bernardcrofton -> Bellerephon

it is fatuous to blame architecture for social problems

Of course not, but you can often blame architect for problem estates. Here’s a little anecdote.

As the most junior lettings officer, I was given the task of filling the empty block in the Stevenage town centre. It had one benefit to the locals: instead of being let to people moving out of London I was allowed to let them to local couples who “fell pregnant” with no other prospect of their own home. I was told to promise them they would be high-priority transfers when the child was three. Then Heath won the 1970 election, budgets were cut, and many of them were still there a decade later, but with more kids. Older couples suited to the estate moved out because of the noise.
The Chief Architect planned a tower block in each neighbourhood:”like a church spire in a traditional village”. My response that people don’t have to live in a church spire fell on cloth ears.

And an anecdote on architects in general. I attended a course on residential densities at the Architectural Association. One of our test exercises was a disused dock backing onto a 1930s LCC estate. Apart from mine and a planner’s from Islington, every design submitted included a big wall between the older council estate and the new homes.

Is the big society big enough for homeless people?

bernardcrofton’s comment 4 July 2011 12:03PM

It was deliberate policy of the Thatcher government to remove full security of tenure and allow rents to rise in the private sector,and to force council and housing association rents to rise in the public.
The result was that Housing Benefit “took the hit”. (I would say see my evidence to the commons social security committee 1996 but I can’t find the link for the moment). This was seen as an inevitable cost of forcing up rents. The neo-cons believed that eventually there would be a resurgence of the private landlord.
The same belief underpins the current coalition plans for “near-market rents”. The problem is that this time all the family sized dwellings are going to be above the benefits cap etc..

And the “flood of immigrants” around the millennium was a temporary phenomenon caused by the accession of the eastern block to the EU with full rights to live and work anywhere within the EU. I make no comment on the rights and wrongs, or losses and gains to the UK, involved in that treaty. I simply observe that the Accession Act 1996 put into UK law the Maastricht Treaty which gave those countries equal rights with other EU citizens to enter the UK. 1996 was the seventeenth year of a Conservative Government.

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Ed Miliband moves on from criticism with housing pledge

bernardcrofton’s comment 13 June 2011 9:45AM

@ Swan17 The only way would be to drastically increase the supply of housing – where is the finance for this to come

Answer: The same place that the money for home-owners houses come from*.
Big difference between the two
Mortagages 20 years repayment
Council housing 60 years repayment period.

* pension funds and savings accounts or evenb things called building societies.

Prices go up: home owners get tax free profit
Prices go up council tenants pay more rent, which means that Council Housing as a whole is making a surplus and has done so for 20 years. That means that cross-subsidy between the rents of new council houses and old ones means there isn’t much subsidy required. The profits on council housing are currently being used to make up for tax avoidance by the very rich.

Prices go up so council housing is sold off at 70% discount and still more than pays off the historic debt.

Only George Osborne thinks that if you build a council house the debt should be repaid “within the term of this government” (4-5 years).

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In village politics, as elsewhere, what matters is not agreement but conflict

bernardcrofton’s comment 3 June 2011 8:38AM

You miss the point of the legislation entirely. Conservatives (the capital letter is to start the sentence) are overwhelmingly against social housing. The proposal is a spin doctors way of ensuring none gets built in any number. Even the poorer residents of villages are opposed very often to more social housing: it will be occupied by people who are “different”.
In Stevenage in the 60’s, thousands lodged objections to a planned further expansion of the New Town. The objectors were almost universally those who had themselves moved to the new town from London.

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In praise of… Arnold Day

bernardcrofton’s comment 30 May 2011 1:59PM

Arnold was succeeded, maybe not immediately, by Col. Levita. His only attribution today seems to be Levita House, between Euston and St Pancras. This was modelled on the Austrian revolutionaries. The LCC had a succession of visionaries committed to relieving the housing coditions of the poor. And a history of fighting nimbyism (Arseneknows). That was why it was destroyed and the GLC created, to stop it putting council housing in the suburbs.
When the GLC turned out not to be dominated politically by the tory outer areas, it too was abolished, contemporaneously with Thatcher’s attempt to destroy council housing itself.

