As we discussed last week, the end of World War II refocused Britain’s attention back to home soil. Not only had there been considerable damage to the housing stock: six years of under production was taking its toll. The Beveridge Report outlined a vision of a strong state providing for the people who had been sidelined during the war. Rather than revert to the dominance of private-sector building pre-1939, the government was to take a renewed role in attending to the housing crisis. Up until their defeat in 1951, the Labour government under Atlee oversaw the building of over 1 million new homes, 80% of which were allocated to local authorities.
Though there was momentary deliberation over which way the pendulum would swing, the appointment of the Welsh socialist politician Aneurin Bevan as Minister of Health secured the following decade as one characterised by striving towards high quality social housing for families of all incomes. Much of the intellectual work for this new initiative had already been carried out in the Dudley Report of 1944. Similar in feel to the Wheatley Housing Act from Chapter 3, the Dudley Report outlined a vision for the ‘new town’. Herein lie the origins of such idyllic suburban havens as Crawley, Hemel Hempstead, and the likes of the later enshrined and re-vamped Runcorn, Cheshire. The Dudley Report was modelled on an American experimental settlement movement known as the “Radburn” estate, something we’ve come to know as the phenomenon of the ‘British garden suburb’.
So what about the laws themselves?
Well, the New Towns Act of 1946 set up development corporations (publicly owned organisations directed towards urban growth) to get these initiatives underway, and the Town and Country Planning Act (1947) granted local councils the authority of compulsory purchase to clear sites and streamline the acquisition of land. One especially impactful move taken by Atlee’s government concerned increasing the limit on the amount of money people were able to borrow to assist homeownership. In 1945, the amount was raised from £800 to £1,500, and later to a (then) whopping £5,000 in 1949 – that’s a little over £120,000 in today’s terms.
But why does this all matter to us renters?
Well, besides sowing the seeds of many now-established settlements across the country, the Dudley Report and the logic of Labour’s left-leaning Bevanites were the catalysts for a whole set of reforms which are still very much lived and felt today. Not only were the living standards of many in the lower-income brackets improved significantly as affordable housing became available to them for the first time, the period also consolidated the framework of the “homeowner society.” And beyond this: the striking thing about the late ‘40s is that, in no small way, many of its reforms were carried forward by the incumbent Conservative government under Churchill ’round 2′ in 1951. Homeownership was ‘in’, Labour had made their mark, and the “post-war consensus” was underway.