East End protest over vanishing social housing where it all began in 1900
- Credit: TUSC
Campaigners began a “Love council housing” walkabout in London’s deprived East End from the historic Arnold Circus where the world’s first public housing was created 115 years ago.
They staged a Valentine’s Day event starting at the Boundary Estate that joins Bethnal Green and Shoreditch, first opened in 1900 by Edward, the Prince of Wales.
Arnold Circus is the architectural centrepiece of the estate, between Club Row and Calvert Avenue, from where the walkabout set off.
Tenant Philip Green recalled how families had rejected an attempt to sell off the prestigious housing complex in 2006.
“But preserving the settled community is difficult,” he fears. “Waves of wealth have been attracted to the area.”
The campaigners soon arrived at Leopold Buildings in Columbia Road nearby, with its similar philanthropic origins which they maintain are “often forgotten by today’s commercially-driven housing associations”.
The walk continued to Sivill House and the Dorset Estate, both legacies of the peak period of post-war council house building between 1951 and 1964, when the government oversaw 100,000 new council homes a year.
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Next stop was the architecturally-listed Keeling House in Claredale Street, London’s first council tower block completed in 1958—privatised by Tower Hamlets council in the 1990s. A two-bedroom flat there now costs £500,000 to buy or £2,300-a-month to rent which excludes families in need, the campaigners point out.
Eileen Short, who chairs Defend Council Housing campaign, said: “A new generation struggling with the Bedroom Tax and benefit caps is challenging the rampant housing market that’s building luxury flats which force our children out and destroys communities.”
The campaigners are calling for government funding for more social housing and return of rent controls.
The Mayor of London last week set a target to build 42,000 new homes a year.
But critics say 62,000 are needed to clear the backlog—like the 21,000 families on Tower Hamlets’ waiting list alone.
The London Assembly’s budget chairman John Biggs, who represents east London at City Hall, said: “This was the final opportunity for a legacy which would leave London able to build its way out of this housing crisis. But sadly it’s people in hard-pressed areas like Tower Hamlets who in many cases are being priced out.”
He blames the government’s Right to Buy scheme for outstripping the pace of new council housing trying to replace what is being sold off.
Local authorities are expected to make up the difference—but critics say town halls aren’t being given the money.