Registered On: January 3, 2014
There are a whole series of issues surrounding housing that are a mess at the moment.
I spent twelve years lecturing on architectural history so know a bit about it.
The high-rise apartment block was going to be the cornerstone of the brave new world of post war Europe. Thousands made homeless by bombing, hundreds living in sub-standard slum housing.
Build ’em high, build ’em quick and build ’em cheap. The houses the tower blocks and maisonettes replaced were constructed of brick and slate, materials tried and tested over many centuries. Pre-formed sectional structures were not, they were still in their infancy, cue Ronan Point in 1968.
High rise came with high maintenance. The height and size of the structure meant that DIY was impossible. Specialist contractors had to be brought in at high cost. The more stories the building had the more it cost in maintenance.
When I started teaching in the West End of Newcastle in 1974 I was renting one of the notorious Tyneside flats just off the equally notorious Scotswood Road. Built of the aforementioned brick and slate they were run down perhaps, but could have been brought up to standard relatively easily and required little in the way of maintenance. By 1979 the area had been cleared and I had bought a flat in a maisonette block on the edge of the city. Although I owned the property it cost me several hundreds pounds a year in maintenance. When I got married we moved out even further and bought a stone/slate cottage. Two up, two down low maintenance. Subsequent moves have seen us go further into Northumberland to even older houses (current one 400+ years old). When I drive past my old maisonette block I see it has been re-clad. I wonder what the maintenance cost for that was? Both my son and daughter live in apartment blocks where maintenance is an annual cost. Both want to move to a regular house.
As highlighted in the Spectator article the Government’s help to buy scheme is a double-edged sword (a bit like the eat out to help out scheme that was a nightmare for restaurant staff). Like many similar schemes it lures you in and then traps you in a bottomless money-pit.
Of course social housing used to be just fine. The many council estates laid out in the first half of the 20th century were well planned and well constructed. Low maintenance brick/slate 3 bedroom semis with a garden. Then along cane the Wicked Witch of Westminster using her Svengali like powers to make councils sell off their rich assets. The result – a shortage of affordable rental properties which has still not been redressed forty odd years on. Oh yes, they say they’re building affordable housing but developers realise there is more profit to be had in 4/5 bedroom “executive” houses, so getting that foot on the property ladder is virtually impossible for anyone on a low income, yet there is a shortage of rental properties unless you opt for the high rise, high maintenance blocks. A real Catch 22 situation.
The government can find billions to get some businessman from London to Birmingham half an hour quicker but seemingly nothing to ensure the public have a safe and comfortable place to live.
Surely this is one of the first requirements of any civilised society.