New council houses are good news – but why doesn’t everybody see that?
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
Ensuring there is high-quality, affordable housing for residents should be one of the primary duties of local authorities – so this week’s news that some of the new homes on the Tooks site in Ipswich are ready to be handed over to tenants really should be universally welcomed, writes Paul Geater.
But in a sense the fact that the construction of 41 new affordable homes, alongside 19 built for “market” rent, is considered such big news is profoundly disappointing. Given all the problems of homelessness and the poor state of some other homes, we really ought to be seeing many more homes going up.
To be fair Ipswich council is, belatedly, doing its bit to address the issue. We are seeing smaller developments taking place in Chantry, in Grimwade Street in the town centre, and the conversion of the former BT offices in Bibb Way which should have a major impact on the town’s overall housing stock.
And there is also, of course, the controversial housing development in Ravenswood which seems to have really stirred up a hornets’ nest for, as I see it, no good reason at all!
What is puzzling is that apparent attitudes towards council housing don’t really follow normal political lines.
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The great council house boom of the 1950s was spearheaded by Conservative Harold Macmillan – first as Minister of Housing and later as Prime Minister. It was during this period that many council housing estates – including much of the Chantry, Gainsborough, Whitton and Whitehouse homes in Ipswich – went up.
Council house building continued, although not on quite such a large scale, during the 1960s but tapered off during the 1970s and almost dried up completely in the 1980s when the new Conservative government sold off far more council houses than it allowed local authorities to build.
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And from that point on, the idea of council houses seems to have taken on an almost toxic notion for far too many people.
It seems that many people regard council tenants as second-class citizens. I’m sure they would baulk at any suggestion they were being snobbish – but the idea of having a council tenant as a neighbour seems to give them all kinds of concerns.
A much smaller number, I’m sure, of racists and xenophobes seem to regard council houses as evil because a small number of tenants may not have been born in the UK. To be honest their contemptible views, usually expressed hiding behind the curtain of anonymity online, are not worth considering.
Until a few years ago council houses – and the people who lived in them – were regarded as the cement that held together many communities both large and small.
They provided high-quality housing to those who were unable to afford a mortgage, offered security of tenure, and also allowed real communities to develop – neighbours knew each other and were often in and out of each others’ homes regularly.
The right-to-buy legislation of the late 1970s/early 80s proved how much many tenants loved their homes – enough to persuade them to buy them outright. But the then-government’s refusal to allow local authorities to use the receipts from those sales to build new homes meant that the numbers available fell dramatically.
Those restrictions on building new council homes were not significantly relaxed during the 13 years of Labour government between 1997 and 2010. It has only been over the last 10 years that governments have allowed any number of new council homes to be built – and even then in much smaller numbers than in earlier decades.
But it is good to see the new council houses taking shape in Ipswich on the former Tooks bakery site at Whitton. And what I found particularly pleasing was that they actually look really good from outside.
The one criticism you could lay at council homes in the past was that they did all tend to look the same. They were well-built, provided good space for their tenants – but were not great on individuality!
That is not the case with the new homes we’ve seen recently. Both Bader Close in the east of the town and now Tooks have seen imaginative designs used to create attractive new developments.
Hopefully we will see more council houses going up in this style in the future – providing much needed homes for those who need them most in Ipswich and in other communities across the area.