Post-war house building achieved its peak not under Clement Attlee, but Winston Churchill.
In fact housing was a very big issue in the 1951 election with the Conservatives promising to build 300,000 homes a year, a target which some regarded as unachievable.
To deliver his manifesto promise, Churchill turned to none other than Harold Macmillan. Macmillan didn’t really fancy the job of housing minister but as he made clear in his diaries Churchill wasn’t taking no for an answer: “it will make or mar your career,” he told him.
By 1953, the target was being met and MacMillan did indeed go on to bigger things becoming Prime Minister in 1957.
We have a very different sort of housing crisis today. Ours is not the result of bombings, or shameful slum conditions. Our population has simply grown, more people are living on their own, and for many years we have not been building enough to keep up with those developments and some of what we have built has gone to overseas investors rather than British home seekers.
So housing is now back on the agenda in a big way. There are national policies and initiatives taking shape that are going to help but the key challenge is to increase the amount of building and if that’s to happen, then local authorities and housing associations will all need to muck in.
Here in Kensington and Chelsea the scarcity and thus the price of land makes home building especially difficult but we are nonetheless determined to make a meaningful contribution.
As a country though we are still badly in the red, so we cannot expect large cheques from the Exchequer to help meet the costs.
We are therefore looking at sites already in our ownership that are either vacant or capable of accommodating more homes.
One such site is Barlby-Treverton. This month we announced the appointment of the award-winning btpw as architects for the scheme. We mean to build a magnificent new Barlby Primary school. Alongside it we will also build a new school for children and young people with special educational needs. At the same time we will be taking a look at part of the adjacent estate, which is built to low density. We think we can build more homes there while giving all the existing tenants a brand new home that meets every modern standard.
We are also exploring other schemes. For example, we are planning new homes on the old Edenham site in North Ken. And we are also looking at redeveloping the council offices at Pembroke Road to provide additional homes, giving the existing tenants who live above the offices a guarantee of a fine new home in the new development. We are also looking at a number of schemes tailored to the needs of older residents.
If all these schemes prove financially viable, and can get planning permission (both big ifs), then together they will provide many hundreds of new homes. As Churchill told Macmillan, it’s time “to build houses for the people.”