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Freedom Press 84b Whitechapel High Street, London EI 7QX

© Colin Ward and Freedom Press 1990

First published September 1990

Cover designed by Donald Rooum

Printed in Great Britain by Aldgate Press, London El 7QX

Contents

l. The Do-I t-YourselfNew Town

2. What Should We Teach About Housing?

3. Dismantling Whitehall

4. Until We Build Again

5. Direct Action for Working-Class Housing

6. Anarchy or Order? The Planner's Dilemma

7. Freedom and the Built Environment

8. City People Housing Themselves

/fJ

9. An Anarchist Approach to Urban Planning

10.

Being Local

7

36

47

:"-

'. 56

65

J

81

99

113

123

133

Foreword / The request for "something new about housing" fills me with dismay for the

Foreword

/ The request for "something new about housing" fills me with dismay for the very simple reason that I have nothing new to say about housing. I began writing about housing forty-five years ago in the anarchist press and have seen the results of housing policies of both Labour and Conservative govern- ments ever since. Any comments I make on the opportunities or obstacles provided by ever-changing government legisla- tion and administrative decisions and endlessly changing rules among the providers of housing finance would be out-of-date before they were printed. Any observations I make about homelessness, or about exploiting landlords, or about collapsing council flats or the plight of mortgage-holders faced by rising interest rates, are better provided by feature-writers and beautiful grainy photographs in all the posh newspapers. As an anarchist propagandist over such a long period I would have been foolish if I did not reflect on the nature of effective and ineffective propaganda. The application of anarchist ideas to the basic need of human shelter is dweller control and it is evident to me that people draw their inspiration from what other people actually succeed in doing. Not the affluent, who take dweller control for granted because they have freedom of choice, but ordinary fellow citizens facing every kind of difficulty because the system doesn't cater for their aspirations. We have had a century of government involvement in the provision of housing and there is a great deal to learn from it. This century has seen at least three revolutions in housing expectations. The first is the revolution in tenure. Before the first world war the norm, for both rich and poor alike, was renting in the private market. This applied to 90 per cent of households. Today the norm is owner-occupation. This

7

8

TALKING HOUSES ;

applies to about 65 per cent of households. It varies greatly in different parts of Britain, and the sad truth is that those places with the biggest proportion of bad housing are those with the largest proportion of housing in the hands oflocal authorities. It is easy to see how useful this fact is for Conservative governments in t~ war against local councils but at the same time the revolution in tenure means that owner- occupation is the mode of tenure against which any other method of householding is judged . A second housing revolution is concerned with services and with housing densities. Domestic service was an astonishingly enormous industry until the first world war, even until the second. It always amazes us how far down the social scale the habit of having a young girl, or at least some live-in female relative, to light the fires, boil the water, peel the potatoes, and do the washing and endless cleaning, penetrated. Everywhere, these were the tasks of the wife and mother. The growth of mechanical services, access to water, power, light, heat and domestic machinery, dismissed as mere gadgetry by male philosophers, represent a partial liberation from servitude. Housing densities in the poor areas of British cities were incredibly high a century ago and astonishing forty-five years ago. Charles Booth found in 1890 that a quarter of a million Londoners were "crowded together at a density of one room per family". In Glasgow in 1945 there were inner city areas with population densities of well over 900 people per acre. Both demographic changes and decentralisation have had a liberating effect, since I have never met anyone who did not aspire to the modest hope ofa room ofone's own. For the third housing revolutiQn has been in the nature of households. For a century the provision of housing assumed the nuclear family:

Mum, Dad and the kids. Today they are a minority of households.

Now all through this century people on the political Left have invested all their moral energy in one form of housing provision: local authorities as landlords with the aid of one or another of a complex variety of subsidies from central government. For a great part of this century this has been a

FO REWORD

9

bi-partisan policy pursued with varying degrees of enthusiasm by councils and by central governments of both political

. One big tragedy about this is that, as anyone who has been at either side of it knows, the landlord-tenant relationship has never, all through history, been a happy one. Quite obviously they are on opposite sides of the fence . Councils took it over / unchanged, except that there is something even more humiliating to have to go to the back door of the council offices to talk through a hatch to a poor clerk who has learned to hate tenants because of their endless moans, when all you want is an essential repair or a transfer. The situation is' actually worse. The grotesque centralisation of policy in Britain makes council tenants sitting ducks for the willing or unwilling imposition of central policy by local councils. Hence the situation of the 1980s when council tenants were in some areas subsidising the general rate fund or paying in their rents for street-lighting charged elsewhere to general income. My propaganda about housing has always been based on currently observable facts and on people's own efforts to discover alternatives. At the same time there is a doctrine of revolutionary purity which urges that there can be no solution to people's housing problems until the social revolution which

complexions.

.

will change everything.~Marxi~t theorists on ~he pol.it~c.alLeft

prove that housing co-operatlves or self-buIld actIVItIes ~re actually the ultimate triumph of the process of capItal reproduction. "The capitalist class has reduced production costs by ensuring that the proletariat even has to house itself at its own cost, with its own time and its own l?-bouri ' prove that housing co-operatlves or self-buIld actIVItIes ~re I keep away from these views as they I keep away from these views as they solve no problems for me or anyone else. I think that the ordinary human attributes of self-help and mutual aid were the foundations, not only of ordinary experience everywhere but also of the Labour movement and its history in Britain. It isn't my fault that bureaucratic managerialism took over socialist politics so that, in the climate of disillusion, slogans like self-help and mutual aid were left around to be exploited by the party of the

privileged.

. Whatever kind of political regime rules us, people need to

10

T ALKI NG HOUSES

be housed, and I see a certain prudence in trying Y? protect

yourself from th e politician's us e of housing

the homeless who suffer. And they are ignored by both sides. They are the victims, rather than the beneficiaries, of housing activity by central and local government~ My connection with the housing industry, although I can't remember not being interested in the way people shaped and adapted their environment, has always been mostly accidental and marginal. I speak with no kind of expertise. In~, when I was 15 , my second job was for the Borough Surveyor of Ilford, Essex. Among my tasks was sorting the dockets that came in about repairs and maintenance to that council's housing estates. Some got repairs. Others were put on a second pile. Some tenants were favoured. Others were not. I had stumbled, without realising its implications, on one of the unmentioned facts about housing management. The whole sad history has been carefully chronicled by Anne Power. 1 In support of her interpretation of housing history I must cite the opinion of a lifelong socialist, Tony Judge, writing of his experience as chairperson of the Greater London Council's Housing Management Committee. He declared that "The impression, often confirmed as accurate on deeper examina- tion, is of a vast bureaucracy concerned more with self-perpetuation than with either efficiency or humanity".2

policy.~ t is only

I first wrote about housing in 1945 and 1946 when it fell to me to report in Freedom on the post-war squatting campaign when 40,000 people occupied empty military camps as the only way to get a roof over their heads. I assembled the accumulated material into a pamphlet which no-one was interested in publishing. Many years later my crumbling carbon copy was printed in Anarchy in 1963 and reprinted by the London Squatter's Campaign which was instigated by just

two people, Ron Bailey and

Jim Radford, in Ilford in 1969. 3

Squatting has been a feature of the London housing scene ever since, and it has been my task to point out to the "official" housing world that some of the outstandingly successful housing co-operatives began their life as squats. 4 In the 1950s I was actually involved in the housing industry to the extent that I was working for private architects whose

FOREWORD

11

clients were public housing authorities. I remember standing one day in 1952 on a site in Deptford, part bombed, part derelict, poring over the large-scale pre-war Ordnance maps of the little streets of 2-storey houses with the architect Peter Shepheard. He calculated that the number of dwellings that could be provided by rebuilding the old street pattern was the same that we could provide in the mixture of3-ston:y walk-up flats and five-storey blocks with lifts that our clients, the London County Council, required. He raised the matter with both the Director of Housing and with the chairwoman of the housing committee, but of course was told that the Council's policy had been determined, and that it was up to the architects to follow it. In the 1960s, when I was editing the Freedom Press monthly Anarchy, I included Uanuary In the 1960s, when I was editing the Freedom Press monthly Anarchy, I included Uanuary In the 1960s, when I was editing the Freedom Press monthly Anarchy, I included Uanuary 1968) a long article of my own called "Tenants Take Over: A new strategy for council tenants". This argued that the right solution to the malaise oflocal authority housing was to transfer estates from councils to tenant co-operatives. This article attracted some attention outside the private world of anarchist propaganda, and I was asked by the Architectural Press to expand it into book form,5 and I found myself addressing meetings of tenants' associations, housing managers, councillors and academics, presenting them with what I saw as an anarchist approach to housing. I would have been a lone voice, but for the fact that an anarchist friend, the architect John F. C. T urner, who had returned to this country after many years in Latin America and the United States, with a message, that the fi rst principle of housing (cited twice in the collection of lectures before you) is dweller control; summed up my own conclusions better than I could myself.6

As a result of Tenants Take Over I was asked to compile a Freedom Press book out of thirty years of writing and talking about housing, and spent hours in the photocopy shop and a fa mily holiday in Norfolk cobbling it together. This was

Housing: an anarchist approach (1976, reprinted 1983). Then in

the early 1980s I was approached by Richard Kuper of the then Pluto Press, to write a little book about a radical attitude

12

TALK INC HOUSES

to housing as part of the run-up to the 1983 general election. I beg~n writing it, but it became more and more a polemic agamst the hou~ing ideologists of the political Left, and their fatal concentratIOn on the Thatcher government's "Right to Buy" policy. Even I, who have never voted for the Labour Party, or any other party, could recognise that Labour was out of touch with the a~tualexperience of tenants . (My own approach was

expressed m my chapter "One by one, or all together?" in--

Tenants Take ~ver.) N.0t wanting to be a part of internal Labour Party polemIcs, t withdrew, but after that election had been lost, I was asked again to write the book When We Build Again

(Pluto

increased price from the present owners of Pluto.

Press

1985)

which is still available at an absurdly

the press for a

b~ok on mn~r CIty Issues. Not wanting the wrong things to be saId yet agam, I applied for it, travelled endlessly at other

people's expense, and wrote Welcome, Thinner City (Bedford

Square Press 1989) . Pursued by Freedom Press for something

new. to add

to Housing : an anarchist approach for yet another

reprmt, I had. a sinking feeling. That book expressed,

unaltered, the VIews I had expressed on housing and planning

between 1945

Then

~n 198~ a~ award

was advertised in

and 1975. This is some kind of a record in

~ontin,uity.If I was wrong the evidence is there . If I was right It should be seen as a vindication of my version of an anarchist viewpoint.

There was nothing I could do but to offer instead a coll~ction of yet more public addresses given to a variety of alldlences. Even this presents me with difficulties. I am not a natural public speaker and I always bring a prepared text. And as I have just a few simple ideas to propagate, I endlessly repeat.the same examples and quotations from other people, t~ audIences who could have read them in the first place. I am dIsmayed by the sheer number of times that I have been on a platform talking housing in the last fifteen years, and I even had th: arrogance ten years ago to write an article announcing my re~Irement fr~m ~alking in public.1 It did me no good: I was still pursued m CIrcumstances when it would be harder to refuse than accept.

FO REWORD

13

My best meetings, or at least the ones which affected me most, were those set up by the secretaries of tenants' associations with the optimistic faith that the visiting speaker can crystallise the issues they are struggling with. My proudest moment as a writer came when the chairholder of a tenants' co-operative in Liverpool held up a copy of Tenants Take Over, falling to bits in his hand, and said, "Here's the m an who wrote the Old Testament, but we built the New

Je rusalem!" That occasion justified, for me,

a

lifetime of

recycling other people's experience of housing themselves. Alas, my attempts to get off the meetings circuit only resulted in the meetings becoming grander and more widespread. The least repetitive ten of them are printed here as originally delivered, but with duplicated quotations from other people cut as far as possible. They were prepared for particular audiences in particular

places . The first dates from the mid-1970s and is important to me simply because it actually influenced various community ventures. 8 It was also a harbinger of the book that Dennis

H ardy and I were

later enabled to write, Arcadia for All: the

lega.cy of a makeshift landscape (Mansell 1984).

The remaining nine lectures were given in the 1980s, attempting to adapt the message to the interests and localities of the people who were there. Perhaps I should apologise for endlessly repeating a few simple truths . I certainly don't have a ny new insights to offer about housing . I do think there is much for us all to learn. But the experience of talking housing over all these years leads me to two reflections . The first is that although for decades we have listened to a barrage of sociological analysis of mass media and instant communications, people rely on some kind of contact with the propagators of ideas . This is my experience and it is certainly that of propagandists I support like the National Federation of Housing Co-operatives and the Walter Segal Self-Build Trust . The second is that I never set out to be a housing pundit and in fact I have carefully described my total lack of qualifications for this role. In any case we anarchists have a profound and absolutely justified mistrust of expertise. However, if anyone tells me that

14

TALKING HOUSES

anarchism has no relevance to current daily issues, I thrust my books in their hands.

I would like to have a pile of similar books about dozens of other current topics of ordinary life to push onto enquirers and \

into the wider debate. around.

I

keep wondering why they aren't

'"

My thanks are due to the audiences who patiently listened to these lectures and who questioned and discussed the issues afterwards. Some of them are spattered with source notes, which I have retained, simply because listeners often asked, and I hope readers will too, where the information I was retailing came from and what they should read to learn more.

References

I. Anne Power: Property Before People: the management ojtwentieth-century council housing (Allen & Unwin 1987)

2. Tony Judge: "The Political and Administrative Setting" in Hamdi and

Greenstreet (eds) Participation in Housing (Oxford Polytechnic 1981)

1969),

reprinted in A Decade of Anarchy (Freedom Press 1987)

4. Colin Ward : " Self-help in urban renewal", talk given on 27 January 1987

to the Town & Country Planning Association conference on "Our deteriorating housing stock: financing and managing new solutions", printed in The Raven, No 2, August 1987.

5. Colin Ward:

Tenants Take Over (Architectural Press 1974, paperback

3. Nicolas

Walter:

"The

new

squatters"

(Anarchy

102,

August

1976)

6. John F. C. Turner and Robert Fichter (eds): Freedom to Build (Collier

Ma cmillan

7. Colin Ward: "By me, no more meetings" New Society 17 July 1980

8. Andrew Wood: Greentown: A case stu4J oj a proposed alternative community

(Open University Energy and Environment Research Unit 1988)

1972), John Turner: Housing by People (Marion Boyars 1976)

1. The Do It Yourself NewTown

The New Towns movement in Britain, sparked off at the turn of the century by Ebenezer Howard's book Garden Cities of Tomorrow and built into post-war planning legislation and policy, has had its successes and its failures. The successes are there for all to see, and as for the failures - well it always seems to me that the New Towns policy is criticised for the wrong reasons. One of the criticisms of the New Town ideolQgy which- has develo~d in the last few-y-ears is t4at J he

New Towns P'!.v~ _wo _n~ thei u >u s.ces~_ ~ t ."'~!!~ .~ P.~ !l~_(':

the .

?f

urban -po~ ~:_~~ ~~ e-~~ _~~ .;:~~l: ~~~ , a~d that . they ~re

consequently irrelevant to real Important Issues hke SOCial justice. It has been rather amusing to watch this notion spiralling round the academic chat-shows, getting cruder and more dogmatic all the while, since it was launched in 1972. It is already beginning.JQ, affect~~licy. in thL.!itie~. It.is a difficult argument to come to gnps WIth because sometImes people say a lot of different and contradictory things at the same time. How often one hears the giant fringe housing estates like Thamesmead, or Chelmsley Wood, or Kirkby or Cantril Farm, described as New Towns, when of course they

are not. If you point out that the New Towns_h ll_'lf_absorbed

the J ~normOJ1S outwa,rd _mpvement

o nl y a small E.!:.~Q ,!:!,i(;m

2f

from .JJ1.s:. ~cities (only l3_ ~L ~en L of the movement from

London), or if you take the example of Milto

has provided 16,000 jobs of which a little over a thousand

which

p_

IS

eynes

came from London, while 12,000 people have moved there

"

Lecture given at the Garden Cities/New Towns Forum at Welwyn Garden Ci0' on 22 October 1975 and at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London on 19 February 1976

15

16

TALKING HOUSES

from London, then the critics say that the New Towns have become irrelevant. If you point out that the~ T.9J:Yilli have

provided~h~~~nd j£~~sf9.L L<l:rge

numb~r~.o(w_orking.::~lass

\

ample. l.ife .out of. the city il) the way that middle class people ~

p : ?p ~ e :wJ~!?,} ,yQlJld not J~ ,e ~ enabled otherwise to get . ~ .' l!lore

t~<; <gra!!.~~l, they reply that the New Towns have do~e nothing for the really under-privileged or deprived. Well, I'm delighted to see the pundits of planning emerging as the champions of the inner city poor. It makes a change when you consider what the planning orthodoxy of the last twenty years has done to inner city London, Glasgow, Liverpool or Cardiff. Of course I recognise that then~ is a large element of social snobbishness in the deprecators of the New Towns. Some people can't stand the upward social mobility of the skilled worker. And then we ha've to carry like a cross the Marxist intelligentsia who can't bear to think of the working class being lost to the class struggle and developing a taste for wall-to-wall carpeting. They are like the people who would like the poor to be starving in the slums so as to hasten the day of revolution. Apart from our moral distaste for such an outlook, life never happens that way. What we are talking about is the missing half of Ebenezer Howard's formula. He wanted dispersal in order to make possible the humane redevelopment of the inner city. He thought, seventy years or more ago, that once the inner city had been "demagnetised", once large numbers of people had been convinced that "they can better their condition in every way by migrating elsewhere" the bubble of the monopoly value of inner-city land would burst. "But let us notice," he wrote in his chapter on The Future of London, "how each

person in migratin

from LQ!!:g.o~)_VYE!!~I!l<!.~ingthe burden of

for

s:!:?~~~.:.Imj L kss hea v:.y- w c

those.

.re.~ in) '" wiI L ( unless

there IS some Ch!1.lJ~jlt.th 01! \\:J,. m ,a.k~ the burden of rates on

th~ r~t;p~~ oCLQQdon~Y-~!_h~.ayi~r'~- iI'e ' 1 hoi:;ght - that the

change in the inner city would be effected "not at the expense of the ratepayers, but almost entirely at the expense of the landlord class". Now of course it hasn't happened that way because of our continued failure to cope with the problem of land valuation.

THE Do- I T- YOURSELF NEW TOWN

17

We can hope, if without much conviction, that the Community Land Act and the temporary collapse of the property boom will bring us closer to the situation that Howard envisaged.

Last year in Swindon, a town rescued from decay by the

T own Development legislation, I was talking to a post office

. worker who told me of the conditions his wife and children

had had to endure living in two rooms in Islington. The mon out of London of the department of the post office in which he worked had dramatically improved the conditions of life fur

h is family. Funnily enough, it is likely that the very house he

m oved out of has become part

rei.~ elc?l~m ~nt of.lh~, In.n.e L .9.ty _ t h,[QJ} ·g nJ h,e process known . as

gentrificatio.Q

same ilapidated house with one WC in the backyard, one

fa mily now lives there and the immaculately painted house

has central heating and a bathroom while the backyard has changed its name to the patio and is full of grapevines and frisbies. The old WC houses a Moulton bicycle. The occupant is probably an ecologically-conscious planner who leads a

b usy and blameless life crusading for the urban

fo r decent livigg is som

Afr w years ago Sir Frederic Osborn was invited to attend a meeting ofthe Covent Garden Community in central London. "What should the Odhams Press site be used for?" he was asked . "Why, a public open space of course" he replied, and everybody laughed. Yet a few years later, thanks to the temporary collapse of property speculation in London, the Community itself has built a garden on that site - fan tastically heavily used during the long hot summer last year. And interestingly enough, in the analogous district of Paris, Les HaIles, where the vegetable market again has been move~o the suburbs, the President has decided that the site

is to be90me a public open space . All this is simply a necessary introduction to the approach to the idea of a New Town which I want to propound. Inner City and New Town are not rivals, they are two sides of the same policy, or should be. My real purpose is to look at the New Town movement

of the humane, 12_~

densitv

Perhaps instead of four families sharing the

S£~~

kthin thaLm.o.ru;.y_~l!

g

Y.

