Nicholas Boys Smith is the director of Create Streets a new organisation which has been set up encourage and facilitate the replacement of multi-storey housing with real houses with gardens in real streets rather than multi-storey housing with communal space. Their report, Create Streets, is published in conjunction with Policy Exchange today.
The vast majority of tower blocks and multi-storey housing estates are the product not of the market, but of state control and the planning system. We should instead be allowing developers to create streets. Streets, houses and low-rise flats are more popular, provably better for the people who live in them (especially if they are social tenants or families), a great long term return for the landowner and, critically, achieve the same density as the post-war estates they could replace.
For twenty years, very few multi-storey estates were built in Britain. Between 1979 and 1998, only six buildings above 35 metres were built. Why? Because the government-mandated post-war experiment in high-rise living was a disaster. Summoned into existence by the 1956 Housing Subsidy Act (which offered higher public subsidies the higher the building), the 4,500 tower blocks built by 1979 quickly descended into a frightening dystopia. Communities resisted moving. The new multi-storey housing become ‘hard-to-let’. Families and households refused to move in. The Thamesmead Estate, completed in 1968, was 40 percent full by 1974. 55 per cent were refusing to move into the Broadwater Farm Estate within five years of completion. And Ernö Goldfinger’s iconic Trellick Tower (known locally as the ‘Tower of Terror’ due to the risk of rape) was ‘hard-to-let’ within months. In 1971 A Clockwork Orange used tower blocks to symbolise a savage future with the film’s teenage protagonist (and ‘ultra-violence’ practitioner) living in ‘Municipal Flatblock 18A.’