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Social immobility is built into the way Britain lives and learns

bernardcrofton’s comment 6 April 2011 12:42PM

Simon one irreconcilable issue, which I think does not come not from your analysis:
“As long as rich unionists, such as the train drivers’ Bob Crow, can occupy subsidised social housing in London, there will be no room for mobile newcomers.

simply contradicts your solution: The key to mobility is again housing, to the goal of integrated mixed communities.

We are not going to reverse the trend and go back to mixed communities by moving unemployed miners into St John’s Wood. It has to be a general pattern, where living on a council estate is acceptable for “rich unionists” or indeed doctors, journalists or lawyers. Then such an address will not rule out the young from an interview for an internship, as it does now.


New Labour insisted that the past be left behind. What a mistake that was

bernardcrofton’s comment 4 April 2011 9:43AM

@ thenewnumbertwo

3 April 2011 8:33PM

Speaking of leaving a few things behind…
RMT union boss Bob Crow enjoys a 50 per cent subsidy on the rent for his housing association home, despite earning £145,000 a year, reports the Sunday Times with glee. An RMT spokesman said: “Bob Crow makes no apology for living in social housing at the heart of his local community. He was born into a council house…”

You are revealing your post-Thatcherite view of council housing. Nye Bevan said it was “housing for all”. Those of us who worked to provide it did not want ghettoised estates of only the impoverished. Nostalgic?
NO! Bitter at the way the contribution of millions of tenants was turned into a cash-cow. Council houses were subsidised when new but there were rent rises with inflation. The typical inter-war house cost £200 to build, and by the 70’s was bringing in rents that high per month! Those payments went through what is called “rent-pooling” to help meet the cost of new homes. That is called “socialising payments”. I am certainly nostalgic for that sort of system. Council housing has been in profit since the end of the ’80s if you ignore the trick of counting the part of unemployment benefits which contributes to rents.
Thatcher sold off council housing at a huge discount just to bring in a few bob to keep taxes down. She could do so because the tenants of the older houses had long since paid through their rents for the costs of building them. It was a classic asset stripping exercise. Ok people could become owners without moving from their home of many years. But cannot live in council or housing association homes if they earn a decent wage. What you are is nostalgic for sink estates and New York “projects”!

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Comment is free readers on … homelessness

bernardcrofton’s comment 22 January 2011 11:09AM

@ LibertarianLou
21 January 2011 2:40PM A big problem with ending private property, surely, is that it means property would have to be owned by politicians. Which means it would be politicised and booted around – like they do with housing benefits and stuff, only with actual people’s houses. I’d trust private landlords more (just about) to be honest!

This level of ignorance is breathtaking. In Britain we have had Council Housing for over a hundred years. At one time it accommodated a third of households, over six million homes.

It was sold off, notably by Thatcher, at 30% of its value (often less than the rent) and about a million homes have been transferred to other landlords as a condition of having repairs done. This last was to avoid the cost showing as “public spending”. This is another insult to intelligence. Because no council housing was built after Thatcher, by and large, it was built at historic values (20% was built between the two world wars at an average of £200 a house). The rents every year are several times the cost of building them in the first place. Council houses in Britain – and they are still in their millions – actually show a profit, which is used to meet the welfare housing benefit payments to the unemployed.

When given a choice, council tenants overwhelmingly choose to be council tenants, rather than the tenants of other social landlords. No one chooses private landlords.

There are five million people (2m households) on council house waiting lists

I won’t even start on the “advantages” of private landlords…

In future I suggest you stick to talking about Arizona or Alaska.

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The government is protecting the homeless from council cuts

bernardcrofton’s comment 25 January 2011 11:37AM

@ lundeil

As a landlord who rents out properties to tenants on benefits it is you who gets huge amounts of cash from the tax payer not them.

There has been a huge rise in Housing Benefit over the last 20 years. A small part of that was the forcing up of council rents and the transfer to housing associations. The vast bulk of the increase has been due to the abolition of secure tenancies in the private sector, the resulting rent increases and the subsequent growth in private landlordism. Most of the housing benefit budget is now a simple “transfer payment” from the taxpayer to private landlords.
Does it help private tenants?
Some argue that private renting would not have grown without it. On the other hand, there were external forces, mortgage market instability, second sales of council housing going to landlords because owner-occupiers don’t want them.
Does it help the taxpayer?
Well councils avoid an even bigger bill for homeless families in B&B. On the other hand, in the long run its a lot dearer to pay benefits to private landlords than to build housing.