18

TALKING HOUSES

through anarchist spectacles, defining anarchism as the social philosophy of a non-governmental society. The philosopher Martin Buber begins his essay Sociery and the State with an observation from the sociologist Robert Maciver that "to identify the social with the political is to be guilty of the ~ grossest of all confusions, which completely bars any understanding of either society or the state". The political principle, for Buber, is characterised by power, authority, hierarchy, dominion. He sees the social principle wherever men link themselves in an association based on a common need or a common interest. The anarchist Peter Kropotkin (and you will see that his view is different from that of Marxism and of social democracy) believed that "The State organisation, having been the force to which the minorities resorted for establishing and organising their power over the masses, cannot be the force which will serve to destroy these privileges", and he declared that "the economic and political liberation of man will have to create new forms for its expression in life, instead of those established by the State". He thought it self-evident that "this new form will have to be more popular, more decentralised, and nearer to the folk-mote self-government than representative government can ever be", reiterating that we will be compelled to find new forms of organisation for the social functions that the state fulfills through the bureaucracy, and that "as long as this is not done, nothing will be done". Now you may wonder why I have chosen to inflict on you this slice of anarchist theory and speculation. Well, if I asked you who were the fou~ ~ r~ of the town p!a~nning movement in this country, you would unquestionably reply Ebenezer !ioward _ and Patrk;k G-~~dcLes. One of the interesting things about this pair of sages, since we have all been brainwashed into thinking of planning as a professional mystery or amalgamation of mysteries, is that neither of them would be accepted today as a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute. (Howard was a stenographer. A major preoccupa- tion of his was the invention of a shorthand-typing machine. Geddes was a biologist.) Nor would they have been accepted into the academic world. Geddes was regarded with great

THE Do-IT-YouRsELF NEw TowN

19

suspicion in academic circles, failed to get any of the jobs he applied for and was finally made a professor because a philanthropist endowed a chair especially for him. As for Howard, his biographer remarks that his book did not "receive any recognition by those who specialised in political, economic or sociological matters. Those very factors which enabled him to see clearly with eyes unbiased by preconceptions, in particular his lack of academic back- ground, kept him out of the charmed circle of the Establishment." It is salutory to be reminded of these facts, but to me the most striking thing about both Howard and Geddes is something different. In the Osborn-Mumford correspond- ence, FJO remarks about Howard that "He had no belief in 'the State"'. He had no belief in the State. Does this mean he was an anarchist? No it doesn't. As Lewis Mumford remarked about him, "With his gift of sweet reasonableness Howard hoped to win Tory and Anarchist, single-taxer and socialist, individualist and collectivist, lover to his experiment". But it does mean that Howard did not believe that the State was the only means, or the most desirable means with which to accomplish social ends. The same thing is true of Geddes. His most recent biographer Paddy Kitchen in her book A Most Unsettling Person (Gollancz 1975) says, "Intellectually he was closest to anarchists such as Peter Kropotkin and Paul and Elisee Redus, all of whom he knew well", while his earlier biographer Philip Mairet remarks that "an interesting book could be . written about the scientific origins of the international anarchist movement, and if it were, the name of Geddes would not be absent" .·There were in fact innumerable cross-currents between the ideologists of planning and the ideologists of anarchism at that time. The Reclus family made several of the exhibits in Geddes' Outlook Tower in

Edinburgh. Kropotkin's Fields, Factories and Workshops (to my

mind a book full of significance for our contemporary

dilemmas)"came out at the same time as Howard's Tomorrow:

A Peaceful Path to Real Reform. When Howard's

book was

re-issued

under

I

its

more

familiar

title

of Garden

Cities of

20

TALKING HOUSES

Tomorrow, and when Kropotkin's book was re-issued in an enlarged edition, each paid tribute to the other's work. When Thomas Adams, the first secretary of the Garden Cities Association, and later the first secretary of the Town Planning Institute, wrote his book Garden City and Agriculture in 1905, he based it on Kropotkin's work. There are similar cross- influences with Raymond Unwin, Lewis Mumford, right down to the astounding book Communitas by Paul and Percival Goodman, which after its publication by the University of Chicago in 1947, led a kind of underground existence until its re-appearance as a paperback in the '60s. It is on sale in this country and I would recommend it to you as the most significant book in our field since Howard's. Well these are merely literary crosscurrents of course. But when First Garden City Limited was started it was not conceived as a forerunner of action by the governmental machine, it was conceived as the forerunner of what F. J. Osborn called, summarising Howard, "progressive experi- mentation in new forms of social enterprise" . An ordinary company in its structure, it had the important feature of dividend limitation and the famous provision that "any balance of profit" was to be devoted "to the benefit directly or indirectly of the town or its inhabitants". In its planner it was fortunate to have Raymond Unwin with those great qualities that Nicholas Taylor summed up as "his acute practical sense of the complexity of everyday life, and also his political stress on co-operative management as the means of bringing the good life to the many". When Howard found that his working-model failed to inspire others, he embarked, at 69, on his second garden city, having succeeded in borrowing less than one-tenth of the purchase price of the site. Staggering foolhardiness. Can you imagine such an enterprise today? Now we know from the recollections of people like C. B. Purdom and Frederic Osborn and from the anecdotes of early residents that there was a kind of gaiety and a sense of high adventure in the pioneering of Letchworth and Welwyn, that was absent from the early days of the postwar New Towns. Some people would deny this of course, and say that it is all a matter of the transforming power of time. FJO says that at

' fHED o-IT-YOURSELFNEWToWN

21

Letchworth, the people who had been there from the start eight years before he arrived told him he'd missed the golden age. But listen to him reminiscing about Welwyn and the fantas tically difficult balancing act of choreographing the arrival of people, basic services and jobs, on a shoestring and by himself. A task which would employ a vast staff in a modern New Town. But behind the rosy reminiscence, isn't it true that the grumbles and the New Town Blues that we used to hear in the fifties, did not have their equivalents in the early years bf the two garden cities, just because people were conscious of being pioneers and of having to do their own things if they wanted something done? Now once the building of New Towns, after years of campaigning, had become a governmental enterprise, the mechanism of the Development Corporation followed the pattern set by Lord Reith (in the BBC) in the 1920s, or by Herbert Morrison (in the London Passenger Transport Board) in the 1930s, or by the boards of the nationalised industries set up at the same time in the 1940s. We know that the style of the Development Corporation has proved itself adaptable to many other circumstances than that of the original green-field New Towns. The trouble is that the style has not changed, even though our ideas about many other form s of social organisation are changing and are going to change still more in the future. Mr Tony Wedgwood Benn who )ten years ago was using government funds to enforce shot-gun weddings among giant capitalist concerns to enable them to compete with the European giants, is by now an advocate of using government funds to enable workers' c:o-o peratives to take over ailing capitalist enterprises. He embarrasses us all by conducting his education in public, but other people too are looking back to see where we went wrong in our theories of social organisation. At what stage in the evolution of our administrative ideology did we go wrong? Some people would say it was back in the thirties when the Labour Party opted for the vast public corporation as the v hide for social enterprise. Other people would say, in onnection with housing, that it was the time of the Tudor

'1

22

TALKING HOUSES

Walters report in 1918, which froze out all other forms of social housing in favour of direct municipal provision. Today, with public housing policy in collapse, we are suddenly discovering the virtues of co-operative housing - a notion dear to the heart of Howard and Unwin which has been neglected for sixty years, even though if you go to a country like Denmark where a third of housing is in the hands of tenant co-operatives they say to the English visitor, "We owe it all to your Rochdale Pioneers". Today, when people are urging, in the name of democracy that New Town housing should be transferred to the local authorities, at least one Development Corporation Chairman has approached the Minister to ask whether he will make some stipulation about allocation procedures, since in his area the allocation of council, as opposed to development corporation housing has been delegated from the council meeting to the party meeting of the ruling party. He is interested in tenant control because he sees local democratic control as worse than the paternalism of his corporation. I think that the watershed in the development of social and socialist ideology came much further back. It was possible for one of the earliest Fabian Tracts to declare in 1886 that "English Socialism is not yet Anarchist or Collectivist, not yet defined enough in point of policy to be classified. There is a mass of Socialistic feeling not yet conscious of itself as Socialism. But when the unconscious Socialists of England discover their position, they also will probably fall into two parties: a Collectivist party supporting a strong central administration and a counterbalancing Anarchist party defending individual initiative against the administration." Well the Fabians rapidly found which side of the watershed was theirs, and the Labour Party long ago finally committed itself to that interpretation ofsocialism which identified it with the unlimited increase of the State's power and activity through its chosen form: the giant managerially-controlled public corporation. Now in putting forward the notion of a do-it-yourself New Town, I am not saying that, in our kind of society, the public authorities have no role. They have an indispensable role,

authorities have no role. They have an indispensable role, ' l' II E Do-IT-YOURSELFNEWToWN 2 3

' l' II E Do-IT-YOURSELFNEWToWN

23

which for short we call site and services. !fyou are familiar with the phrase it is because you have been watching the unfolding drama of housing in the cities of the Third World. For if the cities of the rich world lack the income to maintain their expensive infrastructure, it is not surprising that in the 'xploding cities of the poor world, transportation, water supply, sewerage and power supplies cannot cope, and still less can medical, educational or housing services. The European visitor is appalled by the miles and miles of shanty-towns which surround the capital, often not shown on the map or included in the population statistics, even though the unofficial inhabitants may outnumber the official population.

People

with

a historical sense are reminded of the

mushroom growth of our own industrial cities in the early nineteenth century, but there is a significant difference. Here industrialisation preceded urbanisation: there the urbanisa- tion precedes industry. The anthropologist Lisa Peattie once told me of her puzzlement in Bogota, where there was no economic base to sustain the exploding population, but where no one looked ill-nourished and everyone was shod. She realised eventually that beside the official economy that figured in the statistics there was an unofficial, invisible economy of tiny enterprises and service occupations which provided purchasing power for the unofficial population whose squatter settlements evolved over time into fully-

servi.ced suburbs. There is a perceptible pattern of population movement: the peasant makes the break with his village firstly by moving to some intermediate town or city as his first staging post, then moves on to the inner city slums of the metropolis, usually to some quarter occupied by families with the ~ame place of origin. Finally, wised-up in city ways, he moves on to a squatter settlement, usually on public land on the periphery of the city. In favourable circumstances, his straw shack develops over the years into a house: he has turned his labour into capital and has a modicum of security in the urban economy. Thisnappens quickly in a city of rapid economic growth like Seoul. It does not happen in a city of negative

economy. Thisnappens quickly in a city of rapid economic growth like Seoul. It does not happen

24

TALKING HOUSES

economic growth like Calcutta, where people are born and die in the street. This is why English architects like John Turner and Pat Crooke who have worked for years in the shanty-towns of Latin America see them as something quite different from the official view and that of the rich visitor which is as breeding-grounds of crime, disease, social and family disorganisation. They see them as a triumph of self-help and mutual aid among people who would gain nothing from the usual expensive official housing programme. They point out that what begins as a squatter settlement can become through its own efforts in fifteen years a fully functioning community of adequate, properly serviced households. In their chapter contributed to the recent book The Exploding Cities they contrast two examples of evolving dweller-controlled housing, one in Barcelona and one in Dar-es-Salaam and conclude:

These two superficially different cases show how ordinary people use resources and opportunities available to them with imagination and initiative - when they have access to the necessary resources, and when they are free to act for themselves. Anyone who can see beyond the surface differences between the many forms of dwelling places people build .for themselves is bound to be struck by the often astonishing economy of housing built and managed locally, or from the bottom up, in comparison with the top-down, mass housing, supplied by large organisations and central agencies. Contrary to what we have been brought up to believe, where labour is an economy's chief asset, large-scale production actually reduces productivity in low-income housing. The assumed "economies of scale" are obtained at the expense of reduced access to resources local owners and builders would otherwise use themselves, and of the inhibition of personal and community initiative.

If you have a lingering belief that this is simply romanticising other people's poverty, I ought to remind you that the poor of a poor country in an efficiently administered city like Lima have not been deprived of the last shred of personal autonomy and human dignity like the poor of a rich and competently administered city like London. They are not trapped in the culture of poverty. Just imagine that we were a poor country. Suppose

THE Do- I T- YOURSELF NEW TOWN

25

Dockland were Dar-es-Salaam, or Liverpool were Lusaka, and we adopted the policy of "aided squatting" which in some Third World cities has replaced the pointless and wicked governmental persecution of squatters. Following the advice of people like Turner and Crooke and D.]. Dwyer, the World Bank is ceasing to aid grandiose housing projects, though many governments are refusing to take this advice. They would rather pay large fees to Western planning consultants, for they cannot believe that what poor people do for themselves can be right. The World Bank is now sponsoring ten "site and services" programmes around the world. Wilsher and Righter report that these experimental projects "encompass a wide variety of space allocations, financial assistance, provision of utilities, types of tenure, construction standards, and participation of private enterprise, but its officials are already convinced that the approach holds out a good deal of promise" (The Exploding Cities 1975). Now suppose we applied such a policy to some of the derelict inner city districts in the man-made wastelands. Provide roads and services and a service core: kitchen sink, bath, WC and ring-main connection, put up some party walls (to overcome the fire-risk objection) and you will have long queues of families anxious to build the rest of the house for themselves, or to employ one of our vast number of unemployed building workers to help, or to get their brother-in-law or some moonlighting tradesman or the Community Industry to help, within the party walls. Such a carnival of <;onstruction would have important spin-offs in other branches of the social problems industry: ad hoc jobs and training for unemployed teenagers, turning the local vandals into builders, and the children into back-yard horticulturalists. Why, it would be like those golden days at Letchworth! Why, we already have experience of a do-it-yourself New Town on the site-and-service principle. If I announce that I am referring to Pitsea and Laindon: the precursor of Basildon New Town, people in the planning profession will groan and say, "Well, precisely, and we don't want that particular expensive muddle to mop up again!" But look at it in a

TALKING HOUSES

the Basildon epic (which I have

London - Tilbury-Southend Railway in

THE Do-lT -YOURSELF NEW TOWN

27

result that at the end of the war the area had a settled population of 25,000. There were some 8,500 existing dwellings, over 6,000 of them unsewered. There were 75 miles of grass track roads,

main water in built-up areas only with standpipes in the roads elsewhere. There was no surface water drainage apart from ditches and old agricultural drains. Only fifty per cent of dwellings had mains electricity. There were about 1,300 acres of completely waste land of which 50 per cent had no known

owner. The average

8,500 dwellings, 2,000 were of brick and tile construction to Housing Act standards , 1,000 were oflight construction to the same standard, 5,000 were chalets and shacks and 500 were described as derelict, though probably occupied. The average rateable value was £5 . In 1946 the New Towns Act was passed and various places were designated by the government as sites for New Towns. In many cases there was intense local opposition, not only from residents and landowners but also from the local authorities. In the case of the place we are considering, and Basildon was unique among the New Towns in this, the Minister was petitioned by the Essex County Council and by the local council to designate the area as a New Town. They were joined by the County Borough Councils of West Ham and East Ham who saw the place as a natural overspill town for their boroughs - many of whose former citizens were now living there. The argument was that there was no other way of financing the infra-structure of essential municipal services. At the first round the application was turned down. Harlow was chosen as the first Essex New Town and there was talk of Ongar as the second. After a further delegation to the Minister, Basildon was accepted. The New Town was planned. to start from a nucleus at the village of Basildon itself, expanding eastwards and westwards to incorporate Laindon and Pitsea. The first general manager, Brigadier W. G . Knapton, set out his policy in 19~3. thus:

d ensity was 6 persons to the acre . Of the

"Any solution which includes the wholesale demolitiOn of sub-standard dwellings cannot be contemplated. However inadequate, every shack is somebody's home, probably

26

different light and you will see why some-one with my point of view cherishes Basildon with particular affection. There the dwellers got their sites but had to wait many years for the

services.

already told at the ICA in the symposium on squatter settlements on 23 May 1972) let me re-tell it as briefly as I can.

If you don ' t know

The ~uil.ding o~ the

1888 cOInCIded With a period of agricultural depression, and several farmers around Pitsea and Laindon in Essex sold to an astute land agency which divided the land into plots for sale. They advertised these as holiday or retirement retreats and organised excursion trains from West Ham and East Ham at the London end of the line, with great boozy jaunts to the country (large hotels were built at the stations), and in the course of the outings plots of lands were auctioned. Some people returned home without realising that they were now landowners and these remained undeveloped, or perhaps were built on without title by someone else. In the period up to the end of the nineteen-thirties other agents or the farmers themselves sold plots in the area sometimes for as little as £3 for a 20-foot frontage. A lot of ex-servicemen dreaming of a good life on a place of their own sank th~irgratuities after the first world war in small-holdings (for which there could hardly be a less satisfactory soil than that around Pitsea) or in chicken farming. Most of them soon failed: they lost their money but they had some kind of cabin on the site, and the return fare from Laindon to Fenchurch Street was Is ;2d in 1930. The kind of structures people built ranged from the typical inter-war speculative builder's detached ~ouse or bungalow, to converted buses or railway coaches, With a range of army huts, beach huts and every kind of timber-framed shed, shack or shanty.

During the second world war, with very heavy bombing in East London, especially the dockland boroughs of East Ham and West Ham, many families evacuated themselves or were bombed out, and moved in permanently to whatever foothold they had in the Pitsea, Laindon and Vange districts, with the

/

28

TALKING HousEs

purchased freehold wth hard-earned savings, and as often as not the area ofland within the curtilage is sufficient to provide garden produce and to house poultry, rabbits, and even pigs. To evict the occupier and to re-accommodate him and his family in a corporation house, even on such favourable terms as the Act may permit, will probably cause not only hardship, but bitter feelings. The old must be absorbed into the new with the least detriment to the former and the greatest advantage to the latter. His successor, Mr Charles Boniface, adopted the same humane and sensible attitude. He remarked that "the planners' task here is like a jigsaw puzzle, with the new fitting into the old instead of being superimposed upon and obliterating it". This is in fact the policy which has been followed, and the grid-iron pattern of the grass-track roads has been incorporated into the fully-developed New Town plan. Mr Boniface has always maintained (against some opposition) that "existing residents and allotment owners have as many rights as incomers or the corporation itself'. Let us zoom in on one particular street in the Laindon end of Basildon. It probably has a greater variety of housing types than any street in Britain. It starts on the right with two late Victorian villas - a sawn-off bit of terrace housing stuck there hopefully when the railway was first built. On the left is a detached house with a porch embellished with Doric wooden columns, like something in the Deep South of the United States. Then there are some privately-built houses of the 1960s, and next a wooden cabin with an old lady leaning over the gate - a first world war army hut which grew. On the other side of the road is some neat Development Corporation housing: blue brick, concrete tilehanging and white trim. Here is a characteristic improved shanty with imitation stone quoins formed in cement rendering at the corners of the pebbledash. Most of the old houses have some feature in the garden exemplifying Habraken's remarks about the passion to create and embellish. This one has a fountain, working. This one has a windmill about five feet high painted black and white like the timber and asbestos house it adjoins. The sails are turning. Here's one with a pond full of goldfish.

THE Do-IT-YouRsELF NEW TowN

29

And now we see an immaculate vegetable garden with an old gentleman hoeing his onions. He was a leather worker from Kennington, who bought the place 43 years ago for week-ends and then retired down here. No, he wasn't the first occupier, who was a carpenter from Canning Town who

bought three 20-foot plots for £ 18 in 1916" ,giving a site 60ft by

140 ft. In the post-1918 period when, accdrding to Mr C, Syrett,

the present owner, the banks were changing their interiors from mahogany to oak, the carpenter brought down bits and pieces of joinery from Fenchurch Street and built his dream bungalow. After Mr Syrett had bought it it was burnt down except for the present kitchen and Mr Syrett himself built the present timber-framed house. Later he had it rendered, and although he is now 85, he has been making improvements ever since. For example he has recently cut out the mullions of his 1930-type windows to make them more like the ones in the Development Corporation houses opposite. I showed him a description of the area as a former "vast pastoral slum". He denied this of course, remarking that most people came down here precisely to get away from the slums. But what was it like before the road was made up? "Well, you had to order your coal in the summer as the lorry could never get down the road in wintertime." But there was a pavement. "People used to get together with their neighbours to buy cement and sand to make the pavement all the way along the road." Street lighting? No, there was none. "Old Granny Chapple used to take a hurricane lamp when she went to the Radiant Cinema in Laindon." Transport? "Well, a character called Old Tom used to run a bus from Laindon Station to the Fortune of War public house. And there were still horses and carts down here in those days. They used to hold steeplechases on the hill where the caravan site is now." In the same road lived Mr Budd, who died last year at 97 . He was a bricklayer by trade and every time he had a new grandchild

would add a room to his house. Mr and Mrs- Syrett's house is immaculate -

with all the attributes of suburban comfort. The house was connected to the sewer and electricity mains in the 40s and got gas 15 years ago. The urban district council made up the road

large rooms

()

30

TALKING HousEs

under the Private Street Works Act, charging £60 in road charges. The road was recently made up again to a higher standard by the Development Corporation. The rates are £12 a half year, and as old age pensioners they got a rate rebate. They live happily within their pension, they assured me. No rent to pay, some fruit and vegetables from the garden and the greenhouse. It is a matter of pride for them that they are not obliged to apply for ~uppl~mentarybenefits whIch they regard as scroungmg . It IS qUIte obvious that Mr Syrett's real investment for his old age was this one-time substandard bungalow which today has all the same amenities and conveniences as the homes of his neighbours. The truth of this can be seen if you look in the estate agents' windows in Pitsea, where houses with the same kind of origin are advertised at prices similar to those asked for the spec builder's houses of the same perio~l. The significant thing is that their original owners and buIlders would never have qualified as building society mortgagees in the inter-war years, any more than people wit? eq.uivalent incomes would today. The integration of shacksvI.lle mt? new development has been outstandingly succ~ssful m BasIl~on b~~.the same upgrading of dwellings and Improvement m faCIlItIes happens in the course of time anywhere - further down the line at Canvey Island for example - without benefit of New Town finance. What the New Town mechanism has done of course is to draw the sporadic settlement together into an urban entity and provide non-commuting jobs through the planned introduction of industry. Pitsea and Laindon could be called do-it-yourself New Towns, later legitimised by official action.

