100 years of council housing

Old Flower estate
Looking down on the Flower estate

Story by Carrie Hedderwick | Photos courtesey of Picture Sheffield at www.picturesheffield.com

In 1919 the Addison Act enabled local authorities to develop new housing for working people. The aim was to produce high quality, well proportioned housing, with gardens where possible – a very big change from working class housing at the time. HOMES FIT FOR HEROES!

For the first time central government funding was provided, paying the difference between rent, the cost of building and a contribution from the local authority of a penny rate. The government would top up the funding so councils did not lose money. Every penny had to be agreed with the Health Ministry. Christopher Addison had a medical background and became the nation’s first Minister of Health. Similarly, after World War 2, with the Labour Government in power, the Housing Minister, Nye Bevan, who advocated for a massive council house-building programme, was also responsible for Health. The logic of housing coming under the Ministry of Health was based on the fact that poor housing was in large part responsible for poor health. (No surprise there!)

And Sheffield was at the forefront of building new council homes although pre-1914 Sheffield had already provided housing in the city centre – Townhead Street, and the Flower Estate in Wincobank.

So on 16 July at the Town Hall, Sheffield council organised a very exciting and emotive exhibition, with information, memorabilia, including scrupulously set out annual housing reports, film footage – past and present (wonderful footage of trams in the 1890s) and the history of council house building set out on panels with each board focusing on each decade.

Some of the statistics are breathtaking – in two years in Shiregreen, 4,434 houses were built; in Parson Cross in six years, 6,397!

And now, 100 years on, we have a devastating housing crisis – record levels of homelessness, unaffordable house sale prices, and shockingly high rents for private, insecure tenancies.. So what do we need? We need a new generation of good quality council housing. Campaigners are demanding 100,000 new council houses per year to meet demand across the UK. If you watched George Clarke’s recent documentary ‘The Council House Scandal’, you will see how he, as an ambassador for Shelter is absolutely clear about what the UK must do –

“We don’t just need more council houses – we need the very best in space and ecological standards.”

George was brought up on a housing estate in Washington, Northumberland – an ambitious and innovative housing development. In 1964, some of the best architects, urban designers, planners, landscape architects and highway and infrastructure engineers came together to build an entire town that would completely transform people’s lives.

And as he says – and as all the housing campaign groups have been saying for the last thirty years,

“Look where we are now. After two-thirds of all council housing had been sold off under Right to Buy or handed over to housing associations, only two million are now left under council control, from a high of more than six million in 1980. More than one million people are on social housing waiting lists. More than 100,000 children are living in temporary accommodation. The huge demand and massive lack of supply means property prices are the highest they have ever been. Long gone are the days when most of the population could buy a home for 3.5 times an average income. We are in the biggest affordability and housing crisis the country has ever seen and every year it is getting worse. We did it before – we can do it again – with political will – we can build 100,000 high standard council houses per year.