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Let’s take the housing fight to wealthy owners with empty spare rooms

bernardcrofton’s comment 4 January 2011 11:18AM

Having posted after reading George I have read the posts (or scanned them anyway). Further to what I posted above: the statistics and the trends are well known and the explanations are simple. Owner occupation increased in previous decades but a high proportion of the elderly remained tenants. As the generations aged, a higher proportion of the elderly were owners. Most home-owners live in houses with several bedrooms. When families leave they have a choice: move or stay. Most stay till the point at which social services tell them to sell up to pay for care (in England anyway).

To get “homesharing” to make a real impact you would have to get the old people to move into underoccupied houses as lodgers or whatever. The threat of that would get me to sell my underroccupied house!

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Let’s take the housing fight to wealthy owners with empty spare rooms

bernardcrofton’s comment 4 January 2011 11:01AM

The increase is not due to an increase in single-person households, but the proportion of those who are owner-occupiers. They tend to stay in their larger homes whilst councils and benefits force other tenures to downsize.

re The only occasions on which you’ll hear politicians talk about this is when they’re referring to public housing.

No, they also talk about “benefits scroungers” getting housing benefit in council or private lettings where they have become under-occupiers. Under the coalition plans council tenants must move, possibly losing their security of tenure (that Thatcher gave them ironically) and when they move will no longer be tenants for life.

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Housing reform: Glad to be Grant

bernardcrofton’s comment 23 November 2010 1:33PM

Get your definitions right please, leader writers.

“Social mobility” is people from council estates getting a university education and good jobs: viz the 60’s

“Mobility” is people moving about the country usually pursuing jobs but also retired people moving to Eastbourne, viz the 70s and 00s.

“Transience” is people being housed only temporarily, whether in “shorthold tenancies” with which the Thatcher tories replaced security of tenure for private tenants, or in two year reviews of council tenancies.

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We do not harass or bully tenants in under-occupied homes

bernardcrofton’s comment 18 August 2010 9:34AM

“Council Housing” is a welfare benefit but NOT a subsidy. “Housing Benefit” is a subsidy but is means tested. The fact is that Council housing has for over a decade been making a substantial profit. The reason “Right to Buy” worked is the difference between standard inflation indices and those of rents. Tenants now pay more in rent per month than many of the houses cost to build in the first place. The debt – even paid off over 60 years rather than the typical 25 for a mortgage has long been paid off for the first “boom” in council housebuilding. Any rent collected or anything recovered from discounted sales is a profit.
Council housing instead contributes rent profits in most of the country* to Housing Benefit costs, a subsidy which is part of the general welfare benefit to the unemployed and retired. Home owners and private tenants do not pay this particular contribution to welfare costs.

*Not, I accept, in K&C.

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David Cameron announces plan to end lifetime council tenancies

bernardcrofton’s comment 4 August 2010 9:10AM

Nothing new. There was a national exchange scheme for council and housing association tenants until sometime prior to 2007. I cannot be precise because the scheme was effectively privatised; new software failed to materialise or to work and the scheme simply collapsed. It was formally abandoned by the Department for Communities in 2007. The “market ” was left to competition among private companies: some money is being made, with minimal benefits to the public.
Having “invented” the Inter Borough Nomination Scheme for the London Boroughs, the very first joint council scheme, and lent a hand in the creation of the national scheme “HOMES” I recognise the need for what is a classic public service. It benefits tenants , it makes better use of resources, and it costs very little if run as a public service, rather than an opportunity for software companies.

It will not solve overcrowding. Significant under occupation is a function of old age. The homes of the overcrowded are not what they need.
It will make no impact on unemployment. Council housing is in the areas which are going to be shedding jobs in the coming months.

And what of the rest of your story? What if a home swap means becoming only a short term tenant? If the coalition really want to finally abolish council housing, and the annoying but decreasing tendency of its tenants to vote Labour?

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Moving to find work is unrealistic

bernardcrofton’s comment 28 June 2010 11:07PM

Why should tenants move, but not owners? If they move from a council flat, will they get another in the area where there are jobs? Will they get housing benefit if the rent is higher than the one they move from (extremely likely if they move to the SE from the NE or NW)?

