Power, consumers and urban culture

This book is concerned with the interaction of traditional politics, culture and voluntary groups, of local and national influences, of ideals and individuals. It looks at local government, social groups and housing policy in the twentieth century. Manchester is the focal point, providing the type of specific detail that only single-city studies can supply. Studying housing provides the most dynamic of all policy areas. The book is divided into three sections, providing it with a structure which highlights the overarching narrative and key themes. The first section looks at some of the main aspects of national policy and legislation across the twentieth century and how these were then interpreted by different local authorities. It shows that while central government provided a lead, encouraging a common approach, national policy was only ever generalised. Cities continued to produce policies specific to their own areas, highlighting the continuing importance of locality in studying the decision-making process. The second section examines the rise of municipal housing in Manchester, looking at the creation and influence of civic culture on the council. In contrast, although the third section considers the continuing influence of civic culture on policy after 1960, it also highlights the decline of municipal legitimacy from the late 1960s. It looks at how tenant frustration gave rise to angry outbursts and organised protests, leading to a challenge to council authority and forcing a change to the decision-making process.

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This chapter looks at how research into housing has developed. Although housing histories have examined a range of policy issues, few have considered the cultural context in which decisions were implemented. Also, the role of the tenant is too often relegated to the periphery. Consequently, the chapter considers the necessity of reasserting an understanding of civic culture, local discourse, social and physical barriers and the role of the tenant, to appreciate fully the dynamics underpinning the politics of housing. It also looks at the 'structure of feeling', the cultural context in which the key players, the councillors and professionals, made their decisions. Moreover, the chapter argues that any consideration of housing must necessarily consider the role of the tenant and how they moved from being dormant recipients to active consumers. Finally, it presents an outline of this book.

in The politics of housing

Local authorities retained influence as new regimes emerged to create and implement housing policy in the local environment. This chapter looks at some of the main developments in this constantly shifting picture. It highlights a few difficulties faced by governments when confronted with economic and market problems and the ramifications of government policy, legislation and finance on local authorities and tenants. The President of the Local Government Board, Christopher Addison, framed the new Housing and Town Planning Act in 1919. Most of the housing legislation passed in the 1920s was designed to meet the general needs of the working classes. The 1935 Housing Act was aimed at addressing the problem of overcrowding. Under the 1952 Housing Act, the licensing system for private builders was relaxed and owner-occupation was encouraged. The 1988 Housing Act, and subsequent policies, represented a fundamental change to the entire structure of local government control over housing.

in The politics of housing

Although local authorities worked within a common framework of national legislation and policy directives from the government, policy was also determined by local problems, council politics, the attitude of local authority officials and the distinct urban culture in which cities operated. This chapter highlights the significance of locality in the decision-making process by comparing and contrasting broad aspects of housing policy between different cities across the century. During 1919-1932, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield demolished less than 4,000 slums, even though they were able to build more than 100,000 council homes in the same period. In Sheffield, at least twenty-three groups were formed to protest about everything from the lack of recreation facilities to changes to rent-rebate schemes. Public expectations, which had risen after the war with the welfare state and economic growth, were being frustrated, giving rise to a tenant backlash.

in The politics of housing

This chapter looks at the terrible legacy of the Victorian period and the constant struggle by reformers to produce a more active municipal policy. It examines the practical difficulties facing the local authority and the determination by an active group within the council to impose their vision of a brave new world. Demands for housing reform increasingly permeated civic life. The voluntary sector was hugely influential in highlighting the city's housing problems and in promoting municipal planning and building as the solution to the slums. In making their recommendations, Manchester's housing reformers were convinced that flats were inadequate for most people and that the cottage-style houses were infinitely superior. In 1917, the council established the Housing Special Committee to develop policies for a post-war rebuilding programme. Shena Simon believed that Wythenshawe was the most important example of town planning and of a garden satellite town in the country.