But the chea p~~l,! n <La~~ ished kind of de ~ Q p-ment

th at give ~.th~ 1:!ndeqll"i:~6kgecf .a .p !,!-~ Qfthe U:~own has ~ ~.!!~d

toJ? ~ avaIlable. In the 1939s, aesthetic critics deplored this kina o fa eve opinent as "!)U~ id growth" and so on though the critics themselves had a grea:t--deal more fre~dom of manoeuvre in buying themselves a place in the sun . I t is interesting that Sir Patrick Abercrombie in the Greater London Plan of 1944 said, " I t is possible to point with horror to the jumble of shacks and bungalows on the Laindon Hills and Pitsea . This is a narrow-minded apprecIation of what was

THE Do - I T-YOURsELF NEW TowN

31

as genuine a desire as created the group oflovely gardens and houses at Frensham and Bramshott". This may be obvious today, but it was unusually perceptive in the climate of opinion then. What in fact those Pitsea-Laindon dwellers had was the

ability to turn their labour into capital over time, just like the Latin American squatters. The poor in the third world cities

- with some obvious exceptions - have a freedom that the poor in the rich world cities have lost: three freedoms, in John Turner's words: "the freedom of community self-selection; the freedom to budget one's own resources and the freedom to shape one's own environment". In the rich world the choices have been pre-empted by the power of the state, with its comprehensive law-enforcement agencies and its institutional- ised welfare agencies . In the rich world as Habrake.l2.y uts it,

~ no longer_l?:o.Jl§

es ]:limself: he is housed" .

You might observe of course that some of the New Town and developing towns have - more than most local authorities have - provided sites and encouragement to self-build housing societies. But a self-build housing association has to provide a fully-finished product right from the start, otherwise no consent under the building regulations, no planning consent, no loan. No-one takes into account the growth and improvement and enlargement of the dwelling over time, so that people can invest out of income and out of their own time, in the structure. ( Now when Howard wrote his book, the reason why it appealed to so many people was that the period was receptive. This was the period of Kropotkin's Fields Factories and

Workshops, of Blatchford's Merrie England, and ofH. G. Wells's Anticipations. Certain ideas were in the air. Now we are once again in a period with a huge range of ideas in the air, especially among the young. There is the enormous interest in what has become known as alternative technology. There is, for obvious reasons, a sudden burst of interest in domestic food production, and there is an

~t ~!p' _~~ ive. fonlls_ QLh~u~ing, Qnce

agai ~lor ~b"yious re(isons: th.e ~~ ar ~ vast numbers of people whose faces or lifestyles don't fit in either the Director of

32

TALKING HOUSES

Q.~ .Jl~iJ.g.i.l2·g ? _o _c l ety offIce, and who are

S .<?Il se quently vi~!!.ms o f the fT ude duopoly o { housing which, ~i~hout intending. tQ, .we have created. There are large numbers of people interested in alternative ways of making a living: looking for labour-intensive low-capital industries, because capital-intensive industries have failed to provide them with an income. ~_Qo.mi1lJl!!ity Land Trust was set up last year (no connection with the Act of

Housing' ~Q ~~~

the Act may be the essential

prerequisite in providing land for the site-and-services do-it-yourself New Town). A _ Ne _,:::: Vill,!g.~-t\§'~.Q.ci~!ign _\f.as set up recently.

. r a~ ~~o;tinually amazed by the growth of interest in alternative energy sources, especially since I was writing on the themes of solar power and wind power exploitation in the anarchist paper Freedom twenty years ago. Nobody at all seemed to be interested in those days . Last month a county librarian identified this as one of the areas in which there was the largest demand for books last year. Hugh Sharman, who runs the undertaking called Conservation Tools and Technology told me that they get hundreds of enquiries every week. The National Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales was opened to the public in July 1975 and by the end of last year had had more than 15,000 visitors. One of the essentials of a do-it-yourself New Town would be a relaxation of building regulations to make it possible for people to experiment in alternative ways of building and servicing houses, and in permitting a dwelling to be occupied in a most rudimentary condition for gradual completion. This is virtually impossible at the moment, and people here with an interest in that field will recall that Graham Caine and the Street-farmers had to dismantle their experimental house at

Eltham

a - simliar ' name, though

last

October

because

their temporary planning

permission expired. I ought to say something about the density of dwellings. Some advocates of more intelligent land-use policies advocate high densities rather than what they think of as suburban sprawl, in order to conserve those precious acres of agricultural land. A worthy motive but a wrong conclusion.

THE Do- IT-YOURSELF NEW TOWN

33

The agricultural industry is interested in maximum productivity per man. But with limited land we ~ught to ~e interested in maximum productivity per acre. SIr Fredenc Osborn always argued that the produce of the ordinary domestic garden, even though a small area of gardens is devoted to food production, more than equalled in value the produce of the land lost to commercial food production. Surveys conducted by the government and by university departments in the 1950s proved him right. Some people will remember the enormous contribution made to the nation's food supply by domestic gardens and allotments during the war years. (The facts of the argument were set out by Robin Best andJ. T. Ward in the Wye College pamphlet The Garden Controversy in 1956.) I would simply say that 19'Y:.Q.t':.H§J!y hou~ing is the best way of cons ~rv0 g la!!,.d. Perhaps I can rllikethcpoint l5est~ by gomg one stage further than the do-it-yourself New Town to Mr John Seymour's views on self-sufficiency. He says in the new edition of his book The Fat

of the Land:

There is a man I know of who farms ten thousand acres with three men (and the use of some contractors) . Of course he can only grow one crop - barley, and of course his I?~oduction p.er acre is very low and his consumption of imported fertIhser very hIgh. He bu.rn~ all his straw, puts no humus on the land (he boasts there Isn t a four-footed animal on it - but I have seen a hare) and he knows perfectly well his land will suff~r!n th.e end. He d?esn't care - i.t will see him out . He is already a mIllIOnaIre several times over. He IS the ( prime example of that darling of the agricultural economist - the successful agri-businessman.

Well I don't want to preserve his precious acres for him, and John paints a seductive alternative:

Cut that land (exhausted as it is) up into a thousand plots of ten

acres each, giving each plot to a family tr.ained to use it, and within

ten years the production coming from It would be

would make a really massive contribution to the balance of payments problem. The motorist with his News of t4e World woul~n.'t have the satisfaction oflooking over a vast treeless, hedgeless praltIe of indifferent barley - but he could get out of h!s car for a cha~ge and wander through a seemingly huge area of dIverse countrysIde, orchards, young tree plantations, a myriad small plots of land

enormous . It

34

TALKING HousEs

growing a multiplicity of different crops, farm animals galore, and hundred3 of happy and healthy children. Even the agricultural economist has convinced himself of one thing. He will tell you (if he is any good) that land farmed in big units has a low production of food per acre but a high production of food per man-hour, and that land farmed in small units has the opposite - a very poor production per man-hour but a high production per acre. He will then say that in a competitive world we must go for high production per man-hour and not per acre. I would disagree with him.

And so would I, and though I am arguing for an experimental town rather than an experiment in land settlement, his argument holds good. Self-sufficiency is not the aim, but an opportunity for people to work in small-scale horticulture as well as in small-scale industry is. I recently edited a new

edition of Kropotkin's Fields, Factories and Workshops and found

it extraordinarily relevant.

The late Richard Titmus used to say that social ideas "may well be as important in Britain in the next half-century as technical innovation". One of these ideas it seems to me is the rediscovery of Howard's garden city as a popular and populist notion.

of

rescuing inner Liverpool. There may be no other way of rescuing some of the Development Corporations faced with a diminishing rate of growth . Perhaps Milton Keynes is destined to become an agri-city, a dispersed city of intensive horticulturists. Perhaps the right idea to offer participants in the Letchworth competition is that the Letchworth Garden City Corporation should sponsor New Letchworth at Milton Keynes or in Central Lancs, to develop an area with waivers on the planning and building legislation. It should be possible to operate some kind of usufruct, some kind of leasehold with safeguards against purely cynical exploitations, which would enable people to house themselves and provide themselves with a means of livelihood, while not draining immense sums from central or local government. Some people had the hope in the very earliest days of the New Towns that this kind of experimental freedom would apply there. Peter Shepheard, for whom it was my pleasure to work for ten years, worked in the one-time Ministry of Town

It

may

have

to

happen . There

may

be

no other way

THE Do-IT-YouRsELF NEW TowN

35

and Country Planning on the early plans for Stevenage. He once recollected:

I remember that when first working at Stevenage we felt it vital not only to get the New Town Corporation disconnected entirely from the treasury, but from the whole network of central government, by-laws and so on. The idea was to build in ten years, a new

experimental town

One of the early technicians at Stevenage

actually proposed that we should write our own by-laws. The idea

was to have no by-laws at al l. (AA Journal May 1957)

Well some hopes he had, a quarter of a century ago or more ago, of developing an anarchist New Town. And after its stormy early years, you might say "Well, what's wrong with Stevenage. Some aspects of that town are the admiration of the whole world". And a lot of people in the town-making business: chairmen, general managers, and all their hierarchy, have had a marvellous and fulfilling time, wheeler-dealing their babies into maturity. They have been the creators, the producers. The residents, the citizens, have been the consumers, the recipients of all that planning, architecture and housing: not to mention the jobs in the missile factory . Now we are twenty-five years or more older, wiser and humbler. A new generation is turning upside down all those cherished shibboleths about planning, architecture and housing, not to mention the ones about jobs. We have to change the role of the administration from providers to enablers. We have to change ( the role of the citizens from the recipients to participants, so that they too have an active part to play in what Lethaby called the great game of town building. What was it that old Ben Howard said to young Frederic Osborn? "My dear fellow, if you wait for the government to act, you'll be as old as Methusaleh before they start. The only way to get anything done is to do it yourself."

to act, you'll be as old as Methusaleh before they start. The only way to get

WHAT SHOULD WE TEACH ABOUT HOUSING?

37

2. What Should We Teach About Housing?

!iousing.is an ~spectof a variety of school subjects. Obviously It enters mto hIstory and geography and home economics and mto vanous attempts to impart a few handy hints on life skills like how a domestic ring main works or replacing a tap washe; or a ball valve. But there are few aspects of what we teach about housing which don't bring us face to face with the political controversies surrounding the provision of this elementary necessity of life. During ~he late 1970s when I was working at the TCPA, I was the dIrector of the Schools Council Art and the Built Environment Project. Eileen Adams and I were concerned with t~e place of Art as a school subject, in environmental ed.u.catlOn. ~e were concerned with the visual, sensory, cntical appraisal of ~he env.ironment, and of course, like any teacher concerned WIth envIronmental education, we insisted that "t?e environment" meant your surroundings, and not somethmg you go on a field trip to explore in Wales or North Yorkshire. In the early stages of our project we were often rebuked by teachers for our concern with superficialities with the look of things, instead of the underlying political, social and economic realities. We would reply that in that period or two in the weekly timetable labelled Art, one of the few areas of the curriculum where personal, subjective and aesthetic judge- ments ~re supreme; it. was' very important indeed to explore the enVironment withm the ethos of the subject and its own

.

.

,

Lecture given at an Urban Studies course for teachers, Looking at Housing, at the Polytechnic of the South Bank, London on 28 July 1981.

36

particular disciplines. We would also stress the enormous significance of people's visual and symbolic imagery of house and home, by asking what is the highest praise a local authority tenant can give to his home. The answer, if you didn't know is, "It doesn't look like a council house". Indeed, one of the things which several groups of students in our project undertook was to examine the way in which people alter, embellish and modify their houses, and to enquire what design influences were at work, or where the occupants had been for their holidays. This of course, was particularly in evidence when they considered the embellish- ments that sitting tenants purchasing their council houses from local authorities, had made. This, even though the approach is aesthetic and perceptual, brings us straight into the arena of current political controversy. I ought perhaps to stress that in looking at the ordinary domestic environment, we were not concerned with inculcating any notions of our own about standards of "taste" or of "good taste" in design. We were concerned with developing the seeing eye and the reflective mind. But of course we were, quite incidentally, causing students to look at the demagogic speeches of the politicians in a quite different light. Unless in their view there was something holy about the original architecture of the estate, wouldn't they wish, as I would certainly wish, that every tenant had that opportunity to devote all that care and energy to their homes, that has been granted to that small proportion who have bought their houses from the council? I used to have the view that selling off individual houses to individual tenants would be an appallingly divisive factor in the estate. What invidious distinctions would be made manifest as people chatted over the fence when hanging out their washing? In fact (and it is

n~cessary t~ re~ind you . tha . t Sel}i?_g_~~y~~.s

t~~ it~in.B" te p .ants

dId not ?e~m ~Ith tpe R!~~~ .t _gov~rnment. it has been going

on for many years under both Labour and onservative local authorities, sometimes approved ~nd sometimes disapproved of5y cenTral govern-mentCin fact, -the opposite has been true. The improvements, even though they may be merely cosmetic, that have resulted, have, I would insist, lifted the

38

TALKING HOUSES

morale of the estate, in places as far apart as Mid Clamorgan, Derbyshire and Roehampton. Without any assistance from the Council, and in some places, in opposition to its paternalistic determination that no-one should change a washer or oil a hinge, except its own employees, tenants have R.u!. a~~~~o'!.s personal investment into the upgrading of -

thelrn omes.

At this point I need to remind you of the dramatic changes in housing, and in our expectations of housing which have

peL cent of

occurred during the last 65 years. In 1914 ab0l.!.! 9

ho~~in in C L eat B Iitai!l-v~:.as in QYill.~.r ;:.pccupation, less than 1

per cent was ~ nted from_ aJ~ub1ic _e,.!1.th Q ri !y, aiId . ninety per

cent of farp.ilies, ricl! Qr poor, rented

from a private landlord. By 1980 (and of course we need the infor~ation fromJ he 198t <;;ensus ,to make these guesses more ' accurate), 54 per cent of families were in owner-occupied. property, 33 ~ r_ cenL in housing rented from public aut :>~ities, . <ljl d, _ say, _ 13 per ~t w e re privately renting. If there IS an odd one per cent, it is explained in the belated growth of housing associations and housing co-operatives in the last ten years. These changes represent a drafIlatic revolution in the

provisions for and exp ~c~

scarcely tIme to discuss, but they do emphasise that the norm

against w - icholGeforIDS

owner-Qc<;:ll.patlOn, , -It is quite beside the point whether our theoretical opinions about private property happen to coincide with this norm. In fact, in the so-called people's democracies of eastern Europe, owner-occupation is encouraged, simply through a semantic difference: the home is regarded as personal property, like a toothbrush, rather than as real property, like the property of the absentee landlord. This is the distinction that Proudhon

made, nearly a century and a half ago, when he made the two contrary utterances: Property is Theft and Property is Freedom. My own view is that the whole tragedy of housing policy since the end of the last century, has been that local authorities have taken over the landlord role, lock stock-and

their accommodation

.E, o_using

which

!her~ is

£~

Qf

-

tenure are evaluated, is ' that of

-

-.

---

----

.,

---.'-

-

--

o""'",.,

~-

.

WHAT SHOULD WE TEACH ABOUT HOUSING?

39

barrel, f~.Q1'!-'p' ri;:a ~ la.!1dlord~ ~ ~ ~ ~i! the. jirst w 9 rld

/

(

war, housed ninety peu~ nt £U .h e

The landlOrd-tenant relationship has never been a happy one. It has always been accompanied by mutual suspicion, and by an unhappy syndrome of dependency and resentment. By a historical accident there was an unspoken coalition at the end of the last century between the Fabian socialists of the London County Council and the radical conservatives, like Joseph Chamberlain in Birmingham, that local councils should take

_ UI<;ttlO~: nc ~ or po <;> r.

over the role of landlords for the poor. This view became increasingly the progressive creed amongst all parties, and it was regarded as a great triumph in the wartime legislation of the coalition government, that the phrase "housing of the working classes" disappeared in their legislation, so that theoretically, publicly provided housing became something for which, theoretically, the whole population was eligible. It

is noticeable that those whos e incomes or prosp ects gave them a freedom of choice, did not take up this theoretical option. It is noticeable too, though NOBODY ever mentions it , that, given the low~r physical standar9~ 9 f housing then accept e d ,

. choice in the days of private landlordism which they nolollger have when we have replaced a multiplicity_oflandlords by one ~~nopoly landlord: the council. This monopolistic character of local authority landlordism is one of the explanations of the fact that drives directors of

very p0 Q.LJ? eop!e, in those _ days <actllally had a freedom

.9 f

housing and members of housing committees up the wall with anger and frustration: that while they have huge waiti r;g li~ts, the people on them will not accept the first, secon~ or thIrd offer, because they know that once they are in tha-ruard-to-Iet dwelling, their chances of getting a transfer are nil. I yearn for the day when a genuine tenants' charter really gives tenants

the freedom to move. And yet, even as I say this, I have the sinking feeling that behind the counter in the housing office will be the same harassed junior officer of the local authority, hardened by continually hearing the hard luck stones every day in opening

hours

the municipal

that even this hope may be misapplied.

Me~nwhile we have a situation where m

40

TALKING HOUSES

housing sector we have empty flats and houses which no-one, not even people in great housing need will occupy, because of the stigma which has attached itself to them. In London we have the spectacle of couples queueing up all night to take up tenancies of GLC flats which no-one on the housing list is willing to occupy. I could take you to a street where the housing on one side of the street is being demolished as unfit for habitation by council tenants while on the other side it is being snapped up by middle-class home improvers. I have pointed out to audiences in the housing world a hundred times the paradox that you can observe in every British city. On one side of town is the very expensive Parker-Morris municipal housing which is despised by its inhabitants and deteriorates at a terrifying rate, so that like the notorious towers of Birkenhead it is obsolete and uninhabitable more than forty years before the money borrowed to pay for it has been paid back. On the other side of town is the sub-Parker Morris ticky-tacky speculative builder's estate which is improved and enhanced from the moment it is occupied, is painlessly updated so that its value increases as the years go by. Surely there is something to be learned from this? Meanwhile, long before the end of the seventies we had the situation in several local authorities where the average cost per dwelling of management and maintenance exceeded the rent income. I ~sked at the time how long this situation could continue. We have put our faith in bureaucratic paternalism masquerading as socialism, and it is going to explode in our faces. And in the total disarray of housing policy today, this is what is happening. At a time when you might expect a radical rethink from the Housing Problems Industry, they simply bleat about the right-wing backlash against council housing, because they have somehow brainwashed themselves into equating municipal paternalism with a socialist housing policy. When Lord Goodman was chairman of the Housing Corporation, he used to talk, correctly in my view, of the Byzantine complexity of our housing legislation, though he seems to have done nothing to unravel it. On the conference circuit, he always used to get long and boisterous applause

WHAT SHOULD WE TEACHABOUT HOUSING?

41

from the oflicers of central and local government and from the academics of the housing problems industry, whenever he remarked, as he did often, that, "It is only in a society where we have a government working day and night on our behalf that the housing problems are insoluble". Now you and I, from no doubt, different perspectives, agree with him, but we too are, or think we are, powerless to reshape public intervention in housing in such a way as to ,reward the propensity of self-help and mutual aid. Of course, the whole owner-occupation sector is an example of self-help. Certainly, historically the origins of the building societies were in mutual aid and self-help. Government encourages this kind of self-help of course, through the tax exemption of mortgage interest repayments.' and for. t?at matter with the special fiscal arrangements wIth the bUIldmg societies over interest payments on deposits. I suppose that the origins of this are in some assumption that these depo~its are intended for house purchase. Now that owner-occupatwn is the majority mode of tenure, ana since our political masters depend on the marginal owner-occupier's vote in the margin~l owner-occupation constituency, none of them want to commIt political suicide by doing anything to remove or diminish this subsidy to the owner occupier.

. In the name of social justice, as well as in that of makmg a better use of the nation's stock of housing, let alone in order to remove from the public purse the dreadful cost of management and maintenance, and of vandalism, in local authority housing, it is a matter of great urgency to extend the freedoms that are enjoyed by the owner-occupier to the

councilor private tenant. As a long-term advocate of tenant co-operatives, I have been delighted to pick up a few allies in the last decade. You will know that the former minister for housing Reg Freeson was one of the very few labour politicians who didn't think that co-operatives were some kind of middle-class coP:Otlt~ Anyone here in the housing field will know of the appalling difficulties faced,by tenants of co-operatives precisely because we have surrounded housing with a thicket of legislation

42

TALKING HOUSES

which does not reward the propensity for self-help and mutual aid. Whichever way I look at it, I find that the potential for self-help and mutual aid in housing, is continually thwarted by the people and institutions which ought to be leaning over backward to encourage it. We have failed to come to terms with the fact that our publicly-provided services, just like our capitalist industries (also propped up by taxation), are dearly bought. This was less apparent in the past when public services were few and cheap. Old people who recall the marvellous service they used to get from the post office or the railways, never mention that these used to be low wage industries, which, in return for relative security, were run with a military-style discipline to which not even the army, let alone you and I, would submit today. My friend Kenneth Campbell, who used to be chief housing architect for the Greater London Council, always says that the decline of public housing in London coincided with the decline of the Royal Navy. All those Chief Petty Officers who left the service in middle age would take on the job of resident caretaker in LCC blocks of flats, and run the place in a ship-shape way - seeking, as they say, a happy ship. Since then, of course, the GLC was driven into the appalling expedient of employing mobile caretakers, and the one thing you can be sure of about a mobile caretaker is that he won't take care. One of the virtues of the principles of housing which I derive from the work of John Turner is that they do take into account the ordinary humdrum realities of the way housing is provided, managed and maintained, as opposed to the theoretical ideals of the public provision of housing. Turner's Second Law is that the important thing about housing is not what it is but what it does in people's lives. Turner's Third Law is that deficiencies and imperfections in housing are infinitely more tolerable if they are your responsibility than if they are somebody else's. These are psychological truths about housing. Turner's First Law is also a social and economic truth. He and Robert Fichter phrase it thus:

WHAT SHOULD WETEACHABOUTHOUSING?

