on evictions has already ended, and the UC uplift is due to end in April.

As the Government battles on every front – COVID, saving the economy, protecting public health, Brexit, a credible Opposition – I suspect the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions’ latest words in Parliament are more than a Freudian slip: they were by design.

On 30 November, when asked whether she would make the Universal Credit uplift permanent, Dr Thérèse Coffey pointed out to Parliament that “we can also make the effort to encourage people to go for vacancies.” With the number of vacancies down 35% this time last year notwithstanding, such nonsense in the face of evidence-based interventions that will support renters to hold onto their tenancy is the epitome of absurdity.

But do not take my word for it. Modelling by the Joseph Rowntree highlighted that up to 16 million people across several million households are at risk of losing the equivalent to £1,040 overnight if the UC uplift ends in April, a kick in the teeth for the lowest income families just as they’re recovering from the pandemic. Research from Shelter earlier this year also revealed that 322,000 renters were in arrears despite keeping up with their rent before the pandemic began. With landlords handing out notices of repossession, we are only months away from understanding the full impact inadequate support has had on renters.

So, where does that leave us? Above all, it leaves us angry – or at least it should do. As to where it leads us: to the Government’s front door. The safety net is holding – just – in the face of the pandemic. While it cannot be the solution for renters forever, for now it’s making a global pandemic more bearable.

Though the Government cannot even get short-termism right, it already needs to look long-term too, and that starts with taking control over the domestic agenda and legislating as it has promised. Ministers need to get on with the job and abolish Section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act – so called ‘no fault’ evictions which allow landlords to evict tenants without good reason – over 18 months since the promise was made.

The Government also needs to bring forward the Renters Reform Bill, which no doubt should have precedence over some of the smaller items on the legislative agenda, such as the licensing of jet skis last month. If, as the Bill says, its aim is to improve the “security for tenants in the rental sector, delivering greater protection for tenants and empowering them to hold their landlord to account”, then surely the best time is now, before that security all but evaporates?

The cost of renting has long outstripped people’s ability to pay rent. The Government should strengthen and lengthen interventions to support those most in need, but it should also abandon its short-termism and support existing interventions with legislation that looks toward the long-term. A failure to do so will force more renters out of secure, permanent accommodation, and into temporary bed and breakfasts.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Jack Shaw</span></strong>
Jack Shaw

Jack is a Senior Policy Researcher for a Labour MP, has previously worked for the Local Government Association, and is a member of the London Labour Housing Group Executive Committee.

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Will a new planning system magically create new housing?

Labour would make a great mistake if they think that the disquiet in the Tory shires about the Government’s proposed planning reforms – or the departure of Dominic Cummings – will sink the Planning White Paper.  Johnson has come out plainly saying he wants abolition of the present planning system, come what may – and we have to understand why so much political capital is invested in this.

Developers and landowners have made massive profits over the last 40 years.  Indeed the economy is largely built on this speculative success. So why get rid of something that works for them so well?  What exactly is the Government’s agenda, and what is Labour’s answer? 

The White Paper ‘Planning for the Future’, proposes not reform of the current system but total abolition of existing town and country planning legislation.  The replacement would be a US style ‘zoning system’ accompanied by high tech design codes.  Thus, if developers can tick the boxes on the zones and codes they get automatic consent.  Bingo. Communities and local councils are by-passed.

No more planning applications to be submitted and poured over by pesky planners and local communities – the landowners and housebuilders are free at last.  At least that is their dream – but things are more complicated than that, and the Tory record with planning makes them highly vulnerable to close examination.

The premise of the White Paper is that the housing crisis is caused by planners putting obstacles in the path of housebuilding companies and that a new planning system will remove these obstacles and magically there will be more housing – a view fuelled by the housebuilders lobby, the Home Builders Federation.  This part of the Government’s rationale does not stack up. The facts are that housebuilders have planning consents for 1 million homes and have not built them out.   To do so would bring down house prices and that is the last thing investors want.  The truth is that there is no evidence that the proposed reforms will deliver more homes.    

The reality is that the White Paper proposals are a tangled mess, and largely unworkable as explained in recent essays by a group of planning academics (including myself), ‘The Right Answers to the Right Questions’, ed. Andy Inch, 2020.  Nor are they what the volume housebuilders have been asking for.  They have been lobbying for measures to speed up planning decisions and make more housing land available, but they have not asked for legislation that is so wide ranging it may disrupt their highly profitable business model.