Houses and jobs together was the model for the New Towns after WW2. That model is now called “the nanny state” by the coalition and most of the candidates for leader of the opposition.

I would like to think the proposal is just a failure of joined-up coalition thinking, between housing, and benefits cuts and employment policy between coalition partners. Sadly I just cannot believe it is .

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Destroy these vertical slums

bernardcrofton’s comment 11 July 2009 12:04PM

It is worrying that someone holding those offices should be either so ignorant of history or mendacious, and that the Guardian should publish it.

Lets start with the Harold MacMillan government: deciding it had to do something about the prolonged post-war housing deficit, it cut housing standards and went for cheap and nasty for council tenants. Goldfinger’s block was built by (Kensington &) Chelsea Council – never anything but conservative controlled. It had another agenda – confine nasty labour-voting council tenants to small areas – building high to achieve it. There were long local (Labour ) campaigns against that development.

By the late 60’s Conservatives had taken control of Hammersmith & Fulham Council (as in 28 other London Boroughs). The outgoing Labour council had bought many small terraced houses to rent to their waiting lists (priced out of the local rented market by gentrification and Rachmanism. The Conservatives sold them off along with development land for additional housing, and made existing council flats the only choice for ordinary working locals.

The one conservative exception was Lambeth, where the new council actually doubled the housebuilding programme, convinced of the pressure and the misery of housing conditions for the working population. John Major became Chairman of Housing. However it went heavily for “system building” to achieve the programme and even planned 50-storey flats in central Brixton. These were subsequently cancelled by the next Labour administration (Ken Livingstone and Tony Banks to the forefront of that decision).

My own history involved trying to construct a report to abandon tower block development in the green fields round Stevenage new town as a result of experience in trying to get people to move into the first of these. I successfully argued in the GLC for the first demolition of a British tower block, and later for the redevelopment of Trowbridge estate (Hackney) by low rise housing designed to the demands of the local residents and owned by them as a co-operative. When I studied Political Science at university co-ops were monuments to socialism as well as falling within the Labour Party’s Clause 4 (“popular” ownership and control meaning “by the people”). But perhaps socialism has changed its meaning, just as no-one thinks council housing is “popular” any more and blame those who tried to give people decent housing rather than those who created or encouraged the shortage.

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Democratic crunch

bernardcrofton’s comment 1 November 2008 10:26AM


Your piece appears alongside the news that repossessions are soaring. They have boosted very significantly the houses actually on the market at present, and distorted the “market price” since the vendors are willing to jettison them quickly, to minimise losses on interest building up.

Basically bankers are deeply amoral ! The American, MoveanyMountain says above: ”

Self-evidently taking money away from productive investment, and productive investors, and giving it to people more likely to consume, might push up consumption in the short term. But in the medium to long term it can only lead to a decline in investment, an aging production stock, a declining economy. We have been here and tried this. It did not work in the Seventies. It will not work now..

The huge flaw in that old Republican rhetoric is that the banks are not investing in “production”. Since Thatcher destroyed our manufacturing and mining and public transport , the banks have been exporting jobs to the near and far (but not Middle!) East. The same applies n housing. The banks have been running far too fast, funding increases in “value” of the existing housing stock rather than in construction, and the investment houses have been “land-banking”.

A tax on unused land would seem a good “nudge” policy. Stopping repossessions will help to stabilise the slide in house prices, and will save the (council)taxpayer the burdens of caring for the homeless.

Green and unpleasant

bernardcrofton’s comment 2 October 2008 11:22AM

The price of building housing is not high. The market (funded by 110% mortgages with cash-backs) sets the selling price. The difference between the construction cost and spiralling prices goes into the residual factor: land prices.
Eco-towns were partly a response to this and to try to deal with market prices by meeting demand instead of reducing it. Now the balloon has burst that will reduce expressed demand (i.e. demand backed by a loan) for a while. People who might have upgraded to a new house will sit tight: only those who have no choice are actually selling at the moment, repossessions etc. and their lack of choice is distorting the statistics on house prices.
So builders who land-banked on a rising market will just sit tight and wait for demand to pick up before finishing off the homes they have started and certainly before starting any more. The worst problems for sales are in the areas where lots of homes were under-way – in former city docklands and in the big rural developments (taken a trip round Stowupland recently Jonathan?) As a result the builders are unlikely to want to commit to eco-towns for at least five years, because confidence in the big developments will take longer to recover than the rest of the housing market..
Meanwhile we now all want cheaper goods from Tesco or whatever, so those more damaging developments will probably go ahead when the Banks are ready to lend on bricks and mortar again, and the Farm shops will close.