43

When dwellers control the major decisions and are free to make the~r own contribution to the design, construction or management.ofthelr housing, both the process and the environment produced stlmulate individual and social wellbeing. When people h~ve no control over, nor responsibility for key decisions in t~e housmg process , o~ the other hand, dwelling environments may mstead become a barner to personal fulfillment and a burden on the economy.

This is a carefully worded statement of what is to my mind, the most important principle in hou.sing, a~d i~ you measure the disasters of postwar housing polIcy agamst It you can see its validity. If we want to get va~ue for .money and gr.eater dweller satisfaction in future housmg polIcy, I am convmced that the touchstone or yardstick is the principle of dweller control. Now I began by mentioning the ~ind o~ cntlclsms we w:re making ten years ago of public housmg pohcy. IfMr Heseltme were here he would ask "Well, haven't you got what you wanted?" 'The housing cost yardstick system has g~ne, the Parker Morris standards have gone, councils have gIven up building those appalling blocks of flats. In fact they. have almost given up building anything at all . "We have ~ntten" he would claim, "the principle of dweller .control, mto our Tenants' Charter, by offering tenants the nght to take over,

and become owners of their houses." Now I think that the position of the opposition is just ~s full of half truths as that ofMr Heseltine. First of all, t~: spl~al ~f decline in new housing activity by local authon~les dldn t

begin with the Thatcher .government.

mouldering piles of press cuttmgs and you ':111 see that It las all happening in the Wils?n/Callagh~n pen?d. Secondly, £ he opposition.!.rguments ag.amst the se.llmg pohcy ~eem to ry . to be spurious. The natIOn's housmg stoc~ IS not ,?em.g diminished by a single brick, by the sales pohcy. The nation IS all of us, it doesn't consist of the housing bureaucracy and the councillors. You could even put forward the argument .th~t selling council, houses to tenants enhances the. nation s housing stock. In the owner-occupation sector the:e IS no ~uc? thing as obsolescence or a limite~ li.fe to h~)Usmg. ~hlS IS confined to the public sector. It IS mterestmg that m the

mto. y?ur

~ook

-

---

44

T ALKINC HOUSES

mid-seventies there was an odd coalition of opinion between Peter Walker on the right and Frank Field on the left, both of them taking the view that it would be sensible to give council housing to its tenants . The council house sales argument is not a new issue. I discussed it years ago in my book Tenants Take Over, in a chapter which had to my mind the significant title "One By One or All Together", simply because I was advocating a co-operative take-over. But I am not hostile to individual sales to tenants. Why should I enjoy what in our society are the undoubted advantages of owner-occupation, and seek to deny them to my council-tenant neighbour. Does he, in addition to his continual rent rises, also have to be the . bearer of rrry social conscience? What we are really disconcerted about is that with the retreat from the ideology of the direct public provision of housing, we have not seen the growth of the mutual-aid, self-help, co-operative sector. But of course we have in another sense. The nineteen- seventies saw a heroic effort by lone veterans of co-operative housing like Harold Campbell, and by a new generation of devoted pioneers, to set up the institutional framework, from scratch, and to make it work. It is worth reminding ourselves that until the mid-70s they were met with indifference and hostility, not only in the Labour Party, but even in the traditional co-operative movement itself. As recently as 1975 for example, invited to address a public meeting organised by the Co-operative Party here in the London Borough of Wandsworth, where I then lived, John Hands and I, as advocates of co-operative housing, were met with bitter antagonism, not by the audience, but by the co-operative chairman, who at that time was also chairman of the local housing committee, and by, of all people, the Political Secretary of the London Co-operative Society. By one of those rare strokes of political good luck we actually had at that time a Minister of Housing, Reg Freeson, who understood what co-operative housing was all about. He rebuked those members of his own party who had the usual sn.eers that co-operative housing was a bit of trendy mIddle-class self-interest by pointing out that the then most

WHAT SHOULD WE TEACH ABOUT HOUSINC?

45

successful co-operatives were those whose members were very poor tenants of housing taken over from private landlords in Liverpool, or actually homeless people who ho~sed them- selves through the Holloway Tenant Co-operative m London. And he criticised local authorities and housing associations for not taking the trouble to find out how. many tenant.s and applicants for housing were interested m the formatIOn of tenant co-operatives. He also set up in 1976 a Co-o~erative Housing Agency, though his own government closed It dow? again and absorbed it into the Housing Corporation. ThIS Corporation itself is in difficulties today as it~source of.central government finance dries up. However, startlI~gfrom VIrtually nothing, and from a lamentable lack of expenence .on ho~ to do it we have at the moment 290 housing co-operatIves WIth a total membership of 14,000 people. The figures are pitifully small, but this is simply a reflection of our total neglect for many decades of this form of tenure . But the tenant take-over is the only conceivable change to halt the spiral of decline in our local authority housing stock. I read in New Society last month (4 June 1981) that there are over 135,000 empty council properties in England and Wales, and over a quarter of a million that councils classify as "hard to let". Back in the 1960s I gave hundreds of lessons on the facts about housing, mostly for day-release apprentices whose interest was far from academic. They wanted the facts because they saw themselves very shortly becoming not merely householders but house-owners. But as the figures piled up on the blackboard, the g4P between the credit-worthiness o.f a young man with a craftsman's wage, and the price of the .kmd of house he imagined himself buying, became depressmgly obvious.

the class th~ way~ in

,

My

method was first to elicit from

which a couple could get themselves a home, whIch boIled down to three modes of tenure only; council tenancy, owner occupation and private tenancy. In t~ose. days Lewis") Waddilove discovered that the range of chOIce m thIS country was smaller than that in any European country except Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Romania. We would then investigate

46

TALKING HOUSES

the relative proportions of the three and the contrast with the situation before the first world war: the rise of owner- occupancy and publicly provided housing and the continuous decline of the private landlord. It was about owner occupation that they had come to hear - they were impatient with the exposition of the other two categories which may have been

but was not going to be their

destination. But faces grew longer as we calculated the incomes my students would have to earn to make the typical mortgage repayments for somewhere to live in this South London borough. There would be hollow laughs when I pointed out that the building societies were not profit-making bodies, but an exploration of other possible sources of finance showed ~hem to be no cheaper. So we would turn back with grudging mterest to look at the council's waiting list and the jungle of the Rent Acts. What was I to say to these apprentices? Get yourself the kind of job that would make you better mortgage-fodder? Save and save at a rate that keeps pace with the inflation, not only of currency, but of house prices? Move to some part of the country where it is easier to buy or rent? I used to think in those days that their situation was gloomy. It is a lot worse today. The issues are not at all simple. They are obfuscated, rather than clarified by the preconceptions we all bring to what we teach. But I think we do no service to our students in pushing out a version of their future housing situation which sees them as inert and passive consumers of some-one else's welfare paradise. We have tried all that and it didn't work.

the

lot

of their

parents

3. Dismantling Whitehall

I want you, councillors and local government officers alike, to take a brief rest from the dreadful day-to-day dilemmas of local administration today, and to think instead of the ur ierlying political, and indeed philosophical, issues behind

the present crisis of local You will know that at the conferences of the pohtIcal parties, anyone who senses that interest is flagging has only to evoke the name of some revered figure from the past, to get an automatic round of sentimental applause. The names that trigger off such a response at Labour Party deliberations are those of people like Keir Hardie or George Lansbu:y. At Conservative conferences, ministers get a cheap cheer If they mention Disraeli, a second generation immigrant whose right to take part in British politics is challenged by legislation recently hurried through Parliament, though some members

of that party, now excluded from government, might bring up

the name of Walter Bagehot, who at least had the virtue ofnot being a statesman. At the Liberal assemblies it is ordinary

good manners to bring in a reference to Lloyd George, and at

meeting of the Social Democratic Party, a rousing cheer would, no doubt, be won by the mention of any of them, indiscriminately.

a

. Understandably, past politicians are always preferabl~ to present ones. But there is one thing that unites these vanous skeletons or ikons from the party cupboards. These people had all formed opinions on the question of the appropriate level at which decisions, and the allocation of resources, should be made. They had some notion in their heads about which things were, or were not, the concern of central

Lecture given at the National Conference oj the Town and Country Planning Association on "Central Control versus Local Life" on 1 December 1981.

47

48

TALKING HOUSES

government. This is not surprising, since none of them would ha~eq~alifiedfor a degree in political science from any British unIverSIty today. The contrast with current political leaders is that the new breed have no notion that the tension between local a~d central ~s i~portant at all. Ifsomething needs doing, they thmk, we wIll Just push it through, regardless. People with less education will realise, almost intuitively that local administration is much older than central administration, that its roots lie deep in the history of any people in the world, and that even the words we use to describe it in various languages, express a notion of the idea that decisions are made locally, however tragically wide is the gap betwe~n idea and reality. There is an echo in the very word counczl of the word commune, variously spelt in the Latin languages, or the word Gemeinschaft in German, or the ancient word mir or, with a heavy irony, the word soviet in Russian, or the phrase town meeting in America, which expresses the idea of a community making decisions, raising the revenue for them and implementing them, for itself. Central government, for the greater part of recorded history, has represented some butcher, bandit or warrior chief who has managed to intimidate local communities to surrender their sovereignty and manpower to him to gather the revenue to conduct foreign wars. This is the historical truth, and it is also a truth relevant to our own times as Richard Titmus showed in his study of "War and S;cial P?licy". Since no-one can contradict this interpretation of the hIs~ory of the ~uropean nations (with the exception of SWItzerland) I wIll turn to the issues which face us today. A couple of months ago, the journal The Economist, which is not out of sympathy with the alleged economic aims of the present government, remarked in a leading article, 1 that local government in this country "has been swatted by Margaret Thatcher's cabinet like an irritating fly". It observed that Mr !feseltine "like all his predecessors, entered office pledged to mcreas~ local ~reedom and has spent his time curtailing it". You wIll notIce that The Economist referred to all Mr Heseltine's predecessors, because I would like you to think back just a few years, before the days of the present central

'

DI SMANTLING WHITEHALL

49

administration. Politics prospers on short memories. There must be some people here who can remember that Mr Shore, M r Crosland and Mr Walker, to name but a few, were just as high-handed (sometimes a little more successfully) with local authorities, as Mr Heseltine. Every change in the allocation of funds from the central treasury to local authorities, in the bewildering changes of nomenclature since the 1950s has reduced their ability to decide for themselves. General Grants, Block Grants or Rate Support Grants have each been heralded by sales talk about more local discretion, but in fact each, while apparently giving greater freedom to local authorities, has been used to reduce their freedom of manoeuvre and their ability to select their own priorities. These priorities might often be misguided, but so might those of central government. We all know the defects and inadequacies of the rating system. This morning you discussed "Financial Control the Key to the Problem?". I for one am sure that it is the key to the problem. The Royal Commission on Local Government years ago now, stressed the need for additional local taxes, and pointed to the view of the Royal Institute of Public Administration that this country should adopt a system of local income tax, and has also urged local taxes on vehicles and fuel. No doubt you will have discussed already the Swiss example of the way that the ordinary objections to such a tax system have been overcome. The best news I ever heard from that country is the way that the central administration is continually embarrassed by the way in which local administration starves it of funds. In this country, just as much as in Switzerland, people live and work and generate wealth locally, and when these functions are performed in different places, there are several Swiss principles like "75 per cent to the authority where you live, 25 per cent to the one where you work". Whatever theories you may have absorbed about the principles of taxation and about the difference between the taxes which are thought to be regressive or progressive, the plain fact is that all of us, rich or poor, pay a third of our real incomes in tax. Whether we get that much in return for our enforced expenditure is a quite different issue, but whether it

50

TALKING HOUSES

is levied nationally or locally is not. In any re-allocation, the people with the task of pushing the forms around would be the same, though, for example, it was the conclusion of the Royal Institute of Public Administration in the nineteen-sixties, that "the transfer to local government of taxes generated by motor vehicles would not only be cheap to administer, but would reduce exchequer grants from 47 per cent to 14 per cent of the income of local authorities".2 Now of course, every trend in government policy in Britain, pushed perhaps to extremes by Mr Heseltine's current efforts, while smarting from his recent rebuke from the courts, is to take away from local authorities the right to determine how their rating powers are to be used. I know and you know, that in the conceivable future, central government, not only its political office-holders but its impregnable civil service establishment, will never surrender its powers of tax- gathering to local authorities. There is an unspoken assumption in the attitude of central government to local government, held by both ministers and the administrative grade of the civil service, that local government is, politically, dominated by small minded local entrepreneurs, or else by irresponsible left wing rabble, and professionally conducted by petty pen-pushers who weren't good enough to join the clerical grade of the civil service. It isn't my business to contradict this stereotype, but I am concerned to point out that their self-image, whether as politicians or public servants, is equally far from the truth. It is a mistake to think that central government is dominated by an all-wise, urbane and magnanimous concern for the public welfare. At an administrative level It is dominated by the urge to close ranks, cover one's tracks and yield nothing to anyone. At a political level there is a macabre frivolity about the way the departments are shared out. I read, for example, on the front page of the first issue of The Times Health Supplement a month ago, that the DHSS "was created by Sir Harold Wilson in 1968 more to give Mr Richard Crossman a job that would keep him 'under control' than out of any profound regard for efficiency or social purpose" .:l Mr Crossman's own contempt for local authorities is

DISMANTLING WHITEHALL

51

obvious to anyone who bothers to read his diaries. But this contempt is shared by every politically-minded person when encountering a local authority whose councillors pursue a policy other than his own. We see this today when Mr Heseltine is making war on local councils who are, in his view, sabotaging his policy on the sale of council houses to sitting tenants, and we saw this during the Wilson administration, when Ministers and top civil servants, who themselves bought education for their children in the private sector, were enforcing a policy of comprehensive secondary education on councillors who believed otherwise. I mention these two contentious issues on which we all have opinions, just so that you can look into your hearts and ask to what extent you believe in local self-determination. The best account I ever read of the philosophy of local government, was written in a hurry ten years ago (because of the Royal Commission and the subsequent re-organisation of local government) by Mr loan Bowen Rees, the then clerk to the county of Pembrokeshire. It was called Government by Communiry and is probably out of print.4 Mr Bowen Rees (whom I don't know and have never met) is a man very close to my heart, because he is a citizen of his Welsh parish and of the whole world and is not impressed by the hierarchy of power and authority in between. His mind has been shaped, not just by Welsh parochialism but by Swiss federalism and by two great French thinkers, the aristocrat De Tocqueville and the peasant Proudhon. From the first of these he derives the maxim that "The strength of free peoples resides in the local community" and the observation from De Tocqueville's enquiry into Democracy in America that "I do not think one could find a single inhabitant of New England who would recognise the right of the government of the state to control matters of purely municipal interest". Here is a remark, which, whether or not it was true when its author visited the United States in the eighteen-forties, calls the bluff, not just of Mr Heseltine or Mr Shore but of any other contender for political power. And it leads Mr Bowen Rees to enquire, not just whether a Department of Education

(

\

52

TALKING HOUSES

has any real function, but whether we actually need a Director of Education at a county level? He was intent on exposing what he calls the "will 0' the wisp of size": the notion that there is a minimum size for the efficient performance of any public function, and he shows how the authors of the Redcliffe Maud Report ignored the evidence that it had itself commissioned in research studies, evidence which of course was ignored even more blatantly when re-organisation actually happened. But his best contribution was in polarising two fundamentally different approaches to local administration. He said:

Is it not our trouble in the United Kingdom that we have been conditioned to looking at local government - and practically every other facet of society - from the top down? Actually, there are two fundamentally different ways oflooking at local government, from the top down and from the bottom up. Those who look from the top down consider that the whole authority of the state is concentrated at the centre, To them, the centre is the only legitimate source of power: it is from the central government that local authorities receive their powers: indeed the central government actually creates the local authorities, dividing up the state into more or less uniform divisions in the process. The central government does this for the more efficient and economic provision of its services. It involves the leading citizens of every locality in the business of government, not so much in order to hear their views, as in order to embrace them and make them identify themselves with the system. This school of thought might be called the classical school oflocal government. It is more interested in efficiency than in democracy, in uniform standards than in local responsibility; it regards the citizen more as consumer of services than participant in government. Even at its best, it is apt to be patronising. The opposite is true of the other school, the romantic school, as it might be called or, in some countries, the historical school. This school sees the state itself as a conglomeration of localities, each of which has, it is true, surrendered much of its authority to the cen'tre, but each of which retains some authority in its own right as well as a basic identity of its very own. The romantic school places the emphasis on local authorities as nurseries of democratic citizenship, revels in diversity and local initiative, is impatient of central control and wishes to involve the citizen in government, not so much to, bring him into contact with the state as to foster his self-reliance. 5

Well, just suppose that his romantic or historical school were dominant, and shaped our practices in local administra-

DISMANTLING WHITEHALL

53

tion. We would have the counties begging the districts for a more generous morsel of tax income, just as the cantons in Switzerland have to beg from the communes, and we would have central government begging the county councils for a bigger income, just as the federal authorities have to in ( Switzerland. The boot would be on the other foot, so far as Mr Heseltine, or his shadow, Mr Kaufman, or his alternative shadow - should I suggest Mr David Alton - is concerned. No doubt a lot of people would enjoy the fall of the mighty that such a prospect envisages. But nagging in people's minds would be the element of redistribution that the existence of an overall central authority (since it is assumed that the whole is greater than the parts) would involve. It is taken for granted that the state exercises this redistributive function. If you are old enough you will remember that in the inter-war period, we had what were then, with commendable honesty, called "depressed areas" and later were known as "special areas" and have been described by a variety of other euphemisms ever since. But in spite of a great number of allegedly redistributive measures, conducted by a variety of government departments, it is obvious, at an ordinary, visual, level, today that the parts of the country which were especially poor then, are especially poor today. At an ordinary city level, you will remember that it is sixty years since George Lansbury and his fellow members of Poplar Borough Council, went to jail rather than pay a poor rate which was higher than that of much richer boroughs. In case you think that this particular episode relates to the primitive past, and that more sophisticated redistributive techniques are now applied, I would draw your attention to the study, just published, of The Inner City in Context, the final report of the study directed by Professor Peter Hall for the Social Science Research Council. He describes the Rate Support Grant as "a very blunt weapon", and he comments that

It tends to be based on past expenditure, so that a well-off authority with high spending on (say) education simply attracts more grant. There is no allowance for quality of service , provided, or for

54

TALKING HOUSES

cost-of-living variations between authorities. After 1974 the formula

was altered to the benefit of metropolitan districts and above all the Lon?on borous-hs. But th~ aid did not pass to the poorer boroughs. Hanngey, EalIng, Havenn~ and ~ewham - all boroughs with

areas .of stress -lost grant Income In 1979,

KensIn~ton/Chelsea gained. Inequi~a~le as

while Westminster and this may have seemed,

the arbItrary formula that replaced It m 1981 promises to be much more SO.6

In other words, using the best techniques anyone knows about, the redistributive functions of central control do not

actually function. The primary justification for a ce~tralised system does not work. Do we actually know that a federation

of local

authorities

would

produce results which are any

worse? So great is our unthinking deference to the centralised state that w.e ~akeit for granted that central government appoint~ commISSIOns to enquire into the functioning of local government, or th.e departme?t of the environment reporting on the way counctls fulfil theIr housing functions and telling them ~hat they ~ay and may not do, or the department of educatIOn and SCIence reporting on schools, that we never, ever, even consider the likely conclusions if the schools reported on the DES and the Inspectorate and its functioning and .usefulness, or of local authorities reporting on the effecttveness of central governm.ent control of housing policy, or of local government reportIng on the utility of central government and the deluge of circulars and directives which descend from Mondays to Fridays from government departments to those of county and district councils. Do you, for ~ momen~, imagine that local housing departments, hOUSIng committees and, in particular, tenants, would countenance for a minute the continued existence of central gove~nment direction of housing policy, where we surely recogmse that the wrong directives have been issued for at least thirty years? Why did local authorities increase densities, why did they get involved in the disasters of the ~ower-block syndrome? The answer is that they were Inexorably steered into it by central government policy and its subsidy structure.