The White Paper proposals requiring councils to replace existing Local Plans with zones of Growth, Renewal, and Protect, plus algorithms for housing supply targets, and design codes – many dictated from Whitehall – are complicated and contentious to deliver in most urban areas and could engender even more NIMBYism and public cynicism.  The Tory shires are already voicing concerns about ‘Growth Zones’ and housing targets being imposed on their villages.     

So what lies behind the Tory aim of deleting current planning legislation?  It is ideology. The UK planning system is one of three remaining pillars of the post-war settlement, the others being the BBC and the NHS.  The Tories and their think-tanks have always regarded these pillars as ‘socialist’, or ‘welfare state’ measures. 

Town planning was enshrined in the foundational 1947 Town and Country Planning Act which was in its original purpose a socially redistributive mechanism to regulate development and distribute the profits from land development in a fair way – alongside providing a democratic framework for rebuilding towns and cities after the war. It was a force for good aimed at benefitting all classes and all regions.  Over years these principles were watered down but the essence of 1947 Act remains in all the succeeding planning legislation.  

The ideological Tories are not defensive about this intention, but where they are vulnerable is their collusion with the vested interests that have taken control of the planning system.   The landowners, developers and financiers who are the bedrock of funding and politics of the Tory Party have huge influence over the development of land and have creamed off the massive increase in land value created by the planning system.  

They are supported by a formidable property lobby that has been absorbed into Whitehall’s machinery. They do not intend to give up this privilege.  Communities, local councils and housing campaigns have become increasingly sidelined in the face of these interests, so well illustrated by Robert Jenrick’s shady dealings with a major developer and Tory donor  in the Isle of Dogs, and Boris Johnson’s blatant favours to developers when Mayor of London.  Meanwhile volume housebuilding has been commandeered by a small number of large developers who limit supply to keep up prices.   

Labour should be demanding full transparency and an end to housebuild cartels and cronyism.  If we have done our homework, this attack will have wide support.  The other part of our challenge is to be entirely positive about planning – placing it at the centre of a socially and economically just vision for the country.   Planning must be returned to public service, acting positively to care for the health of the people and the planet, to capture more land value for the community, and to widen planning democracy.

  

<span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color"><strong>Bob Colenutt</strong></span>
Bob Colenutt

Bob Colenutt is a member of Oxford Labour Party, a member of the Highbury Group, and author of ‘The Property Lobby’, published by Policy Press, 2020

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Does the housing sector hold the key to an improved electoral register?

As we all know, there are gaping holes in electoral registers in the UK, but it appears that it is not just in the United States that some right wing politicians seem to be happy about people being excluded from voting. A debate in the House of Commons in early November, during the discussion of the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill 2019-21, has highlighted this once again.

Following amendments made in the House of Lords, a majority of MPs sadly voted to reject the proposal to add 16-year-olds to the register, or to provide them with information on how to apply to join the register when they receive their National Insurance number.

Last November, just before the deadline to register for the 2019 General Election, the Electoral Commission revealed that between 8.3 million and 9.4 million eligible voters were not on the register from their current address; this is about 17%  – just under 1 in 5 – of the adult population.

We should be alarmed enough at that fact on its own, but other data published for 2018 shows that 1 in 4 Black and Asian people were not registered to vote, and nor were around 1 in 3 amongst 18-24 year olds. Furthermore, whilst almost 1 in 5 of social tenants were not registered, around 1 in 3 of private tenants were not on the list to vote. These are indeed shocking figures, and we really do need to take action to rectify this.

In part, this is due to the botched introduction of individual electoral registration made by the Coalition Government in 2014: against the advice of the Electoral Commission, instead of parents registering their adult children or institutional landlords like universities registering everyone in halls of residence, each person now has to register themselves, and must do so each time they move.

The change was rushed in without either electors or universities being given time to understand what the change meant. As a result, at least 600,000 voters vanished from the electoral roll, and a significant proportion of these have not yet been recovered.