CCTV is no silver bullet – it risks making life less safe

bernardcrofton’s comment 1 November 2007 9:48AM

I am partly responsible for the spread, having used them on housing estates in the early 90s. The demand from tenants was very strong, but they did have some cause, Stockbridge it wasn’t! However, the key to cameras was they have to be watched by someone able to respond quickly. The lessons were clear even then from Home Office research on car parks: crime went down when cameras first arrived, then up to higher than non CCTV parks because criminals learnt that no one came whatever they did, and the cameras were often a way of cutting live supervision. Cameras work in binge-drinking town centres because they are used as a tool by the public services out there on the street, not in the faint hope of subsequent retribution. For me, the cameras worked on estates plagued by street robbery because you could follow the offenders from camera to camera till they were arrested (like the best town centre schemes) and for moving street prostitution out of residential estates and stairwells – of course not eradicating it but moving it to somewhere where it impacted less. Personally I don’t have a problem having a police officer on the beat in my street, or in them using binoculars or remote cameras to carry out that function. The civil liberty issues are not with the technology but the need for a proper legal framework on what is and is not acceptable use of cameras and the records they produce. That much was evident over a decade ago when we became the most surveilled nation in the world.

bernardcrofton 19 November 2011 10:59PM
The promotion of the sale of council housing simply further depresses an already depressed construction sector of the economy. The most comprehensive research into previous sales (google: Alan Murie) showed that “right to buy” buyers had similar incomes to the council tenants who moved out to buy private housing. So at least some of those who buy under the new scheme would have bought in the private sector, and at the end of the “chain” someone would have paid a builder to build a home.I assume that those who buy under the new BIG (society) discount will not be able to sell-on immediately to take the discount as profit. The buyers are taken out of the housing market for five or seven years so they can eventually keep their discount.Bad news for house-builders then. So what is the reaction of the house-builders federation? “We welcome anything that prevents the public sector outdoing us on quality and price”.
bernardcrofton 19 November 2011 11:11PM
@ mangohead It would be interesting to know of any research that reveals whether, prior to RTB, property ownership was even an aspiration for most working people.

Yes there was. And new towns also built housing for sale under a variety of schemes. Research generally showed people first and foremost wanted a permanent home (hence the abolition of security of tenure for private tenants and the intention of the coalition to abolish security for council and housing association homes .Second people wanted a decent home and possibly a garden. Hence the cuts in housing standards, to build shoe-boxes.Only then do people want to consider buying a home for reasons other than the effect of government policy. I.e for good reasons like they want to enhance their own home, express themselves, provide a permanent base for their offspring to return to. As opposed to bad reasons like the rent on your council house is higher than the mortgage under a discount.

bernardcrofton 19 November 2011 11:23PM
Interestingly, this page has a link to an old story about Gordon Brown’s policies to revive the housing market. His proposals were about doing things that would help house buyers (including existing ones with mortgage problems) and help house-builders sell houses and build more to meet the shortage. In contrast, the coalition proposal – to increase the discount for council house sales – simply takes potential buyers out of the market. At the end of the “chain” those buyers would have enabled house-builders provide new homes. Instead, they will sit in the council house they have bought, until they can keep the discount when they sell. The result is fewer homes built, but a reduction in the headline accumulated government debt.

On the London skyline


02 December 2012 9:56 AMLink to this comment

What you don’t mention is the recent claim by our PM that planning controls are stifling economic growth.

Livingstone started with the objective of ensuring they didn’t, and he stuck to his rules, including “planning gain” for “affordable housing” so that ordinary Londoners got more benefits than just jobs serving the coffee. There are apparently no principles any more. Currently, your phrase “shoddy building” applies to every stage of the development process: design, approval, gain, and eventual use. The “public spaces” are, in a sad repeat of the areas round the housing tower-blocks of the Seventies, mostly no go areas outside of rush hour, for a variety of entirely predictable reasons.

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