(

DISMANTLING WHITEHALL

55

What do you imagine the opinion of education committee members and teachers would be about the disappearance of the Department of Education and Science? Would they feel they had lost anything? It wasn't me, but Lord Vaizey, the author of the standard work on the economics of education, who suggested that the DES really had no function at all.

I speak only of government departments I know something about. I have no doubt that farmers and the NFU would regard the disappearance of the Ministry of Agriculture with horror, but you will be bound to notice that the present government's determination to reduce the scope of central government activity is all a little one-sided, and of course will be resisted by the civil service every inch of the way. In the civil service view, and in practice, in the view of political appointees, local authorities are just not to be trusted. Marxists insist that the council is simply "the local state" and that the parade of local democracy is mere eyewash.) It isn't only the present government, but any other government we can think of, which, in practice, agrees with them. At the opening of the current session of Parliament, it was indicated that the government intends to publish a Green Paper outlining a number of possible alternatives to the rating system. I think that the time is over-ripe for people who believe in local government to issue their own Green Paper, not only on a viable system of finance for local government, but since central government has had so many commissions concerned with the affairs of local government, on the extent to which the dismantling of the autonomy of Whitehall can begin. A "Local Commission on Central Government" could be the first tentative step towards re-ordering our national priorities.

References

1. " Swatting the town-council fly" The Economist 3 October 1981.

2. S. Hildersley and R. Nottage:- Sources of Local Revenue , London 1968.

3. David Loshak: "Labour plans to split the DHSS down the middle" The Times Health Supplement No I, 30 October 1981.

4 . loan Bowen Rees: Govermilent by Community (London: Charles Kinght & Co, 1971).

}

56

5. ibid.

TALKING HOUSES

6.

Educational Books 1981)

7. M. Boddy and C. Fudge (eds) The Local State: Theory and Practice (Bristol:

Heinemann

Peter

Hall

(ed)

The

Inner

City

in

Context

(London:

SAUS Working Paper 20, 1981)

4. Until We Build Again

As I look at the names of my fellow speakers and at people I know at this conference, I reflect that most of them are supporters of the Left, in its infinite variety, and must have been dismayed by the result of the general election. I think of myself as a person of the Left too, but in electoral terms, I belong to the second biggest party of all: the non-voters. The major actions of governments - of any complexion - are abhorrent to me, and I don't have a great deal of faith in their minor and peripheral activities, like housing policy, either. On the other hand, I do believe in pressure groups for specific purposes, and I think that the single-issue pressure group can be highly effective and useful, both in affecting the climate of opinion among citizens, and making just a few pebbles or boulders in the mountain of legislation work in what we would regard as the public interest. Of course we are all familiar with the phenomenon that the legislation that people have lobbied for, can beco~e when drafted and enacted, something far short of what they sought, or so wrapped around by civil service or local government procedures, checks and balances, as to be ineffective. Within the voluntary housing movement, for example, is anyone actually happy about the role of the Housing Corporation, including its own employees? I used to work for a very venerable environmental pressure

Lecture given at

Nottingham, on 16 July 1983.

the Shelter Nationa l Housing

Conference ,

Uni ve rsity oj

UNTIL WE BUILD AGAIN

57

group, the TCPA,

f()unded in the last century as ~h~ Gar~en

Cities Association, to propagate Ebenezer Howard s m~entI~m of the garden city idea, a governmental version of whIch w<:t s finally brought into effect as the New Towns Act of 1946 and the whole programme of New Towns which followed . Just ( because there are many misconceptions about this, and as there are people whose particular scapegoat for .the current plight of inner cities is the dispersal of popula~lOn to New Towns, there are two things I should say. One IS that, most particularly in connection with New Town assets, there are great differences between Howard's concept and the New TOWll~ ~e_?-ctually got. The other is that in Howard's mind the whole purpose of depopulating the cities was to break t.he capitalist land valuation system so that, after the sca~~~~y value resulting from the gross overcrowding of the old CItIeS had been lowered through the outward movement of peop~e, the lowering of the rental value and rateable value o~ ~ity lan.d would enable their redevelopmeJ!.t at humane dens1tles. ThIS of course hasn't happened. Urban land keeps its price long after its true value has declined, and we are all obliged to have a vested interest in these make-believe valuations because of

the massive purchases by local authoritie~,. ins~ranc~ companies and pension funds. In the current pohtlca~ chma~e, none of the parties has the political will to tackle thIS crUCIal issue ofland valuation, nor is there an effective pressure group at work on this nagging, complicated and tedious issu.e. But I mentioned Howard and his successors for a dIfferent reason. They understood the need for single in~erest pre~s.ure groups to appeal right across t~e ,;0l1:vent~on~1 pohtlcal

of sw:et

spectrum . As Lewis Mumford put It, WIth hIS gIft

/ reasonableness Howard hoped to win Tory and AnarchIst, single-taxer and socialist, individualist and collectivist, over to

his experiment. And his hopes were ~ot. al~ogether discomforted' for in appealing to the Enghsh mstmct for finding com:Uon ground he was utilising a solid political tradition." Among our legislators, who are expected to be authorities on everything from lead in petrol to ~asty video-films, only a small proportion, in the nature of thI~gs, have any real interest in the issues of planning and housmg,

58

and they aren't necessarily the ones who get ministerial office. Exactly the same thing is true oflocal government, despite the continuing efforts of the central departments to ensure that councillors have an ever-narrowing sphere in which they can actually decide anything. To the extent that a pressure group is a lobby on government, it needs to have something for everyone. For a very long period there was a general consensus between the politicians of right and left about housing, which, leaving the rhetoric apart, continued through the greater part of this century. For years the two major parties played the numbers game about how many hundred thousand houses "they" claimed to have provided every year. This consensus has now been broken. Although I have to remind you that the run-down was apparent during the Wilson and Callaghan periods, the last administration made a decisive break with what had been a bipartisan approach to housing policy, in adopting a philosophy akin to that of classical liberalism in its crudest form. If I belonged to a housing lobby, seeking to influence the present government to steering more resources in the direction of housing, the language I would use would be loaded with phrases like "self-help", "mutual aid", "standing on your own two feet" and so on, and especially the phrase used by Mr Ian Gow in moving the second reading of the current Bill on 5 July, urging that "wherever possible the individual should enjoy greater freedom and choice and should accept the responsibility that went with it". The political Left has, over the years, committed an enormous psychological error in allowing this kind of language to be appropriated by the political Right. If you look at the exhibitions of trade union banners from the last century, you will see slogans like Self Help embroidered all over them. It was those clever Fabians and academic Marxists who ridiculed out of existence the values by which ordinary citizens govern their own lives in favour of bureaucratic paternalism, leaving these values around to be picked up by their political opponents. There is of course one genuine problem for councils that the tenants' right to buy imposes. In their housing revenue

TALKING HOUSES

UNTIL WEBUILDAGAIN

59

accounts they operate a pooling system of rents and subsidies so that their older properties, let at figures way above the economic rent or historic cost rent, subsidise the newer ones built at astronomical cost in the 1970s. In other words, the tenants of old council property, who may well have lived there ( for many decades , are subject to a continually rising rent to help keep down the rents of tenants in new c.ouncil property. Under no conceivable ethical system can thIS be conSIdered just, and it presents not an argument against sales but an argument for changing the system of housing finance. No private landlord could get away with such a policy. A rent officer would tell him that his investment in new property was not his old tenants' concern. If old tenants were acquainted with the facts ofthe way in which the housing revenue account was manipulated, they would lobby for a total ban on new council building.

by the response of the

I

am

desolated,

if unsurprised,

authoritarian Left to the crisis. of housing policy, and its extraordinary willingness to equate public ownersip with socialism, especially when hardly a week goes by without some council deciding to demolish, as spectacularly as possible, housing it built at enormous cost wit~in the la~t twenty years and which it won't have finished paymg for untIl well into the next century, while a continual series of reports, like Anthony Fletcher's Homes Wasted, published by Shelter

last year, draw attention to the very large numb~r. of dwellings, empty and decaying, belonging to local authorItIes. In the end we may feel some relief that the Thatcher government has halted the consensus on housing policy. It gives us a certain moratorium to think about how we would construct a housing programme if starting from scratch. There was a phrase used about Gandhi by Vinoba Bhave. He said, "Gandhiji used up all the moral oxygen in India and the British raj suffocated" . In the same way we might say that the direct provision of housing for rent by local councils used up all the inventive capacity for evolving a sustainable housing policy, and the alternatives never got a chance, . they were suffocated. Now is the time to nurture the alternatIves, to put

6 0 TALKING HOUSES their lessons before the public and to exploit the rhetoric of
6 0 TALKING HOUSES their lessons before the public and to exploit the rhetoric of

60

TALKING HOUSES

their lessons before the public and to exploit the rhetoric of the present .governm~nt as an argument for financing them. The mtroductIOn to a recent massive volume on urban history! c~ntains the terse little comment: "having demolished slums whIch stood for a century, we constructed homes which las.t:d a. ~ecad.e". U~fair? Untrue? Most people in most Brltlsh CItIes wIll readIly thmk of examples which meet this descri~tion. The authors declare that "damp, boredom, vandalIsm and garbage undermined the urban vision" and the evidence is available for all to see. But another factor needs pondering. In the context of the wise husbanding of housing resources we have to admit that we squandered our resources when we thought we were rich and have only partially absorbed the ~essons for now that we think we are poor. The missing factor IS that of dweller control: the ability of residents to make their own contribution to their domestic environment. We have plenty of evidence of the consequences when this crucial attribute is excluded. Can anyone conceivably imagine that any of the gre~t~ousingdisasters of the last thirty years would have been bUIlt m the first place if the potential residents had been in control? I think myself that what we, with our belated wisdom, see as grotesquely unsuitable housing structures could be redeemed by the resourcefulness of the occupants. Reflect, for example, on that familiar phenomenon of the fifties and sixties, where Authority, represented by a clerk from the surve~ors' or M?~ department in the passenger seat of a counCIl car, was tIckmg off the houses destined for demolition some o~ the~ regarded as "little palaces" by the occupant~ and theIr neIghbours. Or reflect on the wisdom of some local authorities in deciding to sell off, for whatever they could get, tower blocks of flats, rejected as a squalid, vandalised dump by the po~r, but c~pa~le of resuscitation with answerphones and a umformed Jamtor, by wealthier families anxious to. conserve their resources by living closer to the city centre. Most of us are familiar with the paradox that the life or death of b~ildings was decided by a line drawn on a map on the centrelIne of a road. On one side houses were demolished

UNTIL WE BUII.DAGAIN

61

as unfit for human habitation, and were eventually replaced by flats that declined from the moment they were occupied. On the other, identical houses were sold off on the private market and improved by their purchasers, making use of improvement grants and DIY. There was no magic about their success. It depended upon access to resources and upon

the opportunity to use one's own resourcefulness, which is the concomitant of the dweller being in control. Housing policy since its origins in the last century as council slum-clearance has been based on the implication that

a municipal Lady Bountiful or Octavia Hill takes over the

landlord role, with all its overtones of dependence and resentment. Very slowly, and to my mind unwillingly, we have begun to absorb the lessons from the attempts to develop alternatives. All tne assumr.tions_ofhousing policy in the pa~t have depende'"d up on an image'~f gratefu G ec.i£ients wJ:1o pay · tIle rent but d Oii'i-aream of makingtheir 0;-0 imprint on the ftiUy-finished, fully=8ervicecf (a ccoroing-to' tliestandards of the day) housing. SomE-of us- can a ctually remember the days when tenants were told to strip off their unauthorised wallpaper and replace the council's pea-green distemper.

Any council nOw.i!:daYli ~oQ.I~ be QIllL!OO p~ea§.edto pass over to the tenant "the cost of maintenance and improvement, just because heavy-handed ex~ernally-imposed updating is ruinously expensive and inappropriate. Some people do want their vitreous-enamelled cast iron bath replaced by a pink fibreglass one with an infinitely shorter life. Others see this kind of improvement programme as grotesquely irrelevant to expressed needs. Fortunately we have by now a whole range of one-off examples which display a variety of alternative approaches which do draw upon the resourcefulness of residents. (And I do have to remind you that this capacity for making the most

of one's resources is taken for granted in the majority mode of

tenure, owner-occupation, in this country. The scandal is that

it is also taken for granted that a different breed of human

lives in the other forty-five per cent of British households.) My first example is the well-known, not to say hackneyed one of the Black Road, Macclesfield. We all know about it and

62

TALKING HOUSES

it still retains the distinction of being the only Clearance Area to become a Conservation Area. I say this only to denigrate the crude, official designation of places. But it has the added distinction of being one of the few examples of a rehabilitation scheme where members qualifying for grant were able to manipulate the financial arrangements so as to share the benefits with elderly neighbours to give them whatever particular improvements met their aspirations. The mixture of grant aid and community resourcefulness is symbolised by the way in which the employed building workers left their plant on Friday nights at the most convenient places for the residents to take it over at weekends. If this were typical of the rehabilitation scene, we wouldn't have to keep harking back to the Black Road redevelopment. Very slowly local authorities have been resolving to put modernisation of council houses and flats in the hands of their tenants. Glasgow corporation's "tenant's grant scheme" has been taken up by more than ten thousand of the city's tenants, 96 per cent of those to whom it has so far been offered, and the results, according to Jane Morton, have "startled even those who argued for it in 1979 by its cost-effectiveness and popularity".2 Glasgow's change of heart has extended to the sponsorship of management co-ops, as well as to promoting an experiment in urban homesteading at Easterhouse in some of the abandoned and boarded-up three-storey walk-up flats there. Discounted freeholds together with rehabilitation grants have been offered to families willing to take them on. The co-operative housing movement has started, virtually from scratch, in the last ten years, and in spite of the same economic constrictions that have affected every kind of publicly funded housing, in spite of the bureaucracy of the Housing Corporation as the channel for funding. Contrary to the stereotype of those people who believe that co-op housing is a mere diversion from the need to revive the direct provision of housing by local authorities, most co-ops are not composed of privileged people grasping the newest trend, but of poor

people in

Improvements. For the opportunity it gave to people from the housing

housing

need

or

in

need

of long-delayed home

UNTIL WE BUILD AGAIN

63

waiting list of an inner London borough, actually to build their own houses of a very high standard, the Lewisham Self-Build Housing Association, worth studying by everyone, is so-far unique, -b~t;v e'n more significant is the change of heart in Liverpool. The city council resolved that the provision of new housing was best achieved by providing the funds, in the words of Nick Wates, to enable people in need "to organise the design, construction and management of it themselves through self-generating self-reliant co- operatives".3He explains that, "Local authority tenants living in slum clearance areas or deteriorating tenements organise themselves into groups - so far ranging from 19 to 61 family units - and obtain the management services of one of Liverpool's co-operative development agencies: Co-operative Development Services, Merseyside Improved Houses or Neighbourhood Housing Services. With its assistance they register as a 'non-equity' housing co-operative with limited

liability, locate a suitable site an~ negotiate to buy it. (So far nearly all the land has come from Liverpool City Councilor the Merseyside Development Corporation.) They then select a firm of architects with whom they design a scheme which is submitted to a funding body. The scheme is then submitted to

the DOE for subsidy and yardstick approval

houses are built, the co-op members become the tenants of their homes, paying standard fair rents, but they are also collectively the landlord, responsible for management and maintenance." It was reported only last week by David Lawrence, head of GLC Professional Services that "there is mounting pressure from an increasing number of London's tenants' groups demanding public money so that they can hire architects to

improve their estates". (AJ 6 July 1983). We thus have something today which was non-exi~tent a

When the

d ~ ~ ~ ag!?:.~i.e 2 f 2.~ m ~ ~ s··o L ~lten).ati.v jIl J) ousing,

es

,r~~oqr~~ej);lp.ess ~and

pn ?' .Yi iing

the case of a . secondary co-op like Solon

Co-operative Housing Services in London, servicing a variety of co-op initiatives ranging from former squatter groups, short-life rehab groups, even small business or industrial

a

RI(!'cr • Jor

p ~ ople sown

"self-help~:- T a ke

64

TALKING HOUSES

usmg premises for living and

working. It is not a bit surprising that many of these new initiatives have faced, like the Lewisham self-builders, heartbreaking delays and difficulties because the regular sources of housing finance don't fit their style of activity. Often the inner city local politicians who should have been their allies are suspicious or hostile because their particular vision of the socialist commonwealth involves everyone being beholden to the housing committee and the housing department. People like that are playing into the hands of the hard men of the present government. They are also out of touch with popular aspirations. Everybody here represents in one way or another, what we call the housing lobby. Since we are lobbying a government which expresses its belief in its version of Victorian values, let's face them with those Victorian values of self-help and mutual aid. But let's address our fellow citizens with the range of alternatives in housing which don't perpetuate the unloved image of municipal landlordism.

co-op groups of immigrants

References

1. Derek F raser and An Edward Arnold 1983

2. Jane

tho ny Sutcliffe (eds ) T he P ursuit of Urban H istory

Morton: "Tenan t takeover " Ne w Sociery 16 June 1983

3. Ni ck Wates:

Phase 2" A rchitects Jo urnal 8 September 1982

"The Liverpool Breakthrough: or public sector housing

5. Direct Action for Working- Class Housing

I have been re-reading Proudhon, or attempting to do so, spurred on by the conferences of the parties of the Left in their attempts to formulate a policy towards housing, to match that of the Conservatives, whose "right to buy" legislation has undoubtedly been an electoral success. I am certainly not opposed to the right to buy and I think the opposition arguments against it are based on fallacies, but I am opposed to the legislation as it is one more nail in the coffin of local autonomy. As an alternative, the Labour Party has been debating The Right to a Home and the SDP has been discussing its Green Paper A Choice for All. Every such document has to be a compromise between interest groups within these parties and their compilers' assessment of what will actually win votes. From the tenants' point of view we have actually slid into a situation where, all over the country, council rents are subsidising the rates, something never envisaged by those who believe that council landlordism is to be equated with socialism. But I find that the attitude of Marxist academics opposed to the right to buy is not to do with the present plight of tenants but to a dictum of Engels from well over a century ago in a polemic called The Housing Question, where he said that "As long as the capitalist mode of production continues to exist it

Lecture given in the "stream" on Anarchism and the British Labour Movement at the 18th History Workshop, Leicester, 18 November 1984.

65

66

TALKING HOUSES

is folly to hope for an isolated settlement of the housing question affecting the lot of the workers . The solution lies in the abolition of the capitalist mode of production and the appropriation of all the means of subsistence and the instruments of labour by the working class itself." He was replying to various forgotten socialists of the kind he labelled as "utopian" and to disciples of Proudhon who is not forgotten, but is certainly, for good reason, unread. The one thing we all know about him is his slogan Property is Theft, and some of us remember it painted in letters three feet high by the temporary occupants of 144 Piccadilly in London in September 1969, and some of us know that he also said Property is Freedom, just showing how inconsistent the anarchists are. He himself remarked once, "Odd, that after waging war against property for fifteen years, I am perhaps destined to save it from the inexpert hands of its defenders", and his editor George Woodcock explains that his original slogan "was to hang like a verbal albatross around its creator's neck" and that

his boldness of expression was intended for emphasis, and by "property" he wished to be understood what hc later called "the sum of its abuses" . He was denouncing the property of the man who uses it to exploit the labour of others without any effort on his own part, property distinguished by interest and rent, by the impositions of the non-pfOducer on the producer. Towards property regarded as "possession", the right of a man to control his dwelling and the land and tools he needs to live, Proudhon had no hostility; indeed, he regarded it as the cornerstone of liberty, and his main criticism of the Communists was that they wished to destroy it.

With his sympathy with peasants and independent artisans, Proudhon seemed to Marx and Engels to be an absurd survivor from the preindustrial age. Engels declared that" the ownership of house, garden and field, and the security of tenure in the dwelling-place, is becoming today, under the rule of large-scale industry, not only the worst hindrance to the worker, but the greatest misfortune for the whole working class, the basis for an unexampled depression of wages below "

their normal level

Fo:

most non-Marxists this is an inexplicable point of view

DIRECT ACTION FOR WORKING-CLASS HOUSING

67

which in any case has been by-passed by history. Yet its shadow still haunts the political Left. One modern commentator, Hugh Stretton, wishing to rescue socialism from itself, claims that

Socialists ought to welcome the growth of the home-owning,

do-it-yourself sector of production

revolution may be seen as making Marx and Engels wrong about

household ownership and production, and Proudhon right

in practical politics, socialists would no longer have to appear, as they have too often appeared in capitalist and communist countries

alike, as enemies of ownership and of free, unalienated domestic productivity - enemies who threaten to confine the working class for ever, no matter how affluent it becomes, to a constricted existence in rented, landless battery housing. \-

the second industrial

And

The worst irony is that the dreadful errors in housing policy were made in times of what now seems like full employment, when levels of investment in the urban fabric were high and when poor people had relatively ~ore disposable income and, consequently, more freedom of manoeuvre than is now the case. In the expansive 1950s our social prophets were urging us to sever, at last, the connection between employment and income. In those days John Kenneth Galbraith was arguing for what he called "cyclically graduated compensation" - a dole which went up as the economy took a downturn, so that people's purchasing power could be maintained, and which went down when full employment approached. "One day", Galbraith forecast, "we shall remove the economic penalties and also the social stigma associated with involuntary unemployment. This will make the economy much easier to manage." But, he added, a decade later, "We haven't done this yet". And today, when the collapse of employment for millions makes the need for such policies far more urgent, the political climate is even less receptive to them . Hence the popularity of the Reagan and Thatcher governments among the members of the employed majority who don't feel an obligation to provide an income for those who can't get a job and are never likely to have one. Hence too, the campaigns against "social parasites" in the Soviet Union.

