Home Thoughts

Reading yet another excellent blog from Municipal Dreams a few days after the return to government of an administration that threatens to extend the Right to Buy to housing association stock, led me to muse on the housing conundrum.

When I first wrote for the professional journals, in the late 1970s, there were dozens of exemplary local authority housing schemes up and down the country. As a freelance who didn’t mind leaving London, I was kept busy. In unexpected corners you might find a local authority with ambitions (I particularly remember Allerdale) or a long established architectural practice (I remember Johnston and Wright in Alnwick) whose ambitions were to design high quality, well considered rural housing. I wrote about Harriston in Cumbria, a rebuilt mining village near Cockermouth, and about infill housing in villages all over that county, but I also wrote about thoughtful schemes in Milton Keynes and, soon, about that admirable project, Ralph Erskine’s Byker redevelopment in Newcastle upon Tyne including Tom Collins House, a sheltered housing scheme (see picture)– at the top of which lived a retired lighterman whose days were brightened by his view of the action on the Tyne far below.







By the time I was architectural correspondent for the Observer in the early 1990s, there seemed little to write about in that field. I scarcely ever touched on housing, except when pointing out the divergent architectural paths of Terry Farrell and Nick Grimshaw, whose partnership had been responsible for an elegant aluminium clad tower block near Hanover Gate, 125 Park Road – built for a housing association (see below) – as well as a tile-clad terrace for the LB of Camden, Millman Street in Holborn. By then both were nearly twenty years old. The Right to Buy was already biting into the supply of desirable local authority stock and there was little new to report.




Another twenty years on, there is hardly an example of new local authority built housing stock to be found. Municipal Dreams found one, with mixed tenure. Squabbles over the use of balconies seemed the only wrinkle. It left me wondering how things were in those modest schemes in the north west, and reassured by how fine the Byker development – all listed – still seems, when I last visited quite recently. I hate to see all this becoming history, out of sight and out of mind.

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