While many universities have made efforts to encourage students to register, including information about registration in packs for first year students in halls or elsewhere, there are huge gaps in registrations for private tenants – both students and others – and particularly those in multi-occupied buildings where it can be hard for registration agents employed by local authorities to gain access.

Even without new legislation, it is arguable that local authorities could do more to encourage registration, for example using the contact they have with council tax payers, benefit claimants, parking permit users, blue badge holders, care users, and indeed, parents of school children.

But it is also possible for the housing sector to more do to help. Firstly, all councils, ALMOs and Housing Associations could make registering to vote easy for their tenants, getting people to sign an electoral registration form when they sign up for a new tenancy, and reminding them to re-register every time they move. Many housing organisations carry out programmed tenancy checks, often using electoral registers as part of the exercise, so they could easily contact and provide a prompt to all those not registered. At the very least, registering to vote should form part of every conversation with a new or relocating tenant, and at least once a year with all other tenants.

Secondly, information could be made available to housing staff, and to community organisations, particularly those working with tenants whose first language may not be English. They could explain who is allowed to register to vote and for which elections (it’s not entirely straightforward, as all Labour Party canvassers will know!), as well as the need for each individual to register and how to do it.

Thirdly, and very importantly, all support and care providers should ensure that their staff know how to help people register and how to vote. This should be part of the contract for every employee working with vulnerable residents, including helping them to access information about the candidates and the political parties they represent, and helping them to access the voting system, all of which can be done without displaying any political bias themselves. Coming across a resident who had wanted to vote but could not get to the polling station, fill in a ballot paper, or register to vote without help is amongst my least favourite experiences on Polling Day.

Finally, what can we do about private tenants, some of whom move every year as a result of Thatcher’s dismantling in 1988 of security of tenure in the private rented sector? It’s of course really a matter for Parliament to change the way that this is done: in Australia, individual voter registration has been in place for years, with voters staying on the register even if they move, with cross-referencing between multiple databases making it far less likely that people will be lost. In this country, the work has to be done by each council on a separate basis, with thousands of people coming off the register in each district every year, meaning a huge waste of resources.

Until we get a change to address this (and, my preferred option, to introduce compulsory registration) at national level, we have to rely on action at a local level. Private sector housing teams could ensure voter registration is mentioned at all meetings with landlords, even making it a requirement to issue an electoral registration form as part of landlord licensing and accreditation schemes.

The easiest solution to the unacceptable rate of electoral registration in the UK would be to automatically register people when they got their NI number, and require people to register each time they moved. But until we have a government that wants to make it as easy as possible for people to register, housing organisations which are in touch with a significant number of electors one way or another could take some responsibility for helping them to make their voices heard.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Sheila Spencer</span></strong>
Sheila Spencer

Sheila has been Secretary of the Labour Housing Group (LHG) since 2018, having re-joined LHG Executive after a gap of many years.

She believes that housing is a critical issue across the country and that Labour has great housing policies – but many people, including many members, do not yet know how Labour intends to solve the current housing crisis when next in power.

Sheila wants to see Labour in the forefront of people’s minds when they consider what needs to change. She has worked all her life in housing – in the areas of homelessness, supported housing and housing need. Sheila was a city councillor in Newcastle and is now retired.

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The Return of Housing Regulation

From a Government that has until now been considered de-regulatory, we are now witnessing a return to housing regulation. But will it deliver the goods?

The aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy in 2017 has been far reaching. The Public Inquiry continues with revelations every week about the appalling practices in both the building industry and the procurement framework that led to the deaths of 72 people.[i] One outcome was the Government commitment to reform social housing and place tenants and residents at the centre of decision making around the management of their homes and the estates where they live. As a consequence the Government published a Green Paper one year after the fire proposing reforms to social housing to address some of the problems revealed by the Grenfell fire. [ii]   

Following the fire, the existing framework for regulating social housing was subject to savage criticism. Since 2010 the regulation of ‘consumer services’ had effectively been abandoned. Before the election in 2010, the Tenant Services Authority and the Audit Commission jointly regulated/inspected the housing services delivered by housing associations and local authorities under a regime designed by the Labour Government.  Research subsequently showed that the regulation/inspection of social housing in the 2000s significantly boosted performance in the sector.[iii]

But as the Coalition Government set about the ‘bonfire of quangos’ both the TSA and Audit Commission were abolished. The DCLG led by Eric Pickles and Grant Shapps took a contrary approach to Ministerial colleagues in the Education and Health Departments (taking two examples) where ‘consumer regulation’ was highly valued. Ofsted and CQC were seen as important parts of the Government armoury in education, health and social care. But consumer regulation was anathema to those running DCLG.