,

"'-.1\""';''''' "'"""

fl.: .".,,';:,:1

68

TALKING HOUSES

Andre Gorz is a French socialist who warns us that our failure to separate purchasing power from employment is going to lead to a society where the majority will be "marginalised by an unholy alliance of unionised elite workers with managers and capitalists". And he argues that the political Left has been frozen into authoritarian collectivist attitudes belonging to the past:

As long as the protagonists of socialism continue to make centralised planning (however much it might be broken down into local and regional plans) the lynchpin of their programme, and the adherence of everyone to the "democratically formulated" objectives of the plan the core of their political doctrine, socialism will remain an unattractive proposition in industrial societies. Classical socialist doctri?e finds it difficult to .come to terms with political and social plurahsm, understood not sImply as a plurality of parties and trade union.s ~)Utas t~e co-existe?c~ of various ways of working, producing and hvmg, vanous and dIstmct cultural areas and levels of social ~xistence .: . Yet this k!nd. of pluralism precisely conforms to the hved expenenc~ and aspIratIOns o~ t.he post-industrial proletariat, as well as the major part of the tradItIOnal working class.

How on earth, he asks, has the socialist movement got itself into the position of dismissing as petit-bourgeois individual- ism all those freedoms which people actually value: everything that belongs to the private niche that people really cherish? He means that niche which can be represented by "family life, a home of one's own, a back garden, a do-it-yourself wor~shop, a boat, a country cottage, a collection of antiques, mUSIC, gastronomy, sport, love etc". And he goes on to assert that "an inversion of the scale of priorities, involving a subordination of socialised work governed by the economy to activities constituting the sphere of individual autonomy, is underway in every class within the over-developed societies and particularly among the post-industrial neo-proletariat". It may seem like a bad joke to talk of some of the categories in Gorz's private niche, like that boat, country cottage and collection of antiques, in the context of the new pauper class in Britain. What kind of post-industrial neo-proletariat does he imagine we have, either in Britain or France? But the point he is making is valid enough. With family life, a home of one's own, a back garden, a do-it-yourself workshop, you can get

DIRECT ACTION FOR WORKING-CLASS HOUSING

69

by, as generations of poor people since Proudhon's day have found. David Donnison and Claire Ungerson are wise in their Penguin on Housing Policy to reflect on the increasing importance of house and home in a society Housing Policy to reflect on the increasing importance of house and home in a society in which well under half the population is employed outside the home, and in which even employed people spend longer each week at home than at their place of work. They observe that

Neglect of the domestic economy and the informal economy has led planners, architects and the makers of housing policy under widely · different regimes to undervalue space - indoors and outdoors - and the scope which people can be given to extend and adapt their homes and gardens. They have instead been too reluctant to give tenants a stake in their homes or any scope for changing them, and too prone to admire the inflexible, unresponsive bureaucracies which too many housing authorities have made of themselves.week at home than at their place of work. They observe that I am sure they

I am sure they are right to envis~gs: future in \yhich the decline of manufacturing industry-"as a source of employment is bound to imply a growth in the informal and domestic

economy, especially as even the service economy, wqi cQ

'Y_as

a

thought ~apabl~ of t~king_~'Ler the employing function, is being replaced by a self-service economy (e.g. the domestic washing machine taking over from the laundry and even from the launderette). A future where an increasing proportion.of goods and services are provIded either in the home or the neighbourhood, c.9-11s for flexible, adaptable, low density housing with outdoor as well as indoor space. The once-despised by-law street of the late 19th century as well as the suburban street of the first half of this century, are well-adapted to change to accommodate new patterns of living. thought ~apabl~ of t~king_~'Ler ~od ~rn high-density housing, whether high or low, is not. However, all ~od ~rn high-density housing, whether high or low, is not. However, all through life I have kept hearing of working class families who have managed to build their own without even building skills, and with little or no access to capital. Everyone today is so completely dependent upon the housing supply system, whether renting in the public sector or buying in the private sector, that we find it hard to believe that people can house themselves. Worse than that, we assume that they are in some way abnormal or obsessional or heroic, so that

70

TALKING HOUSES

instead of changing the system to make it easier for others to do the same, we make it harder for anyone to emulate them . Suppose, for the first time in the history of the Left's discussion of housing, we were to celebrate their achievement? Take the case of Walter Southgate. He, along with Emmanuel Shinwell, is one of the last two survivors of the Labour Representation Committee, the body which founded the Labour Party, and for decades was a street-corner agitator and trade union activist. Later in his long life he was one of the people who established the Museum of Labour History in Limehouse. After the first world war he and his wife bought two-and-a-half acres ofland near Ongar in Essex. Back home in Hackney he first made a carpenter's bench and then built in s:ctions a two-roomed wooden hut. The following Easter they hIred a Model T Ford van and transported their shed to erect on the concrete footings they had spent ages building. Their first lesson in brickwork had been in building the fireplace. The four-day holiday gave them time to erect their eight-foot by si;cteen-foot shed and set it up on the footings but Jot to bolt It down, before it was time to cycle the 20 miles bick to Adley Street, opposite Hackney Marshes. That week a gale blew it off its foundations, but they levered it back and used it for several years at weekends while plotting to build a permanent house.

We knew from the start that it would be a gamble and disastrous should I fall sick or unemployed at a stage when the walls were half Our estimate of the cost without labour was around £358

way up and we had nowhere near that sum . We just hoped to get through the final stages of building our bungalow by working in slow motion on my monthly salary. So it came about a few days before the General Strike was declared in May 1926 that we sent off our first order to the local gravel pits to deliver 30 yards of ballast and 20 yards of sand at 8s a cubic yard. The die had been cast and there could be no going back. It now meant work, hard work, for every

weekend and holiday period over the following two and a half years

They finished the building in September 1928 and lived there on the small-holding they developed over the years, until 1955. Over the years they produced every kind of fruit and vegetable, kept poultry, rabbits and geese, grew a variety of

DIRECT ACTION FOR WORKING-CLASS HOUSING

71

trees including a coppice of 650 saplings and in fact made their holding far more productive than any farmer could. Was this a triumph of escapist individualism? Well, not exactly, for Mr Southgate spent a long life in every kind of socialist organisation and at the 1978 National Conference was honoured for "outstanding voluntary service to the Labour Party". In the course of our research into the "plotlands" of South East England, Dennis Hardy and I met dozens of people who, with no capital and no access to mortgage loans, had changed their lives for the better. Mr Fred Nichols of Bowers Gifford had a poverty-stricken childhood in East London and a hard and uncertain living as a casual dock worker. His plot ofland, 40 feet wide by 100 feet deep, cost him £10 in 1934. First he put up a tent which his family used at week-ends, and he gradually accumulated tools, timber and glass which he brought to the site strapped to his back as he cycled down from London. For water he sank a well in the garden, though as with Mr Southgate's house, main services were eventually connected. His house is called "Perseverance". Mrs Elizabeth Granger and her husband were caretakers in an LCC block of flats. In 1932 she saw in the evening".paper land at Laindon advertised at £5 for a plot 20 feet wide by 150 feet deep. She took her unwilling husband on the one-and-twopenny return trip from London and was advised that they should buy two plots if she wanted to build a bungalow. She paid the deposit with a borrowed pound. When she could afford it she bought a first world war army bell tent, laboriously got it to the site, and she and her husband would go there on their day off, taking their drinking water with them and straining rainwater through an old stocking for washing. They used to rent the tent at week-ends to parties of boys from the estate, using the money to buy second hand bricks at 35s a thousand, three yards of sand for ISs and cement at 2s 6d a bag. They reared chickens, geese and goats, bought a pony and trap, and Mrs Granger's husband got a transfer to a job at Dagenham. Unlike Mr Nichols, they didn't stay for a lifetime in the house they had built with so much labour, but were enabled to move "up

Yov~j\

N.,.:. \)

72

TALKING HOUSES

market" as people would say, from their very modest beginnings - a borrowed pound in fact. She remarks, "We never had a mortgage for any of the houses where we have.

~o'"~ Ived.ITeel so sorry for young couples these days, who don't

( \ ,

'?

. r- ~A,.C\g~n~eRind-of ~hance we had : "

( fJ"

r'/ "';-

The second world war, and the overwhelming powers to

control development given to planning authorities by the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act and its successors, as well as the stringent enforcement of building regulations, have put an end to this kind of self-help housebuilding in Britain. True, there are people who manage it, but it is not my business to inform on them. We certainly have our self-builders, both individual and collective, and they usually build houses of a much higher quality than they could buy. But they have to provide a fully-finished, fully-serviced house right from the start. There is no longer any room for the improvised dwelling that is improved from earnings over time, simply because it would not get planning permission, approval under ~ building regulations, and certainly not a mortgage loan for the cost of the site and materials. A whole new profession has grown up of people who act as "fixers" for self-build housing groups, simply because of the complexity of the regulations and legal stipulations they have to meet.

Our planning and building legislation, in fact, operate as Jon Gower Davies remarked, as "a highly regressive form of indirect taxation". The rich can get by, but the poor are penalised. Contemporary planning legislation would auto- matically outlaw the building of the homes of Mr Southgate, Mr Nichols and Mrs Granger. (It being axiomatic that land in the country is sacrosanct for farmers to grow unwanted cereals for the subsidy, and to pick up another subsidy for grubbing up hedges and trees for this purpose.) Contemporary buiiding regulations would certainly ensure that their building costs were prohibitive. Their houses mayor may not have been built to the standards of the pre-war model bylaws and Public Health Acts. They probably were, since these were simple and

--' comprehensible to the layman. But the post-war building •.----- regulations are not only incomprehensible, so that even (~ architects employ structural engineers, at their client's

DIRECT ACTION FOR WORKIN(;-CLASS HOUSING

73

expense, to design the simplest foundation, beam or roof, but '

are administered in a way that ensures that all the District ~ Council's officers will be insured in perpetuity against the >

remotest liability for any building failure. Old buildings last ~_

for centuries without benefit of all this expertise, but th ~ > widespread defects of public housing in the last twenty years,

all built to comply with the regulations, turn out to be

nobody's responsibility. But if you have the temerity to wan!:------> -

to build for yourself, watch out! If you are disinclined to take these comments on trust yo should ask any architect of your acquaintance. But you may also feel that because of the instances I have mentioned from years ago of people who broke out of urban landlordism into the country, I have evaded the issue of those families who from necessity or choice wanted to remain city dwellers, and that of contemporary realities. Post-war housing in the cities has of course been dominated by local authorities, who, presented by the war with bom~ sites, adopted the policy of comprehensive redevelopment which fitted their unques- tioned belief that large-scale problems could only be met by large-scale solutions. When they ran out of bomb sites they made themselves a second blitz. Colin Jones has shown how the self-confident rush to destroy the past in Glasgow and Liverpool has resulted in a net housing loss and Graham Lomas demonstrated in 1975 how in London more fit houses had been destroyed than had been built since the war. Two young architects from the London borough of Newham, Graham Bennett and Stuart Rutherford observed that at a time when the borough was claiming that it had run out of sites, it was, like any other inner-city borough, pockmarked with small vacant plots. They decided to make a detailed investigation. On foot and by bike they surveyed, street by street, two half-kilometre-wide strips of land, from north to south and from west to east, straddling the borough, and noted each vacant site. Then they excluded all sites of more than half an acre, any sites in wholly industrial areas, any sites which, although not used for anything in particular, were part of recent local authority housing proposals and any sites within a declared local authority redevelopment area.

~

<--

~_
~_

74

TALKING HOUSES

They concluded on the basis of this survey that, within the borough as a whole, there was enough land in the sites left over to house, at a conservative estimate, 3,000 to 5,000 people in single-family houses. When they reported their

findings to officers of the council, they were told that all these small and scattered plots were useless, so far as the council was concerned. Given the local authority's procedures, it would be uneconomic to develop them. Bennett and Rutherford were not happy with this answer because they felt, as I do, that the very scale of local authority developments was part of the malaise of public housing. So they took their argument further in a detailed report, supported by quantity surveyors' costings, in 1979. They pointed out that house prices in Newham were below those of neighbouring boroughs. Turn-of-the-century houses were selling for around £9,000, and only reached that figure because of the influx of people who could only just qualify for a mortgage. Co.nsequently sp~culati,:e developers could not sell ~wly bUIlt houses at pnces whIch would show what they conside~d as an adequate return on capital. So the building of new

houses

monopolised by local authorities or housing

associations. In consequence, the two architects claimed, "the consider- able contributions which householders can make have never been fully appreciated and utilised". Public participation has been seen as a politically necessary nuisance or as just another load on administrative costs. But, they argued, "Until local authorities acknowledge that their bad experiences with participation on large-scale developments have been a product ofworking on too large a scale, and give consideration to small partnership arrangements for small sites, these sites will remain unuseable". They point out that all the other social needs for land in depressed urban areas - schools hospitals and recreational open space - need large sites. '

~he one-f~mily house.is on !he other hand, uniquely suited to small SItes and IS the most mtensIve use of land. A typical terrace house pl<;>t ?f, say, 15 feet by 70 feet can be, for the family living there, a chIld s play space, a vegetable garden, a thing of beauty, the site for

was

DIRECT ACTION FOR WORKING-CLASS HOUSING

75

a hobby or small business, as well as a place of shelter and security. As such it tends to be well cared for and supervised.

We don't have to look far, they argue, to see how the benefits

have to look far, they argue, to see how the benefits of small-scale management and enterprise

of

small-scale management and enterprise could be harnessed

to

developing idle sites in depressed districts:

In

all except the coldest winter months, the residential streets of our

survey borough are dotted with builders' skips, as local people add a kitchen, bathroom or bedroom to their houses, make a loft conversion, create a "through lounge" or build on a new front porch. They do so by managing the project themselves, often with the aid of

a draughtsman from the local estate agency.

Bennett and Rutherford were putting the case for extending this kind of enterprise to prospective householders. They envisaged a situation where a local authority would be empowered with central government funding to advertise the opportunity to develop these small sites among families on their housing waiting list. Someone would decide to apply, lease the land at a peppercorn rent, appoint an adviser, while as building work proceeded payments would be made in stages. The council would use its allocation of funds to write off40 per cent of the capital cost and would grant the low-paid householder an option mortgage for the rest. Their proposal was simply a rearrangement of procedures in a new way, but as they said, "the greatest impediment to our proposal is simply that many professionals with an interest in, and a c.ontrolling hand on, housing have come to believe that housing is a sophisticated process well beyond the comprehension of the uninitiated. Needless to say, their scheme was not adopted in Newham. But the good news is that another London borough has sponsored a scheme which combines their approach with that

of the plotland self-builders, and has provided housing of high

quality giving immense satisfaction to the residents, who

claim that the experience has enormously enriched their lives. This is the Lewisham Self-Build Housing Association. As an experiment in dweller-built public housing (something which

a decade ago would have sounded like a contradiction in

terms) it took a long time to come to fruition, and would have

76

TALKING HOUSES

been smothered at birth had it not been for a few people's willingness to put aside the assumptions about the politics of housing which they had accumulated over the years. Walter Segal is an architect, born in Switzerland in 1907 who quite early in life was fascinated by the structural simplicity and economy of the traditional American

; "balloon-framed" timber house. He has practiced in this country for almost fifty years, giving a direct personal service to his clients, but increasingly at odds with the planning and building control system.

Whenever a new project came along there was this brief honeymoon with the design, then the long drawn-out fight with the control apparatus. The client had to adjust himself to this. And then there was the final business of building, and there it was harder and harder. When you administer a client's resources you have a moral obligation to him. I built 30 houses in London before 1962 but it was becoming so difficult that it was really warfare - and I "had ~ecome in consequence a much less amiable person than I am now. I ~s really quite ap unpleasant person to meet professionally. \

It was in that year that he decided to rebuild his own house and to erect a temporary building in the garden to house the family during the building work. He used lightweight materials in standard sizes so that they could be reused elsewhere, held together by a simple frame standing on no foundation other than concrete paving slabs. The building was so cheap, quickly-built and comfortable (as well as durable: it is still there today) that in the 60s and 70s when the mainstream of British architecture was steadily losing the respect of the public, Segal had a series of commissions t6 build houses on the same principle in different parts of the country, refining the system with each job. There was no contract6r, just a plumber, an electrician and a carpenter, Mr Wade, who followed him around from job to job. An increasing proportion of the building work was being done by the owners. One of the most interesting aspects of his approach is that it blurs the expected roles of architect, tradesman and client. They aren't at the points of a triangular relationship, they are all mixed up in the middle in the adventure of building. "As I

(/

.-'

--)

DIRECT ACTION FOR WORKING-CLASS HOUSING

77

see it", he says, "buildings are there to be a background ~or people, against which they move, a background whIch envelopes them, protects them, gives them pleasure, and

allows them to add a little bit of themselves". By 1975, having built 25 structures of this kind, Segal was yearning to find a local authority willing to take the plu.n.ge and sponsor housing built by his method for and by famihes on its housing waiting list. At that time the assistant borough architect was Brian Richardson, seeking alternatives to what he regarded as the failure of the usual, exp~nsive co~ncil housing procedures. The chairman of the housmg commIttee was Ron Pepper, a comprehensive school headmaster, and the chairman of the planning committee was Nicholas Taylor, author of a brilliant book The Village in the City, who knows a good housing idea when he meets one. Naturally these four people had different responsibilities and different.approac?es

.Bnan

Richardson an anarchist, comments that If the Lewisham Labour Gr~uphas a fault, it is the conviction that if a thing is worth doing at all, it is worth the council doing it for you". Taylor on the other hand, speaks of "Lewisham's lib:rta:ian vision of a socialism which is neither of the managenal nght nor of the authoritarian left, but which uses state intervention

to release the creative energies of ordinary people". In 1976, by a single vote, Lewisham council decided to

to

housing,

and

to

the

role

of local

~~thontles.

explore the possibility of promoting a self-b.uild scheme.' ?ased on Segal's system of lightweight constructlOn, for famIlies on the council's waiting or transfer lists, using those pockets of land which because of their size or their sloping nature, could not in their view, be used in the borough's own housing programme. The council advertised a public meeting and ~lot of people expressed an interest: 168 attended a first meetmg,

78 a second, and finally 14 families were succ~ssful in a draw

for places for the first scheme. "They were a mi~cellaneo,!s bunch of ordinary south Londoners who were alIke only m

their passionate desire to escape from their present ~ou~ing

conditions

into something that would make theIr hves "

There followed two-and-a-half years of delay, enough to

more generous and free

,~~~

'.~

',~

-

--~)

78

TALKING HOUSES

dishearten the most persistent of would-be builders. The scheme was "totally entangled in a complicated bureaucratic maze through conflicting demands by local authorities and the government", it was reported in August 1978. It took five months to obtain planning permission and further difficulty with the GLC and the DIstrict Surveyor because of the unorthodox structure. The families formed themselves into an association, and in order to qualify for subsidy, they contracted to build the houses for the council which would then grant them 99-year leases and 50 per cent mortgages. The other 50 per cent of the house would be "rented" from the councii but would be purchasable in installments to enable the resIdents eventuafly to own the whole property. The value of the labour in building the houses would be assessed and set against the mortgage. This ingenious scheme survived, with difficulty, as first t~e DOE demanded as a condition of loan sanction that th~:~ should be a fixed price and fixed time contract, and secondly the Inland Revenue demanded that the self-builders should be taxed at the standard rate for their labour as though it were income. During the long period of waiting, the members taught themselves to build. Walter Segal recalls,

An evening school was arranged which ran for six months to show them how to use very simple tools. It was mainly cutting, drilling and measuring. What was so utterly astonishing was the patience, the incredible patience which these people displayed in waiting so long for an opportunity to get on the site. In the end even the council thought it was expecting too much and it was mainly Ron Pepper who said he would take it on himself to let them go and clear the site; and later on he authorised the first two houses to be done.

Although they were using Segal's precisely-calculated structural system the internal design of each house was determined by each family. Ken Atkins explains that

We must be the first council tenants who have been involved with an architect in the design of our own homes. The architect used graph paper to help us get it to represent the modular concept of two feet two inches and asked us to draw a house within cash limits . This was about 100 square metres. We did this as a group and then went to Walter Segal's house. He took all the ideas and drew up 50 to 60

house. He took all the ideas and drew up 50 to 60 DIRECT ACTION FOR WORKING-CLASS

DIRECT ACTION FOR WORKING-CLASS HOUSING

79

difterent house plans and then we went back as individual families to

choose and adapt our design

it's adaptable and changeable. At any time dunng th~ process of building or after I've lived in it, if! feel I want to change It I can take

out any wall and change it.

