FromTheMurkyDepths

Housing and Development in London

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Council Housing on TV

BBC4 showed a good documentary about the history of council housing the other day. It can be seen here and is on for another 8 days on the iplayer. The show features Thamesmead. There’s an aerial clip taken flying over the town whilst construction was ongoing. I wouldn’t mind tracking down the whole thing. I can imagine that some may find one of the presenters conclusions as to why council housing declined controversial.

Despite council housing construction being almost dead, the amount spent on subsidised housing isn’t. £20 billion is now spent each year on housing benefit, and is subsidising buy-to-let landlords and banks who capitalised on the bubble, and the shortage of supply caused by halting council house building. If more of the billions spent annually, that goes to private landlords, had been used to build housing over the past two decades the current housing shortage and excessive prices would be much less of a problem, and the amount spent by taxpayers would be less. Win win, and the country would have greater assets to boot in terms of more housing.

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3 Comments

  1. I started watching this when it was on, but I’m afraid I found Mr Collins’ presentation style a bit off putting and couldn’t get to the end. I’m not a great fan of the documentary style that makes the narrator the star, and in this case it really grated – I think the demise set in about 30 seconds from the start when the photo of him as a child popped up on the screen. Perhaps I will try again with the sound turned down, I do like the thought of seeing Thamesmead under construction. Did you see the article in the Guardian a short while back about the Heygate estate, interviewing the architect? http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/mar/04/death-housing-ideal?intcmp=239

  2. Dai Smile

    “If more of the billions spent annually, that goes to private landlords, had been used to build housing over the past two decades the current housing shortage and excessive prices would be much less of a problem, and the amount spent by taxpayers would be less. ”

    So: private landlords = bad
    public landlords = good.

    Please explain [taking into consideration the way council estates like Thamesmead were ground into the dust by public mismanagement].

    Also back up with figures “the amount spent by taxpayers would be much less.”

    • I too am wary of the recent trend towards the presenter being the star in documentaries, but I didn’t find him too bad or intrusive. I think it was because he has an interest and passion in the subject which helped. It could do with being fleshed out into a series as it seemed to rush through and overlook many issues.

      Thanks for the Heygate link I’m going to give it a read. The sheer monumentality (is that a word?) of the place was pretty awe inspiring the first time I passed. I never did venture in though.

      Dai – I think private landlords have their place in housing provision, but halting council house building in the hope the private sector would take up the slack never happened. In the past 10 years the population of the UK has increased at a very fast rate, and housebuilding annually is at its lowest for 100 years. This is a big factor in prices rising so much causing the housing bubble. This also meant that private rents are very high, and if people are not housed in council accommodation due to shortages, they are housed by private landlords and the state and taxpayers pay that high rent. The bill for housing benefit is now around £20 billion a year. If money had been spent on building new homes since the mid 1980s, and particularly over the past 15 years when spending was increasing from £11 to £20 billion a year, there would be no need to house those people privately and the costs to the state of housing them would be reduced. Half of this years housing benefit budget alone would build hundreds of thousands of homes, alleviating shortages and removing people from expensive private rents.
      Rent controls could be introduced to lower costs, or government housing assistance reduced which is just beginning to happen. It will only bring the bill down to £17/18 billion by 2014/15 though.

      Thamesmead suffered as it was starved of funding since conception in the 1960s and was a deeply flawed design. I wouldn’t advocate replicating that type of design or housing size and mix at all. But spending on housing has been huge the past 15 years plus, mainly in the form of housing benefit for tenants in the private sector. I think that spending on places like Thamesmead were insufficient for decades, and when spending on housing did grow it was mainly to aid private landlords and banks.

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