in The politics of housing

Rents for the new houses, and extra travel costs to work, were too high for the poorer tenants. The council selected tenants for its new estates and slum dwellers were not usually on the lists. By the late 1920s, focus was shifting away from general housing provision for the working classes to the much bigger problem of clearing and replacing the inner-city slums. The council was in a strong position when it came to clearing the slums, planning and building new houses. Preference for housing was an ideal shared by the council, social reformers and tenants alike. Investigators were left in no doubt that tenants wanted to live in cottages. Elements in the council and the voluntary sector believed that tenants, although victims of their environment, needed assistance in managing their homes. Reactions to slum-clearance plans in Hulme were an early indication of tenant capabilities when faced with unpopular policies.

in The politics of housing

After the Second World War, Manchester council's housing reformers were determined to force the pace of change. Councillor Ottiwell Lodge, Chairman of the Town Planning and Buildings Committee, claimed in the 1945 Redevelopment Plan that the biggest problem of all would be moving 120,000 people to a new town or to existing towns outside the city. Developing new towns and extensive overspill estates were absolutely vital. In the early developments at Wythenshawe and Belle Vue, tenants had made a number of complaints that had parallels with the later estates. Tenants in the overspill estates expressed very similar complaints, suggesting that the council failed to act on earlier experiences. The story of overspill is important in what it tells us about the Labour council, its relations and attitude to neighbouring local authorities and how it regarded/disregarded its own tenants. Manchester's battles with neighbouring councils had serious implications for future housing policy.

in The politics of housing

Post-war slum clearance effectively began in Manchester from 1954. Slum clearance and rehousing was made the focal point of all council thinking. In September 1962, the Assistant Secretary at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government gave and announcement. It said that a special group of technical officers would be established in the city to give advice and assistance to local authorities in Manchester and other areas throughout the north and midlands. The group was to co-operate with local authorities, not only in preparing slum-clearance programmes but also in promoting standardised system-built programmes. While the post-war housing programme stuttered between periods of limited activity and radical change, little attention was paid to tenant ambitions. They remained on the periphery of the entire policy process. However, as problems mounted, some of them became increasingly angry and frustrated.

in The politics of housing

Tenant dissatisfaction continued throughout the late 1970s and into the 1980s. Problems escalated as the council was faced with internal strife that eventually led to the rise of the New Left. The council had to compete for resources and work in partnership with housing groups. New developments, designed finally to bring an end to the slums and chronic overcrowding, started to crumble, creating at least as much human misery as the Victorian slums they had supposedly replaced. Financial problems and mounting costs were threatening to cripple the council. Lack of money meant lack of investment that led to further deterioration of an already crumbling housing stock. At the end of the decade, angry tenants in north Manchester claimed they had been left waiting for a month just to talk to officials. Following the Conservative victory in the general election of 1987, Manchester's Labour council began to shift its ideological stance.

in The politics of housing
Municipal culture in post-war Manchester

It has been argued that civic pride declined after its heyday in the Victorian period but Peter Shapely contests this view, illustrating how in Manchester, a combination of civic pride, social reform and policy rooted in the Victorian period were re-defined over the twentieth-century, albeit retaining a ‘boosterish’ emphasis on the city’s image and reputation, particularly in the 1960s. Postwar planners aimed to construct their own version of a modern cityscape in Manchester delivered through a programme of ambitious building projects whose civic ambitions would have been familiar to their Victorian predecessors. When these aspirations faltered during Manchester’s industrial decline between the mid-1970s and late-1980s, civic pride was maintained by the ambitions of the local press, politicians and prominent figures and eventually harnessed to new regeneration projects, as Manchester’s image was re-invented through high-profile re-development schemes and festivals based on sport and the arts. There were, as Shapely argues, continuities in how governing elites and institutions defined the contours of Manchester’s civic pride and reputation, a cultural hegemony that persisted across two centuries. This was, however, distinct from the sense of civic pride which many ordinary local residents experienced with different kinds of local attachment and identity.

in People, places and identities