Anyone who has seen a videotape of the Open Door TV programme about Lewisham, The House that Mum and Dad Built, (the BBC 2 presentation brought over a thousand enquiries) will have been struck by the members' testimony about the effect that this adventure has had on their lives:

The one thing that's left me immensely proud is the co-operative

spirit on the Brockley site. A wife had a baby the o!her week. !he

buntings were out and the balloons if someone's working on a car

get help. They pay a pound a week to a communal fund. They've landscaped the gardens last year. No-one tells them to do that, they do it themselves because they have control over where they are

living and they contribute. They've got a say in what actually goes on there and because they have a say they contribute

For the professionals involved it was an equally liberating experience. Brian Richardson says it was the most important architectUl al experience of his life, and Walter Segal, an old man who has seen a dozen architectural fashions come and go, says "On the day when the first frame stood it was an astonishing feeling. I was immensely happy, like a child, almost." Many self-build housing schemes organised in a co~ve~­ tional way rely, believe it or not, on a system of penaltIes III case some member does not pull his or her weight. Segal recalls the creativity that was revealed in Lewisham by not pushing people around.

Every ,:"all is n~m-loadbearing so

If some reqmre a babySItter or the communal garden they

Help was to be provided mutually and voluntarily - there wer.e no particular constraints on that, which did mean t~atthe good wIll of people could find its way through. The less you tned to control them the more you freed the element of good will - this was astonishingly clear. Children were of course expected and allowed to play on the site. And the older ones also helped if they wished to help. That way one avoided all forms of friction. Each family were to build at their own speed and within their own capacity. We had quite a number of young people but some that were sixty and over who also managed

80

to build their own houses

TALKING HOUSES·

They were told that I would not

interfere with the internal arrangement. I let them make their own decisions, therefore we had no difficulties.

He noted with pleasure rather than with irritation, the "countless small variations and innovations and additions" that the self-builders made. "It is astonishing that there is among the people that live in this country such a wealth of talent." All this fuss about fourteen houses! Why has it not been followed up elsewhere, apart from a second Lewisham scheme where, working with Broome, Segal is supervising another tenant group building 13 more? The answer is in the inflexibility of the housing supply system which was never designed to liberate that astonishing wealth of talent. In Scotland, Stirling District Council is proposing to adopt a scheme devised by Rod Hackney for a serviced plot system where ground floor slabs with service ducts through the ~abs will be poured and the individual sites then sold to self-builders. The housing committee chairman says that he council "would do everything possible to assist potential owners to arrange mortgages, and in certain cases the council might be prepared to give a loan themselves". But, even in 1984, many Labour councillors still share the view of the leader of another London council when he concluded his visit to Lewisham, "We're not going to turn our tenants into little capitalists".

6. Anarchy or Order? The

Planner's Dilemma

I am particularly grateful for your kind invitation to deliver the third Sharp Memorial Lecture, because it enables me to ponder on the huge shift in our attitudes to planning since Thomas Sharp wrote his pioneering books in the 1930s and 1940s. It was here, in Newcastle, that I attended one of the most interesting and stimulating of all the many public events of the 1970s where we attempted to work our way through the changing approach to planning. This was the Planning for People conference, set up here by the organisation Tyneside Environmental Concern on 21 October 1972. And you will note the date, which was a few months before the energy crisis of 1973 changed all our perceptions about our futures. I found that an extraordinarily stimulating meeting and anyone of the themes that arose from it could have been the subject of a conference in itself. In the chair was the splendid Dr David Bellamy, who warmly supported the proposal by Robert Allen for an exercise in popular long-term strategic planning which he called "NE 2073 - a Future for the North-East" suggesting that anybody and everybody in the region, professionally or privately, should collaborate in drawing up such a plan, which would become the yardstick against which what aCtually happened and what was actually proposed by people with power, and what was actually planned by the statutory authorities was measured. Mr Ken Galley, City Planning Officer for Newcastle, in describing his council's rehousing policy, remarked that "there has been a quiet revolution in the Civic Centre" and he

The

third

Sharp

Memorial

Lecture,

given

at

the

Newcastle-upon-Tyne, November 1985.

81

University

of

82

TALKING HOUSES

exemplified this by talking about the redevelopment of Byker. Dr Roy Gazzatd won headlines in the next day's press by suggesting that the kind of urban and rural pattern that was actually going to emerge in the next few decades was that of prole ghettoes in the cities, hemmed in by their green belts, with free-range rural fascists in their Land-rovers, living it up in the secure countryside. He raised a laugh of course, and we said, "Well, that's Roy, with his picturesque exaggerations", but thirteen years later we can surely see the point he was anxious to make. When my turn came, I spoke about the conflict between residents' own aspirations and the futures dictated to them by planning authorities, whether they were the people officially designated as "planners" or whether they were directors of housing, environmental health officers or medical officers of health; pointing out that in the pecking order of departments in city halls, it wasn't always the planning officers who necessarily planned. Planning. was a victim of its own pretentions. I cited the evidence of several, then recent/ detailed studies of the impact of planning, here in the N6ith East: the two books by Norman Dennis on re-housing in Sunderland/ the

book by Jon Gower Davies, The Evangelistic Bureaucrats 2 about

planning in the Rye Hill district of Newcastle, and the piece of work that was being done at that time by Peter Malpass in this university, studying the topic of "professionalism in architecture and the design of local authority houses" by way of the housing at South Benwel1. 3 Malpass found that

Instead of meeting his client face to face, getting to understand clients' needs and preferences, and devising an appropriate solution, the local authority architect in Newcastle encounters council tenants only by chance. The clients' needs and preferences are mediated by other departments and by the central government, all of whom are equally innocent of any systematic contact with tenants.'

How could we explain the vast gap between the planners and the planned? The explanation I used at the time, was derived from Richard Sennett's book The Uses oj Disorder" in which he remarked that "Professional planners of highways, of redevelopment housing, of inner-city renewal projects, have

redevelopment housing, of inner-city renewal projects, have ANARCHY OR ORDER? 83 treated challenges from displaced

ANARCHY OR ORDER?

83

treated challenges from displaced communities or community groups as a threat to the value of their plans rather than as a natural part of the effort at social reconstruction". What this really means, says Sennett, is that planners have wanted to take the plan, the projection in advance, "as more 'true' than the historical turns, the unforeseen movements in the real time of human lives". To illustrate this contention I used the rather obvious case of the Category D villages in County Durham, where over twenty years earlier the villages were graded from A to D according to predictions or projections made then about their future economic viability. I remarked that

A village in Category A, like Escomb,. has be.en re~abi~itated sensitively and intelligently, without aVOIdable dlslocatlOn m the lives of its people, but Category D villages like Witton Park, with an absolute ban on new buildings and on improvement grants, have been left to die without regard to the wishes of the inhabitants or to changing prospects of local em:p~oyment. Officially dea~, but unwilling to die, the Category D VIllages have fou&ht for surVIval. A few have been upgraded, but most have been kept m the condemned cell, even though, as at High Spen, new industry has provided more jobs than the closed colliery. The officials who assumed the rol.e of God in dividing the sheep from the goats have themselves long smce moved to greener pastures, but their decisions of twe~ty years ago remain more "true" to Durham County CounCIl than the subsequent activities and aspirations of the people who live in the villages sentenced to death.

In the thirteen years since I spoke, there have of course been more shifts and changes both in real life and in planning policy, but my remarks were true then. I was working in those days as environmental education officer for the Town and Country Planning Association, with the assumption that environmental education was the prerequisite for the public participation in planning envisaged in the Skeffington Report. But remarks like mine used to cause difficulties for David Hall, then as now the tireless Director of the Association, because he used to get indications from local authorities that they could find it hard to justify their support for the Association when their policies were openly criticised by its employees. Needless to say, David Hall always supported me.

84

TALKING HOUSES

I mention my recollections of that meeting all those years ago here in order to stress that our present misgivings and dilemmas about the role of planning in society are not the product of the energy crisis, nor of the collapse of the job market, nor of the present government's ideology. They go back to fundamental differences in the world view of those whose version of the origins and functions of planning is that it is a popular movement associated with non-professionals like Ebenezer Howard, Patrick Geddes and F.]. Osborn and the whole garden cities movement that evolved with the TCPA, and those who see it as an extension of the sanitary reforms of the last century and governmental intervention in the housing market, with a hierarchy of professional expertise in local and central government administering the very comprehensive legislation for controlling land use that has accumulated since

1947.

There are of course those who have always believed that the role of the professional planner is greater than this. Only ten years ago Dr David Eversley was claiming that the role of the professional planner was nothing less than "that of master-allocator of the scarcest resources: land, and capital and current expenditure on the built environment and the services which are offered to the community".6 I don't believe that there can be a single planning officer today who would make such a claim. Since the job of Chief Planner in the Department of the Environment was ~tly advertised, and

since, for all I know, the successful candidate is here tonight, I want to remind you of the important shifts over time in the opinions of holders of that office. Take Sir Wilfred Burns, a

former

declared that

the dwellers in a slum area are almost a separate race of people, with

different values, aspirations and ways ofliving

live in slums have no views on their environment at all.

Furthermore, he went on to say that

when we are dealing with people who have no initiative or civic pride, the task, surely, is to break up such groupings even though the

city

planning

officer

for

Newcastle.

In

1963,

he

Most people who

planning officer for Newcastle. In 1963, he Most people who ANARCHY OR ORDER? 85 people seem

ANARCHY OR ORDER?

85

people seem to be satisfied wi~h t?ei: mis~rable envir<:m~ent ar d seem to enjoy an extrovert SOCIal lIfe m theIr own localIty.

We may smile, but no-one here can deny that policies based on precisely such assumptions were purs~ed in every city.in Britain. Each of us has his or her own partIcular horror stones from a variety of places. It is all summed up in Bruce Allsop's comment that

it is astonishing with what savagery planners a~d architects ar.e trying to obliterate working-class cultural and SOCIal patterns. Is It because many of them are first generation middle-class

technosnobs?8

Wilfred Burns, as Chief Planner in the Department of the Environment, summed up many years later, the way the scene had changed. At a seminar I attended in 1978 he said,

People have many different perspectives on the.ir ~nvironment and on community life but only now are we begmmng to see these articulated. It is not all that many ' years ago since people trusted local or central government to analyse their problems and prescribe the solutions. Those were the days when people accepted that new and exciting developments were bound to be better and when change seemed to be welcomed. We then moved into a perio~ when

unique prescriptive

alternatives so that the publIc could express ':'Iews bef<?re ~nal decisions were taken. Today we face a dIfferent SItuatIOn. Community groups, voluntary organi~ations of ~::ny kinds, and indeed individuals now demand a say m the defimtIOn of problems and a role in deter:nining and then implementing solutions. Even in the professional field that we normally think of as part of the

solutions . gave way to the. presentatIOn of

establishment there are various movements concerned with reinterpreting or changing the prof~ssionals' role. Self-help groups of

many kinds have sprung up, sometIm~s around. a pr<?fessIOnal, or at

least, advised or guided by a professIO!l~l. It IS qUlt~ clear that a I number of people believe that the tradItIonal professlOnals ~re not able adequately to communicate with people in a way that WIll help them solve their problems or make their wishes known to those who

take the decisions. 9

This carefully-worded admission that planning would never be the same again, came from the government's Chief Planner, as I mentioned, in 1978. Thomas Sharp died in that year, "spared at least" as Gordon Cherry put it in the second

86

TALKING HOUSES

an

adjustment, late in life, to a new set of political philosophies

critical

scrutiny" . Sharp would certainly have understood Professor Cherry's comment that "professional practice somehow failed to live up to its promise, and environmental regulation degenerated into process without purpose".10 It was the kind of criticism he frequently made himself. But he would never have understood the most deadly and devastating criticism of the profession to which he devoted his life, which was expressed by Jon Gower Davies in his observation that

Sharp

which

Memorial

seemed

to

Lecture,

put

"from

having

under

to

make

planning

fiercely

Planning in our society

radical technology into a conservative and highly inegalitarian economy. The impact of planning on this society is rather like that of the educational system on the same society: it is least onorous and most advantageous to those who are already well off or powerful

and it is most onerous and least advantageous to those who ar~ relatively powerless or relatively poor. Planning is, in its effect on the

is in essence the attempt to inject a

socio-economic

structure,

a highly regressive form of indirect

taxation."

It isn't that Sharp lacked sympathy with poor people and their aspirations. He came himself from a Durham mining town, and he wrote, at the outbreak of the last war, "For fifteen years and more in places like Rhondda, J arrow and Bishop Auckland, hundreds of thousands of Englishmen have been eating their hearts out in squalid, dole-supported unemployment spent among fouled landscapes and filthy slum-built towns with hardly a hand lifted to help them".12 The trouble was that when ordinary people's aspirations were

fulfilled, whether it was in the garden city density of twelve to the acre, or in the semi-detached suburban house or bungalow, or in the Austin 7 and the-week-end trip to a chalet

or shanty site on the coast, Sharp with his vision of order, logic and dignified formal seemliness, despised them for it. "For what hope", he asked, "in the modern world, can spring from

a chaos of individualism

which every man glories, and is encouraged to glory, in his self-sufficiency and separateness?"13

a romantic individualism in

ANARCHY OR ORDER?

87

He admitted that "No one can blame those who seek to escape from the awful prisoning streets in which they and their parents have dragged out their terms of hard labour. On the contrary it is admirable that they should do so; they would be beyond hope if they didn't." But, he went on immediately,

the pity of it is that their new places are ~ardly mo.re civilised tha.n those from which they are in h~adlong flight. The~r new r?mantlc villas and bungalows with theIr pebble-dash, theIr half-tm:ber~d gables, their "picturesque" leaded-light windows? are certamly m striking contrast to the terrace houses of theIr old conges.ted quarters. But the contrast is merely between one type of barbansm and another.14

\ \

~N'''

$

Sharp feared that with

a growing use of the car

regarded as building land and co~sequ~ntly .all. the land m the country is being laid out as a gIgantIc bmldmg estate to be developed at a density of not more than 12 houses ver ac:re little owner of every little bungalow in every roadSIde nbbon thmks that he is living in Merrie England because he has those "roses round the door" and because he has Sweetwilliam and Michaelmas

daisies in his front garden. An amazing conception, but ~me that

exists everywhere

In addition to this fixed populatlOn that

drifted out of the town to live "in the country", motor transport created a liquid, fluctuating, weekend-and-fine evening population

all the land in the country c:an be

E~ery

that moved over all parts of the country, and that had to be cate~ed

for

stations, telephone boxes and other accommo atlOns

man and machine

,

,

by refreshment places, garages, petrol fillmg

d

·

15

Now a year after Sharp's book Town and Countryside, from which I have been quoting, appeared , J. B. Priestley made his English Journey, and he too, has an evocation of the changing landscape of the 1930s, the new territory of

arterial and by-pass roads, of filling stations and factories that look like exhibition buildings, of giant cinemas and dance-halls and cafes, bungalows with tiny garages, cocktai! bars, "Yoolw.orths, motor- coaches, wireless, hiking, factory gIrlS lookmg hke actres~es, greyhound racing and dirt tracks, swimming pools, and everythmg

given away for cigarette coupons

But for Priestley, with all its brashness that so offended Thomas Sharp, the new England was "essentially democra- tic" and he hoped that there would be more, not less of it. In

16

88

TALKING HOUSES

Priestley's eyes, England was fast becoming a land without privilege, where suddenly everything was becoming accessible to everyone. He rejoiced that

The young people of this new England do not play chorus in an

they get

opera in which their social superiors are the principals on with their own lives. 17

There is a quite fundamental difference of approach here, and it runs through all Sharp's castigations of the disorder, chaos and anarchy of the English scene. Take the obvious case of Peacehaven. For Sharp

The reductio ad absurdum of the garden city is its extension to

absurdity, and of this, unfortunately, innumerable examples exist. The worst in England is Peacehaven, which has rightly become a

national laughing-stock

landscape.

It is indeed a disgusting blot on the

18

I refrain from quoting the OpInIOnS of old residents of that place, because you can find them in the book that Dennis Hardy and I wrote about the plotlands,t9but John Seymour I think, makes a reasonable comment when he says,

Peacehaven is the place most people love to hate. I try my best, but really I cannot find anything so terrible about a township knocked up by ex-soldiers after 1918, with their pathetic little gratuities, in or~er to have. somewhere to live away from noise and violence, of whIch they presumably had enough.

There are, as you will know, passionate defenders of the suburb, of the semi-detached house, and of all the aspects of the interwar environment that drove Thomas Sharp into despairing rage. And they are to be found, not among the ignorant and benighted, but from within the architectural and planning professions. Sharp'S objections were primarily on aesthetic grounds. But they are simply 'pursuing a different aesthetic. For tastes change. I was the director of a curriculum development project for the Schools Council, which sought to explore the place of Art as a school subject in environmental education. We continually met an initial response from teachers which assumed that our task was to teach children what they ought to like. I used to respond by urging them to consider teapots.

20

ANARCHY OR ORDER?

89.

In the 1930s and 1940s, design education in school often meant bringing into the classroom a collection of teapots and attempting to persuade the class to despise their parents' teapots as well as their houses, and agree that this product of the Staffordshire trade was bad (all that meaningless machine-made decoration), that this teapot shaped like a thatched cottage, with the roof coming off as a lid and the chimney as the knob on top, was intrinsically bad and dishonest, while this third teapot was an OK Bauhaus- designed functional sphere, with a few necessary excrescences. That same teacher, now retired, has of course long since abandoned the Bauhaus tea-pot (its virginal white surface disfigured by tannin-stains and chips) and has on the shelf such an amusing and valuable collection of tea-pots designed to look like something else. 21 None of us is immune to these changes of sensibility and aesthetic preference, not even Thomas Sharp. Kathy Stansfield, in her absorbing essay on him mentions the difference between the 1936 and the 1950 editions of his

English Panorama:

By the time the second edition was published

changed the emphasis from the formal qualities of urban

architecture to the informal beauty of the mediaeval town

Renaissance towns, he said in the second edition, were mere

monuments

town" and one which should provide inspiration for the future.

She also notes how he had to admit in the second edition that the "old balance between town and country had gone and will never return". 27 This is particularly interesting because, of all the jeremiads or denunciations, thundering flights of oratory or tirades (we can choose our phrases for them) that we like to savour from Thomas Sharp, the most extreme concern the separate entities of town and country. You will know the passages I am thinking of from his book Town and Countryside:

The strong, masculine virility of the town; the softer bea~ty, t~e

richness, the fruitfulness of that mother of men, the countrysIde, WIll

be debased into one sterile, hermaphroditic beastliness

Sharp had

Pure

The mediaeval town was by contrast "a living

The

\

90

TALKING HOUSES

town is town: the country is country: black and white: male and female. Only in the preservation of these distinctions is there any salvation: only through the preservation of the town as town can the

countryside be saved; and only through the limitation of rurality to

the country

These assumptions, modified a little by reality, have guided a great deal of post-war planning policy. They explain green

belts, New Towns, key villages and a great deal else. But what these policies were about in a different sense was the abolition

of

amenities, facilities and access, while retaining that visual difference that was important for Sharp. He like all planners deplored most of all the areas we define as the urban fringe. This distaste has its origins in psychology and aesthetics rather than in land use analysis. Like Sharp, we all acquire in childhood the perception that town is town and country is country and that the two are distinct, and we carry this purified image of desirably separate places into adulthood, even though most of us live in the suburbs, so despised by Thomas Sharp. Above a certain level of affluence, access to both town and country have always been automatic. The rich had their town house and their country seat. And of course in antiquity and in mediaeval times the city was bounded by an actual wall, an immensely potent psychological symbol which recurs all through the literature of planning, from More's Utopia to the Essex Design Guide. But the attempt to impose a statutory wall through land use controls in the twentieth century, with the best of intentions in taming the speculator, in fact penalises the poor while preserving the environment of the rich . It is perilously like the situation described by Roy Gazzard at the conference I mentioned.

There was a time in the earlier yea~this century, the period when Sharp despaired at the desecration of our environment, when as Dr Anthony King explains in his book about The Bungalow,

A combination of cheap land and transport, pre-fabricated

materials, and the owner's labour and skills had given back, to the ordinary people of the land, the opportunity denied to them for Over

can the town be preserved. 23

the

differences

between

town

and

country

in

terms

of

ANARCHY OR ORDER?