 Shapps actually wanted all formalhousing regulation abolished but the funders of housing associations (the banks and other finance institutions) fought hard to retain a regulatory regime that oversaw financial viability and governance.  After all, £100bn of private finance is invested in social housing provided by housing associations. And if you ran a finance house you would be foolish not to have the State carry out at least some of the checks of the bodies you fund. 

The regulation that remained after 2010 was transferred to the Homes and Communities Agency.  Consumer regulation was given a minor role in the new set up. And the hurdles erected to limit effective consumer regulation were high. For instance, ‘serious detriment’ had to be identified before any regulatory action could be taken by the HCA. And a ‘democratic filter’ was introduced to in effect stymie the efforts of tenants seeking to complain about their social housing landlords.

The 2018 Green Paper recognised the weaknesses of the regulatory framework for social housing with one section of the consultation paper calling for enhanced empowerment of residents and the strengthening of the regulator. Two years after the Green Paper was published, the social housing White Paper finally emerged this month (November 2020).[iv]  

Specifically looking at regulation, ‘The Charter for Social Housing Residents’ really does take us back to the position in 2010.[v] And in many ways the proposals significantly strengthen the regime that existed a decade ago. Points to note:

  • A major step forward sees all regulation of social housing placed under the auspices of one body – the Regulator of Social Housing; this finally realises one of the key ambitions of the seminal review of social housing regulation by Professor Martin Cave in 2007.[vi]
  • The return of service inspections. It is instructive to note that the ‘i’ word was used just once in the Green Paper of two years ago – and then, bizarrely, in relation to the assessment of the financial performance of housing associations. Inspection is the centre piece of the proposed regulatory framework.
  • An inevitable but welcome focus on health and safety.
  • A strengthening of the ties between the enhanced Housing Ombudsman Service (run by former Boris Johnson adviser Richard Blakeway) and the regulator.
  • A proposal to publish details about executive pay for housing associations (nothing that some association CEOs are paid over £400,000 a year).
  •  A strengthening of the enforcement powers available to the RSH including the introduction of unlimited fines for non compliance with the regulator’s standards.
  • A recognition that for-profit providers should be subject to greater scrutiny to prevent fraud and not claim housing benefit for their tenants when there is no entitlement.
  • A proposal to make housing associations subject to the Freedom of Information Act provisions that apply in the public sector (although this may founder given how this might threaten the private sector status of associations[vii]).

From a Government that is portrayed as de-regulatory, this revamped housing regulation framework is remarkable. Indeed you wonder how civil servants managed to persuade Robert Jenrick and his Ministerial colleagues to accept this much enhanced regulation regime. Those interested in improving the performance of social housing providers and ensuring those providers are fully accountable for their actions should welcome these changes.    Tenants in particular should relish the prospect of greater scrutiny of their landlords.  Certainly the Government appears to have rejected the siren voices from the larger housing associations in particular that have batted off tougher regulation in the past.  There is every prospect on this occasion that the regulator will not be subject to ‘professional capture’.

But there is a long way to go before the good intentions become a reality. Even if there is a fair wind it will be three/four years before the new regime is in place given the time needed to pass the necessary legislation and to set up the new arm of the RSH covering consumer regulation.  Funding may also be a problem as spending cuts are implemented to pay for the pandemic.

Even if the legislation is passed and monies found to pay for an enhanced RSH, tenants and others pushing for better performance by social housing providers need to ensure that a rigourous methodology is developed to inspect landlords in the new era. Inspecting largely from the user’s perspective is critical – a technique followed by the Audit Commission’s Housing Inspectorate from 2000 until 2010. Tenant Inspection Advisers must be involved in all inspections. Enforcement is key too. The RSH has been reluctant in the past to use its significant powers to bring back sliding providers to book.

