Orders of the Day — Housing and Local Government

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd May 1963.

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Photo of Mr Julius Silverman Mr Julius Silverman , Birmingham Aston 12:00 am, 2nd May 1963

The problem in the twilight areas is not only one of population. There are amenities there, but, frequently, they are not sufficient. If there are three or four families living in one house, one bath may not be enough and one toilet certainly is not enough. It is necessary, therefore, in the twilight areas, for the local authorities to be given greater powers, either of compulsion or of compulsory purchase. Although hon. Members opposite would not like that, something must be done. Progress is far too slow.

The general matter I wish to raise is the building of houses by local authorities. A local authority has three problems, the availability of land, the availability of labour—just now, this is not a great problem—and the availability of finance. The Minister suggested that finance was not a bottleneck today, but I think that it is becoming a serious bottleneck.

First, the availability of land. If I mention Birmingham as an example, it is not that I wish particularly to make a constituency point; it is a problem which we have in common with other large cities and conurbations. For the City of Birmingham, the Minister has proposed two new towns. I do not know when they will be completed. It seems likely that the first trickle will not come in for six or seven years and that it will probably be another ten years before any significant contribution is made to the housing of Birmingham's overspill. Moreover, all this depends, bearing in mind the record of this Government—if by any chance they happened to be returned to power—on the possibility of a financial crisis which gives them justification to cut back on local authority house building.

Birmingham's available building land in running out, The only large pocket of land is one large area at Castle Bromwich where, as the result of a fortunate accident, a vacant airfield has become available. Within the next four or five years, the resources of land for new building in Birmingham will run out.

Slum clearance, which Birmingham is pursuing at an accelerated rate, does not assist in this problem, but, on the contrary, makes it worse. When an area of slums is cleared, only a proportion of the people there, not much more than 50 per cent., can be rehoused on the same site.

I am not attracted by the proposition made by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith), who suggested that we should build at higher densities. I have recently seen examples of building at higher densities and I am appalled at the idea of re-creating the atmosphere of the tenement. Working-class people, like others, do not want to be pushed one on top of the other; they want a certain amount of space to live in. I should strongly resent and oppose any attempt to increase the densities to uncomfortable levels. Today, if one builds high, one must allow sufficient land around the buildings. One should not build high and, at the same time, put the blocks of fiats or other housing accommodation too close together. I hope that the Minister will do nothing which will result in the re-creation of the old sort of tenements to be found in London and Glasgow and simply re-create the slums which have been demolished. That is not the solution to the problem of land shortage.

Birmingham is energetically negotiating with other towns under the Town Development Act. This will all take a certain amount of time. Moreover, we want to be assured that the planning of industry will go together with the planning of new towns or the development of old towns. So far, we have not had this assurance. It is essential that the industrial development certificates should be given in the new areas in order to provide for new industries to go there, because, of course, if the industries do not come the people there are not prepared to take the population and the schemes will be still born; but, more than that, there must be positive planning and consultation between the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Board of Trade. Industry and housing must go hand in hand.

All these schemes are, to a large extent, schemes for the future. The Minister will have to consider again the provision of land on the periphery of Birmingham for building purposes. Wythall, after being accepted by the Minister, was turned down. Something will have to be done to deal with the immediate problem of rehousing and to cater for the people who have to work in Birmingham and who want somewhere to live. Redditch may, in due course, help to some extent, but even Redditch is somewhat too far away and much too remote in time to help in the immediate problem.

Now, finance. Until now, finance has not been a bottle-neck but, as I said, it is beginning to become so. To a greater and greater extent, local authorities are having to build high, and it costs a lot of money to build high. Even allowing for the special subsidies given for high flats, the burden upon the local authority is still very great. I inquired about some flats which are being built in Birmingham. The economic rent of those dwellings, taking into account the cost of building, the rate of interest, maintenance and all the rest, comes to about £340 a year. Although Birmingham is a prosperous city, very few families there can afford to pay a rent anything like that.

We should bear in mind that the applicants for these flats and the people who are being granted them are not young childless married couples, with both partners working and receiving good wages. For the most part, they are people who have been on the register for a long time and living in hardship, with the wife having to stay at home to look after the children. This idea of wealthy municipal tenants able to afford any rent does not begin to apply to them. The majority of them can afford to pay little more than they are paying at present. To deal with this problem by increasing their rents is quite impractible.

After the local authority has spent the subsidy that it receives from the Government, it still has to provide additionally more than £60 or £70 a year in respect of each flat which is built.