Council House Construction In The UK

Council House Building in Britain

In the years before The First World War, housing in Britain was almost all supplied by private builders, whether under contract to firms and businesses, or private enterprise.

The industrial growth of the nineteenth century had drawn housing close to the working heart, of the mines, the shipbuilders, the steel mills or cotton mills. Indeed, railway companies built complete communities to ensure that their railways would be used.

With little planning, long streets of terraced housing appeared in parallel lines to each other, with sanitation, light and space a low to zero priority.

Before the First World War house building was something of a free for all from the builders point of view, and the burgeoning working classes could afford little more than subsistence or virtually slum housing.

After the war, in response to the dire need for housing, David Lloyd George, amongst his many social reforms promised the country “homes fit for heroes”, for the returning troops.

The government set up a central advisory committee to subsidise and advise local councils in building houses which split the costs between the tenants, local rate payers and the treasury.

These new council houses were built, by the expectations of their time, to high standards. Large estates sprang up on city surrounds, of houses with indoor toilets, bathroom, gas and electricity, and usually a garden.

As these areas, along with inner city slum clearance grew, private ownership lessened, and councils used compulsory purchase orders to clear the inadequate housing thrown up in the first flush of industrialisation.

To build on brownfield sites, concentrated housing took the form of flats, built between three or five storeys high, and although the councils tried to rehouse people in central buildings, it was far cheaper to expand on the outskirts.

By the nineteen thirties, the ideology lost its impetus, recession began to be felt. Private building became more usual, but in 1939, war broke out and new building came to a halt, however local councils had built over one million new homes in these years.

When the Second World War ended, another huge surge in council house building was needed to replace housing stock after bombing, to herald another wave of “homes fit for heroes”, and continue the inner city slum clearances.

At various rates of intensity, depending on government insistence, council house and flat building between the ’50;s and the ‘70’s provided around half of the housing stock in the country.

Come the Thatcherite government policy of right to buy, the government recouped, an arguable figure, as a return on its investments of £40 billion.

Arguable, but if anywhere near true, the largest privatisation sale of government policy ever!