And there are still gaps in the proposed regulatory framework. The current proposals do not cover the regulation of local authority strategic housing services such as homelessness or meeting housing needs.  And if we are seeking a true level playing field, perhaps the large providers of private rented housing – with over 1,000 homes, say – should be subject to regulation by the RSH.

Perhaps in another ten years…….

<span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color"><strong>Roger Jarman</strong></span>
Roger Jarman

Roger Jarman is an Associate with the Housing Quality Network where he provides consultancy services, leads training programmes and writes on housing regulation and other matters. He is also a Non Executive Director of two housing organisations.

From 1991 until 1999 he was Head of Housing Management at the Housing Corporation and then from 1999 until 2011 he was Head of Housing at the Audit Commission overseeing the 1400 housing inspections undertaken by the Commission during that period.  


[i]   https://www.grenfelltowerinquiry.org.uk/

[ii]  https://www.gov.uk/government/news/social-housing-green-paper-a-new-deal-for-social-housing

[iii] https://www.ukhousingreview.org.uk/ukhr1011/index.html

[iv] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-charter-for-social-housing-residents-social-housing-white-paper

[v] Older readers will note the language used here as it echoes the Tenants’ Charter promoted by another Tory Government in the early 1980s.  

[vi] https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20070701140243/http://www.communities.gov.uk/pub/422/EveryTenantMattersAreviewofsocialhousingregulationReportbyProfessorMartinCave_id1511422.pdf

[vii] https://www.ons.gov.uk/news/statementsandletters/statementonclassificationofenglishhousingassociationsnovember2017

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Real Charity Starts with Homes for the Homeless

When is it appropriate for a charity to campaign for an unremarkable recent building to be listed, preventing more homes for the homeless?

On 10th September, Camden Council registered an application by HTA Design LLP, a firm of architects, planners and designers, for the Council’s own housing department to replace the hostel at 2 Chester Road near Archway with 50 new homes for homeless people and families.

Two months later the 20th Century Society, a registered charity, announced that it was supporting an application to Historic England for the Grade II listing of the existing hostel, built in 1979. A listing would prevent those new social homes being built.

Should this really be a listed building?
Source: Google Maps

The current hostel has little or no historic or architectural value, as London YIMBY, PricedOut and YIMBY Alliance explained in our joint submission to Historic England. It falls far below the thresholds to become a listed building.

The process to decide whether an historic building should be designated for listing is set out in the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990. Applications to add, remove or amend an entry are made to Historic England, which then investigates the merits. To merit Grade II listed status under the Act, a building must have sufficient architectural or historic interest, but it falls far short on either of those measures.

A distinct lack of influential quality
Source: Google Maps

In 2012 English Heritage undertook a review of buildings of architectural merit and significance. 2 Chester Road did not meet the test to be included in its Heritage at Risk review then, and nothing has significantly changed since then to change that conclusion. 

The building is not a good example of the work of its architect, Sydney Cook, and the work of his Camden Borough Architect’s Department, for example in the buildings on Winscombe Street, with a characteristic way of responding to the form of surrounding terraced houses. The Chester Road hostel does the opposite.

Another dead frontage
Source: Google Maps

The building has dead walls and frontage around much of its perimeter, losing the historic double-sided street frontage and making the surrounding streets less friendly and welcoming. When the Dartmouth Park Conservation Area was appraised, the site received so little local support that the local conservation area assessment doesn’t mention the building at all. In a sea of green on the map of buildings that make a positive contribution to the conservation area, 2 Chester Road is just a blank space.

Site not considered to be a positive contribution to the area
Dartmouth Conservation Area | Green = Positive Contribution | Red = Site Location

The 20th Century Society’s response is that they would like the existing building preserved and re-used. ‘If a larger building is thought necessary’ to provide housing for homeless people, they say, ‘we would like to see 2 Chester Road converted to an alternative, socially beneficial use.’

But the problem is that – despite some people’s hand-waving assertions to the contrary – Camden has no other site for the 50 homes it wants to build for homeless families, nor the money to buy another site.  Charities have a duty to promote the public interest. That means trustees must be able to explain how the charity benefits the public by carrying out its purposes. It is hard to see how listing that 1970s building would ‘benefit the public’.

