Urban Renewal Policies in Britain over the Past 60 Years

Urban renewal represents the policies and activities intended to revitalize failing urban spaces wrought with problems such as poverty, unemployment, housing quality deterioration, poor quality of public space, exclusion and segregation. The goals of urban renewal policies are to bring back the economic vitality of the urban area, enhance the function and safety of public place, and improve the lives of the urban population. Urban renewal policies change over time depending on the developments in urban problems, social structures, economic resources, and political trends in urban areas.

In Britain, urban renewal policies have changed markedly in the past 60 years because of the changing complexity of urban problems, particularly housing shortage, and environmental factors affecting policy direction such as economic growth and party politics. Changes in Urban Renewal Policies in Britain Changes in urban renewal policies in post war Britain could fall into four periods: a) the council led urban renewal; b) initial involvement of the private sector; c) declining public sector role in urban renewal; and d) market led policies.

These four periods that represent the shifts in urban renewal emerged because of the distinct emergence of problems in housing and environmental factors affecting policy development and direction. Council-Led Urban Renewal Council led urban renewal was due to the winning of the Labor Party in the elections immediately after the Second World War in 1945. Right after the war, the most pressing urban problem was housing shortage. The houses are of poor condition and congestion is a common problem.

Public housing received criticism for using small land area and space for houses, monotonous design, and bare furnishings with the design not incorporating cupboards or other amenities. Since most families do not have the financial ability to build or repair their destroyed or decrepit homes, the government’s solution is housing as a public sector responsibility, specifically implemented though the local authorities or city council. This marked the period the municipal socialism in the country. The policy had a short and long-term aspect.

In the short-term, activities included the use of prefabricated shelters, repair of destroyed but salvageable homes, and land conversation to provide space of housing. In the long-term, the target was housing under the leadership of the local authorities. The Housing Act of 1946 provided housing subsidies. The local authorities engaged in widespread land purchases since 1943 so there is sufficient land for public housing. The local authorities also had the option to borrow from the public works loan board to fund public housing.

Land Acquisition Act of 1946 and 1949 further strengthened public housing efforts to build more subsidized homes available to everybody including those in the slum areas, the working class, and other people in need of housing. An encompassing urban renewal policy of the Labor Party was the creation of new towns in undeveloped or poorly developed areas of London, particularly in the peripheral areas of Britain. The idea of the new towns is to establish self-sustaining communities with economic opportunities such as businesses meeting community needs, basic services such as a health care facilities, schools, and community centers.

This represented the utopian idea of an urban community that represented social integration of a diverse group of people. In 1946, the first new town emerged followed by seven others in 1949. These communities represented houses with gardens, which is radically different from the cramped slums in existing urban towns. The direction of urban renewal policy was towards large-scale projects involving the building of houses in the short-term and the development of self-sustaining urban communities in the long-term.

While new houses abounded and new communities were established, the achievement of long-term urban renewal depended on the continuity of policies with party changes. Continuity is important in establishing urban renewal at the community level. To give way to new houses and new towns, the clearing of idle lands and demolition of decrepit houses was the means of constructing new building and community infrastructures. Private Sector Involvement in Urban Renewal Around the 1950s, a change in policy emerged.

There was an allocation of greater responsibility for housing to the private sector, although public housing remained a core policy. In 1951, the victory of the Tory Party commenced fulfillment of the target to build 300,000 houses. Council housing was responsible for achieving this goal. The Housing Act of 1952 raised housing subsidy. However, the building of more homes meant the decrease in living space. In 1953, after completing and even surpassing the target for public housing, the government incorporated the role of the private sector in its housing policy.

The housing policies of the government included: increased opportunities for private sector participation; encouragement of owner-occupation through subsidies; private renting governed by regulatory policies on rent increases; clearing of slums and re-housing; and repairs or improvements of houses. Incentives for private sector involvement included the lifting of restrictions licensing for private house building in 1954, better opportunities for home occupation, and receding public sector housing.

This pursued private owner occupation and renting, albeit there was preference for owner occupation. Several problems emerged during this period. One is the worsening problem of the slums. Even with new houses, a sizable number of people remained in the slums. The other is lack of affordable housing for rent from the private sector, especially for immigrants. Although, regulated, property owners have free reign in setting the rent within the ceiling established by law. These resulted to overcrowding in limited housing spaces. Moreover, there were also tenure problems.

The Rent Act of 1957 cancelled the provision on security of tenure leading to evictions, whether this was due to the fault of the tenant or the whim of property owners such as tenants who frequently complain. Minority groups were the common victims of evictions. This applied in both private and public leased housing. Many of the people evicted found it difficult to find vacancies or renew lease contracts with the council. In the early 1960s, the solution was large-scale demolition and mass housing as well as the establishment of housing associations.

This is a long-term plan that involved the demolition of the slums to build mass housing through high-rise apartment buildings. However, on the part of the council, it was unprepared for the responsibility of taking over a large-scale redevelopment project, which is huge when compared to its previous responsibility of constructing houses and collecting rent. On the part of the private sector, construction of high-rise apartments was tenable but not all can afford to pay the rent. This functional housing development deviated from the idea of houses with gardens.