91

two hundred years, an opportunity which, at the time, was still available to almost half of the world's non-industrialised populations : the freedom for a man to build his own house. It was a freedom that was to be very short-lived. 24

It was indeed. And one of the most powerful and influential voice.s for the imposition of order upon this individualist anarchy was that of Thomas Sharp. He wrote before the war that

As one who for the last fifteen years has toiled at preparing schemes under the Town Planning Acts, my own deep conviction is that not only is the present position hopeless but any extension that I can see along present lines of control is obtainable only by doin~ two thin~s. First, by the establishment of a central Board of Planmng that Will plan and control not only housing and roads, but agriculture, industrial location, and every kind ofland utilization, in one efficient National Plan. Second by the nationalisation of the land. 25

circulated

And

a

year or

two later,

in

his

very widely

wartime Penguin book on Town Planning, he declared that

It is no overstatement to say that the simple choice between planning and non-planning, between order and disorder, is a test-case for English democracy. A National Plan is essential. Local plans are no longer sufficient. It is no use sentimentalising over the

tradition of local government

begin at the top and work downwards. 26

Poor Sharp! He was the victim of the oldest of illusions in the catalogue of misconceptions of those who believe in authority and in government. Disillusioned by the dreadful hamfisted things that the local authorities were proposing to do to his beloved city of Durham and to the villages of the region, he thought that central government would do better, because he assumed that it was bound to have the same sensitive appreciation of townscape as he had himself. It is a common illusion, but it is really like the Russian peasant who can't believe that his little father, the Tsar, knows how bad his oppressors are, and once told, will step in to put things nght. Or like those Welsh miners who were comforted in the 1930s through being assured by the Prince of Wales that "Something must be done". We had, in those wartime years, a Ministry of Town and

Planning, as we have said, must

92

TALKING HOUSES

Country Planning, and we have had innumerable statements by central government about the very National Plan that Sharp was calling for. What good has it done anyone? He himself must have had a jolt of disillusionment at his faith in central government when he worked as Joint Secretary with Dudley Stamp on the Scott Report on Land Utilisation in Rural Areas, for Kathy Stansfield tells us that

His report on villages was almost suppressed by the Ministry who refused to publish it, and it took 18 months of pressure to ~llow Sharp to publish it in a form in which it would not be assoClated with the department. 27

Eventually it became his Penguin book The Anatorrry of the

Village.

As an anarchist, of course, I am in the opposite camp to Sharp. If we have to polarise our attitudes between order and disorder, I fear order most, because I know that the order that will be imposed is the order of the secure and privileged. Socialist planners like Sharp thought that they were restraining the disorder of get-rich-quick capitalist entrep- reneurs, when in fact they were trampling on the invisible order of those who just want a chance, as J. B. Priestley put it, to "get on with their own lives". To illustrate the planners' dilemma of anarchy or order, I have to turn, not to Proudhon's paradoxical claim that "anarchy is th e highest form of order", but to Norman Dennis's two devastating books about Sunderland. He shows how, just because we have accepted Sharp's - and everybody else's - opinion that planning must begin at the top and work downwards, planning has indeed become a form of regressive taxation. Of all the illustrations I could choose to demonstrate this, I have to choose once more his reference to the two ways of looking at a particular district of Sunderland. Within the first frame of reference, he says, "Millfield, for example, is a collection of shabby, mean and dreary houses, derelict back lanes, shoddy-fronted shops and br~en pavements, the whole unsightly mess mercifully ill-lit". , But, Mr Dennis goes on, with a second frame of reference, that of, say, a sixty-year-old woman living there,

ANARCHY OR ORDER?

93

Millfield is Bob Smith's which she thinks (probably correctly) is the best butcher's in the town; George McKeith's wet-fish ~hop and Peary's fried-fish shop about which she says the same WIt~ equal justification; Maw:s hot pies. and 1?eas, prepare~ on the premIses; .the Willow Pond publIc house, In whIch her favounte nephew orgamses the darts and dominoes team; the Salvation Army band in a nearby street every Sunday and waking her with carols on Christmas morning; her special claim to attention at th~ grocers bec~use ~er niece worked there for several years; the spacIOus cottage In whIch she was born and brought up, which she now owns, has improved, and which has not in her memory had defects which have cau~ed either her or her neighbours discernible inconvenience (but whIch has some damp patches which make it classifiable as a "slum dwelling"); the short road to the cemetery wh~re ~he cares for the graves of her mother, father and brother; her sIster s cottage across the road - she knows that every week-day at 12.30 a hot dinner will be ready for her when she comes ~rom work; t~e bus route which will take her to the town centre In a few mInutes; the homes of neighbours who since her childhood have h.el~ed her a~d wh?m she has helped, church, club and workplace WIthIn five mInutes walk; and, in general (as is said) "every acre sweetened by the memory of the men who made US".28

.

When I quote this passage to people in the world of local government, they respond with the same kind of embarrass- ment that greets my quotation from Sir Wilfrid Burns. They are too polite to say so, but they feel that I am evoking images of the past, that times have changed, that planners aren't so arrogant any more, nor victims so pathetic. And they point to the new solicitude for small business, self-employment, workers' co-ops, or community architecture, as well as to genuine efforts to facilitate the participation of the public in decisions about the environment. They also point out that very little of the time of planning departments, or of other local authority departments a~ting in what is in fact a planning capacity, is spent in destroymg the habitat ofold ladies or theJivelihood ofself-employed welders, or in persecuting people who buy new aluminium "georgian" windows for their little old houses in conservation areas. They would also point out that in most of the matters that go to a public inquiry, local amenity societies and planning departments are on the same side of the argument. A most interesting case in point was the 22-day public

94

TALKING HOUSES

inquiry held here earlier this year relating to the Tyne and Wear green belt. It is discussed in the current (November 1985) issue of The Planner, by Greg Smith under the title "How Green is my County?" He carefully avoids discussion of the coming abolition of the metropolitan county counCils, but his last words are that "it is really beyond doubt that without the County Council there would have been relatively little in the way of green belt in Tyne and Wear". It is also clear that the typical objector was not a 70-year-old smallholder anxious to build a house for the daughter and son-in-law who will succeed him. The typical objectors were in fact the House Builders Federation and a major building firm. The planners' dilemma here was the usual one of having to meet mutually incompatible requirements. As Mr Smith says,

Judgement on the appropriate tightness of fit of the green belt around the urban areas pivoted on the respective degrees of risk: too loose and the main strategic objectives would be lost; too tight and

the principle of strong green belt protection could ad hoc encroachment.

It's another particular way of expressing the dilemma of anarchy and order. Thomas Sharp was a man of order, and many of his disappointments arose from his inability to compromise. Development control itself is a compromise between Sharp's ideal of land nationalisation and the free-for-all of market forces in land and land use. The trouble is that a tight-fit green-belt policy, however admirable in intention, serves the afIluent very well, and penalIses people with fewer environmental choices. Dennis Hardy and I found this time and time again when exploring the plotlands ofsouth east England. Where these unofficial settlements were retrospectively included in green belt areas, and their owners were denied the opportunity of improving, enlarging or updating them in the hope that they would somehow disappear, great hardship and injustice were done. When residents went to the length of appealing against planning deCisions they usually won JKcir appeals, and policy was slowly and grudgingly modified as a result. In places where a loose-fit, live-and-let-Iive planning policy was applied, these

be undermined by

planning policy was applied, these be undermined by ANARCHY OR ORDER? 9 5 settlements gradually upgraded

ANARCHY OR ORDER?

95

settlements gradually upgraded themselves over time

something that has happened all through history without benefit of planning. Peter Hall showed in his formidable work on The

how planning policy had so

Containment rif Urban

England,

pushed up land prices that new developments at the humbler end of the housing market were built at a relatively high density with tiny gardens and often in very inconvenient places for the journey to work, and compare badly in these respects with the ordinary prewar estate, so despised by Thomas Sharp.29 Policies, sensible in themselves, have had consequences, originally unforeseen, which have, it seems to me irredeemably tarnished the reputation of planning in ways which the pioneers of the planning movement in Britain could never have envisaged. This is why, while no supporter of the present government,

I actually welcome its relaxation of planning controls. I don't

know whether or not this relaxation will stimulate enterprise, but I would also like to see an experiment in "housing enterprise zones" as advocated many years ago in the well-known paper by Peter Hall and others, "Non-plan: an experiment in freedom"30 If the result was a success, we would

all learn from it. If it was a disaster, the advocates of ever more draconic planning legislation would have made their point. Planning began as a movement, not as a library of legislation, and its future would be much more assured and much more hopeful if it could recover its popular and populist image. We have had valuable initiatives in the last twelve years or so on these lines - advocacy planning, the enormously useful growth of planning aid, and our gropings towards the idea of community planning and a parallel, overlapping concommitant of community architecture. We're

a long way after Skeffington, and the days when Planning

Officers used to say to me, "We tried a participation exercise. It was very expensive and it didn't work." I used to reply that it would take twenty years to bring about effective public participation in planning, because it must start, not with current crises but in a continuous involvement of Citizens.

96

TALKING HOUSES

This is where I find some of the earlier propagandists of the town planning movement a better guide than Sharp. Patrick Geddes for example, must have been an equally difficult person to deal with, but had a surer understanding of the need to root planning in popular aspirations. Thomas Sharp is a pleasure to read, even when you disagree with him. Patrick Geddes is a pain to read, even when you are absolutely on his side in the argument. His unread book Cities in Evolution is really a manual on the environmental self-education of the ordinary citizen. When Peter Green came to edit a new edition of Geddes' book City Development, which is actually a study of parks and gardens in the small Scottish manufacturing town of Dunfirmline, he found that Geddes,

anticipated by some fifty years the idea that the average citizen has something positive to contribute towards the improvement of his environment. Geddes was convinced that each generation has the right to inbuild their own aspirations into the fabric of their town. In order to achieve this a basis of civic understanding had to be created through education. Geddes canvassed schools, societies and associations and attempted to draw them into making surveys and plans of their locality; creating play-spaces, planting trees, and painting buildings . He seized on any vehicle to expose people to situations in which they had to make judgements. 31

This is precisely the faith of our current local enterprises in environment involvement, not least amongst them the Newcastle Architectural Workshop, and Town Teacher, and other Newcastle InItIatives like VIVA - Voluntary Initiatives for Vacant Areas. Similarly John Turner, our foremost advocate of dweller control as the first principle of housing, draws sustenance from a chance remark made by Geddes in 1912: "For fulfilment there must be a reabsorption

of government into the body of the

cultivating the habit of direct action instead of waiting upon representative agencies."32 This decentralist, I could almost say anarchist, approach permeates his thought. Let me quote from an oration of Geddes' at th~nd of the first world war:

The central government says, "Homes for heroes? We are prepared to supply all these things from Whitehall; at any rate to supervise them; to our minds much the same thing." But are they? Can they?

community.

How? By

same thing." But are they? Can they? community. How? By ANARCHY OR ORDER? 9 7 With

ANARCHY OR ORDER?

97

With what results, what achievements? At present we have the provinces all bowing to Westminster, where they are granted doles; so the best people leave for London. They send their money to Westminster, which (after ample expenses have been deducted) is returned to some of them in the alluring form ofa grant. But why not use this money themselves in the first place? Why not keep your money, your artists and your scientists, your orators and your planners - and do up your city yourselves?33

Now here, leaving aside the rhetoric, G~ddes is touching upon a key issue, as important in 8ur day as in his. We are conditioned to look at local government and practically every other facet of society in this country from the top down. Indeed, I have quoted Thomas Sharp's dictum that planning "must begin at the top and work downwards". Geddes, Ebenezer Howard, and all those totally unqualified planners who saw town planning as a popular movement, looked from the bottom up. The excuse for central government and for central revenue-gathering is that it can equalise and redistribute the differences of income generated by different regions. But daily observation shows that, with the most sophisticated system of revenue-gathering, it doesn't happen. Poor regions, like poor people, stay poor. And the very last thing that central government will yield to the regions, the counties or the districts, is the right to revenue gathering and to making decisions locally as to how that revenue shall be spent. The present government, for all that its White Paper on the planning machinery is called Lifting the Burden, has immeasurably tightened its grip on local authority spending. Let's look at this with a long-term perspective. The planners of the first generation sought a popular franchise. The second generation of planners, like Sharp, sought a comprehensive legislative framework. The third generation of planners used these legislative powers without popular support. Chastened by the experience that we all should learn from, the planners of the fourth generation have to relearn their function as enablers and as advocates for the modest and humble hopes of ordinary citizens.

98

TALKING HOUSES

References

1. Norman Dennis: People and Planning (Faber 1970), Public Participation and

Planners' Blight (Faber 1972).

2. Jon Gower Davies: The Evangelistic Bureaucrat (Tavistock 1972)

3. Peter Malpass: Professionalism in Architecture and the Design of Local Authority

Housing (Newcastle University thesis 1973)

4. Peter Malpass in RIBAJoumalJune 1975

5. Richard Sennett: The Uses of Disorder (Allen Lane 1970)

6. David Eversley: The Planner in Society (Faber 1973)

7. Wilfred Burns: New Towns for Old (Leonard Hill 1963)

8. Bruce Allsop: Towards a Humane Architecture (Frederick Muller 1974)

9. Wilfred Burns at the seminar of the Artist Placement Group, Royal

College of Art, 1978

10. Gordon E. Cherry: Thomas Sharp: the man who dared to be different (Royal

Town Planning Institute Northern Branch 1983)

II. Jon Gower Davies: op cit

12 . Thomas Sharp: Town Planning (Penguin 1940)

13. Thomas Sharp: English Panorama (Dent 1936)

14. Thomas

Sharp:

"The

North-East -

Hills

and

Hells"

III

Clough

Williams-Ellis (ed) Britain and the Beast (Dent 1938)

15. Thomas Sharp: Town and Countryside (Oxford 1932)

16. J. B. Priestley: EnglishJoumey (Heinemann 1934)

17 . ibid

18. Thomas Sharp: Town and Count~ (Oxford 1932)

19. Dennis Hardy and Colin Ward: Arcadia for All (Mansell 1984)

20. John Seymour: The Companion Guide to the South Coast (Collins 1975)

21. Eileen Adams and Colin Ward: Art and the Built Environment (Longman

1982)

22. Kathy Stansfield: "Thomas Sharp" in Gordon Cherry (ed) Pioneers in

British Planning (Architectural Press 1981)

23 . Thomas Sharp: Town and Countryside (Oxford 1932)

24. Anthony King: The Bungalow (Routledge 1984)

25 . Thomas Sharp: "The

26 . Thomas Sharp : Town

27. Kathy Stansfield: op cit

28. Norman Dennis: People and Planning (Faber 1970)

North-East

"

op cit

Planning (Penguin 1940)

I

I

29. Peter Hall: The Containment of Urban

England (Allen a nd Unwin 1973)

30. Rayner Banham, Paul Barker, Peter Hall and Cedric Price : "Non-plan:

an Experiment in Freedom", New Society (20 March 1969)

31. Peter Green, introduction to Patrick Geddes:

Universities Press 1973)

City Development (Irish

32.

Quoted in John Turner: Housing by People (Marion Boyars 1976)

33/

Philip Boardman: The Worlds of Patrick Geddes (Routledge

and K egan

Paul 1978)

7. Freedom and the Built Environment

I Evidence of anarchy

You have to blame our hosts for the title of my talk today. They know that I'm an anarchist and that I wrote a book called Anarchy in Action, which was published in the United States as a Harper Torchbook paperback and which is available in most European languages, and in Japanese. Your local alternative bookshop will have the newest English reprint published by Freedom Press in London.!

I don't really need to apologise for blatantly publicising my own writings. If you don't persuade other people to read your books, who do you expect to read them? But of course, here in Boston, where the State of Massachusetts executed Sacco and Vanzetti sixty years ago, I have to begin with the perspective on freedom and the built environment given by Bartolomeo Vanzetti. "In short", he said, "freedom is, for each and all things of the universe, to

follow their natural tendencies -

qualities and capacities".2

and to fulfil their own virtues,

Lectures from

Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 18-20 November 1987

a series at the Department of Architecture,

Massachusetts

99

100

TALKING HOUSES

I think that Vanzetti expressed my view better than I could. Anarchism, like many other political ideologies, grew out of the ferment ofideas from the time of the French and American revolutions . And like all the other movements of the Left, the anarchists inherited the splendid catchphrases, j berty, Equality and Fraternity. These resounding aspiratIOns may go marve ously well orr-FTench postage stamps, but in real life, inside or outside the anarchist movement, most of our ideological arguments relate to the differing emphases we put on each of these values, and to our perception of the different obstacles in the way of getting closer to them. Anarchism, with its dual origins, philosophically, as either the ultimate destination of socialism or that ofliberalism, is not immune to this dilemma of emphasis. Anarchism originates as a word in the Greek phrase meaning ':c??trary~oau!ho!.'itY'{and as an ideology it seeks a j self-orgamsmg SOCIety, a net~ork of autonomous free

\ a'SsOciations gathered together for the satisfaction of human Ineeds. Put in that minimal way, I suppose that every variety of anarchist would agree with this minimal definition as well as a lot of people who would never dream of calling themselves anarchists. It is when we come to the problems ofliving in the actual world that our difficulties and differences arise. As individuals we make every kind of compromise between what we believe in and the way we get by in, and influence, the organised system of the way the society we actually live in operates.

(

But it's because I am an anarchist th1:~ L3 yt:li.ev~ in d_w~ll_er

)

c,Ql)tr 1,

or what you would call 1lstr _aut0 I!0[l1y m hou~ltlg.

There's a new book about to be published in Britain called

Charles Knevitt

(about which I am sure to have something to say tomorrow)

which argues that

Yesterday'S radical alternative has become part of today's conventional wisdom. The community architecture movement is now supported and promoted by people from all walks of life and from across the political spectrum: by anarchists, libertarians, the traditional and radical Left, the Green movement, social democrats and free marketeersj

Community Architecture by . Nick Wates and

FREEDOM AND THE BUILT ENVIRO!,[MENT

101

Just to get our subject in perspective we should remind ourselves that through ninety per cent of human history people h~ye jl Q.!:l§.ed themselves, and that the marvellous ingenuity and creativeness of the way they did it has never ceased to be a source of admiration for architectural historians. Since people have to find a way of getting housed, whether they live in a desert or a swamp, a speculator's jungle, a people's democracy, a fascist dictatorship or an anarchist paradise, how they manage it is a matter of universal interest. The most widely used building material in the world toda,y is_gra,.s_s 9r straw, and the second most widely us- e 'd ou ilal ;; g material i~ - earth or mud. There are vast areas of the Southern hemisphere, Latin America, Africa and South\ East Asia, where the great majority of homes are built by their I occupiers with these materials and with the recycled detritus \ of modern industry: packing cases, steel sheet, cardboa. "i v£ \ oil drums. Most of the world's inhabitants are self:b_uiJaet:S.

Even in the United 'Stat~0her lch~st'cou;ti~ the world, at

least twenty per cent of housing is built by owner builders. In tnc-nineteenthcentury the people-in the Western world who were left out, and denied the natural human task of applying self-help and mutual aid to housing themselves. because by that time the space, the materials and the means of subsistence all belonged to someone else, emigrated to the cities in search of the means of livelihood, just as they do in huge numbers in the poor world today. I want to give you two quotations from nineteenth century writers describing the result. They are both lamenting the alienation of the dweller from the dwelling; and I want you to guess their authors.

In the large towns and cities where civilisation especially prevails, the number of those who can own a shelter is a very small fraction of the whole. The rest pay an annual tax for this outside garment of all, become indispensable summer and winter, which would buy a village of Indian wigwams, but now helps to keep them poor as

on the one

side is the palace, on the other are the almshouse and "silent poor". The myriads who built the pyramids to be the tombs of the Pharoahs were fed on garlic, and it may be were not decently buried themselves. The mason who finishes the cornice of the palace returns at night perchance to a hut not so

long as they live

100

TALK INC HOUSES

I think that Vanzetti expressed my view better than I could. Anarchism, like many other political ideologies, grew out of the ferment ofideas from the time of the French and American revolutions. And like all the other movements of the Left, the anarchists inherited the splendid catchphrases, c!=jberty, Equality and Fraternity. These resounding aspirations-may go mar VellOUsly w erro n -FTe9ch l?ostage stamps, but in real life, inside or outside the anazchlst movement, most of our ideological arguments relate to the differing emphases we put on each of these values, and to our perception of the different obstacles in the way of getting closer to them. Anarchism, with its dual origins, philosophically, as either the ultimate destination of socialism or that ofliberalism, is not immune to this dilemma of emphasis. Anarchism originates as a word in the Greek phrase

meaning "contrary ,~Q ,. ?-uthority", and as an ideology it seeks a

( s~r~~~ising- society,--'a - network

\ associatIOns gathered together for the satIsfactIOn of human

i needs. Put in that minimal way, I suppose that every variety

ofanarchist would agree with this minimal definition as well as a lot of people who would never dream of calling themselves anarchists. It is when we come to the problems ofliving in the actual world that our difficulties and differences arise. As individuals we make every kind of compromise between what we believe in and the way we get by in, and influence, the organised system of the way the society we actually live in operates. But it's because I am an anarchist that I believe in dweller -' ) c Sl nt m l, or what you would . call J}~.tr~_~rtt·<m ~~QlY in hou~ifig. There's a new book about to be published in Britain called Community Architecture by, Nick Wates and Charles Knevitt (about which I am sure to have something to say tomorrow) which argues that

Yesterday's radical alternative has become part of today's conventional wisdom. The community architecture movement is now supported and promoted by people from all walks of life and from across the political spectrum: by anarchists, libertarians, the traditional and radical Left, the Green movement, social democrats and free marketeers/

of. auto.nomous free

J

FREEDOM AND THE BUILT ENVIROl'fMENT

101

Just to get our subject in perspective we should remind

history

.therpselves, and that the marvellous

ourselves that through ninety . per cent of human