There is a general policy issue here because many charities, at one point or another, advocate positions that result in blocking more housing of one kind or another on various grounds. The 20th Century Society’s charitable purposes in its constitution include the objective ‘to save from needless destruction or disfigurement, buildings or groups of buildings, interiors and artefacts designed or constructed after 1914.’ (Emphasis added.)

That objective has no quality threshold. On its face, all post-1914 buildings are to be saved, however unimportant, ugly, unsustainable or unpopular. Are we to save a group of 1995 wheelie bins? They would technically qualify as a ‘group of … artefacts’. But there is one limit: the Society’s goal is only to defend against ‘needless’ damage.

No-one has suggested any specific alternative location or funding source for these homes in the real world. The only suggestions have been ‘somewhere else’. Presumably that does not mean the nearby Highgate Cemetery? Or perhaps Hampstead Heath? There is no green belt in Camden. Even if there were, someone would likely object to building on it, given the existence of an alternative site.

And if being homeless doesn’t qualify as ‘need’ , it’s hard to see what does. So building more homes for the homeless by replacing a building that does not meet the statutory tests for protection, when there is no realistic alternative site, is exactly the sort of thing charities should be campaigning for, when you consider the broader public interest test that charitable trustees are required to meet.

Some misleading environmental claims have also been made to try to block these new homes: claims that because the existing building has embodied carbon, we must not replace it.

You don’t get to just point to something you personally happen to like and shout ‘embodied carbon’ to stop it being changed. Real climate scientists look at what’s called the ‘counterfactual’. If we don’t build more with gentle density in places with good public transport where people can walk or cycle, people will end up building and living in remote but bigger houses with even more embodied carbon. That will be far away from densities where public transport is viable and so they will rely on model after model of car to get around, each with embodied carbon of its own.

The Royal Town Planning Institute helpfully spelled out the importance of walkable density – friendly streets where people can and do like to walk to meet their local needs – for reducing carbon emissions in its 2018 report.

Partly because of exactly this sort of misconceived objection to new homes, most of the homes we built in this country over the last few decades have been houses far from public transport, with people stuck in car dependent sprawl – when the slopes of prices and rents prove that many of those people would much rather live somewhere with better public transport.

So blocking these new homes where people can live sustainably, without needing a car, is profoundly damaging to the environment. By all means let’s get to standards that require full net zero demolition and construction as quickly as possible. But we won’t reduce carbon emissions in the meantime by pushing new homes out to areas of car-dependent sprawl. That would be the ultimate result of listing 2 Chester Road.

The most environmentally friendly thing is to reuse the materials and the embedded carbon of existing buildings to build better places and more and better homes near to public transport, with popular gentle density that will help the environment, make better bus services economic, and help to support local shops and high streets. To claim otherwise is just greenwash.

Listing the Chester Road hostel would harm some of the most disadvantaged groups in society. It would result in increased inequality, more homelessness, and further environmental damage. Charities should not be campaigning for that.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">John Myers</span></strong>
John Myers

John Myers is co-founder of London YIMBY and YIMBY Alliance, which campaign to end the housing crisis with the support of local people.

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Building the New Jerusalem – How Attlee’s Government built 1 Million New Homes

Everyone knows that Clement Attlee’s 1945-1951 Labour Governments created the NHS, brought the coal mines and railways in to public ownership and gave India and Pakistan independence. But one of Attlee’s lesser celebrated achievements was building one million new homes at a time when building materials were in short supply and when the construction labour force was reduced to a third of its pre-war size.

From a slow start in 1945 -1947, new housing completions averaged around 200,000 a year for the next four years from 1948 -1951. By 1951, a total of 1,016,349 new homes were built, of which 806,857 were new Council houses. On top of that, 156,623 ‘prefabs’ were built, many of which provided decent and much-loved homes for many years to come. In addition, hundreds of thousands of existing homes were repaired and converted in the six years after the war.

Michael Foot rightly claims, “This achievement was no small one in the first years after the war when the country was also engaged in a big factory-building programme. It far surpassed anything achieved in Britain after 1918 or in most countries after 1945”.

However, despite the heroic efforts of Aneurin Bevan and his colleagues, more could have been achieved had Labour stuck to its Manifesto commitment and created a separate Ministry of Housing and Town Planning. Attlee gave Bevan the job of ‘slaying’ two of Beveridge’s ‘five giants’ – Squalor (caused by poor housing) and Disease (caused by inadequate health care provision). As Nick Thomas-Symonds argues:

“Having the same Cabinet minister responsible for both the creation of the NHS and housing the nation after the destruction of the Second World War was more than overload. It left Bevan to deal with the intricacies of both sides of his department when either half in itself would have been too much for a single minister.”

Should the housing building programme have been led by a ‘National Housing Corporation’, as Douglas Jay had recommended in the first few months of the Government, rather than by the local authorities, many of which had little experience of building new homes at scale.

Certainly, a national organisation with regional offices would have made planning, direction and control easier, but it could also have taken some time to establish. By harnessing the experience of the big city housing departments in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Glasgow, which had been building new out-of-town estates for over a decade and more, Bevan was able to combine real expertise with local knowledge.

The downside was that outside the big cities, experience was strictly limited with many local councils simply unable to move quickly. Overall, perhaps a key factor in this debate is that, six years later, Harold Macmillan was able to build 300,000 houses a year based on the same local authority ‘delivery system’ established by Bevan.

Should Labour have been more pragmatic and built more homes at lower standards, as Macmillan did during the 1950s? The average new three-bedroom Council house increased in size, from 860 square feet in the pre-war period, to 1,026 square feet in 1946, to 1,055 square feet in 1949, falling back to 1,032 square feet in 1951 and down to 947 square feet in 1952.

By 1959, the average size of a three-bedroom Council house had fallen to 897 square feet. Bevan was surely correct to increase space standards, remaking famously in Margate on 22nd May 1947, “We shall be judged for a year or two by the number of houses we build. We shall be judged in ten years’ time by the type of houses we build”.

There is little doubt that the new, larger Council houses built in the years immediately following the Second World War were some of the best ever built and have stood the test of time. In 1950, the first four blocks completed on the Churchill Gardens estate in Pimlico won Festival of Britain Architectural Awards. It wasn’t just the architectural critics who praised the flats. In 1962, tenants in the ‘posh’ private flats in Dolphin Square next door opposed a rent rise arguing, that “many of the flats are not as nice as those put up by the Council in Churchill Gardens opposite”.

Other post-war estates were similarly feted. In 1998, English Heritage listed the Spa Green estate in Finsbury as Grade II*. The Survey of London describes the Spa Green Estate as ‘heroic’. Nikolaus Pevsner called it ‘the most innovative public housing’ of its time.

Perhaps where Labour’s lofty ambitions most obviously failed was in the goal to create new communities where the ‘spirit of companionship’ would flourish and “wartime sentiments of social solidarity and shared purpose could be maintained and strengthened in the post-war world”. Aneurin Bevan harked back to the time where “the doctor, the grocer, the butcher and the farm labourer all lived in the same street”.

Similarly, Lewis Silkin’s ambition that class distinctions would fade away in the New Towns was never achieved. He hoped that “different income groups living in the new towns will not be segregated” and that after attending a town centre event, “When they leave to go home I do not want to see the better-off people to go to the right and the less well-off to go to the left. I want them to ask each other, ‘Are you going my way?’”.

There can be no denying Labour’s fundamental achievement to meet the aspiration of very many working class families to live in high quality affordable housing – which the Conservatives followed with great success over the next 13 years. The lives of so many working class families – who had been ignored by every previous Government – were transformed for the better.

As the historian Kenneth Morgan so clearly concludes:

“The rehousing of several million people in new or renovated houses, at a time of extreme social and economic dislocation, was a considerable achievement. Housing, therefore, deserves its honoured role in the saga of Labour’s welfare state.”

His book, ‘Building the New Jerusalem: How Attlee’s Government Built 1 Million New Homes’, is available in paperback and Kindle https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08N1H3PYL

All royalties will be donated to Foodbanks in Westminster.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Paul Dimoldenberg</span></strong>
Paul Dimoldenberg

Paul Dimoldenberg was first elected to Westminster City Council in 1982. He was Leader of the Labour Opposition Group from 1987-1990 and from 2004-2015.

He is the author of ‘The Westminster Whistleblowers’, published by Politicos in 2006, which tells the story of the Westminster ‘Homes for Votes’ scandal of the 1980s and 1990s. He also has recently published Cheer Churchill. Vote Labour.