Britain’s housing crisis is the great modern battleground of our politics. Once the all-consuming news item of Brexit fades into the background, it could be the deciding factor in the next general election. The current debate around housing policy revolves around how many houses we can build, and how quickly.
Both major parties made frequent reference to increasing housing production numbers in their 2017 manifestos, but the risk of this figures-focussed approach aiming solely to house the nation is that we may find ourselves buried under the modern cultish dogma of replacing beautiful architecture with grey, soulless, utilitarian tools. The only way to effectively execute the long-term rejuvenation of Britain’s housing market is the make council houses beautiful.
This is not to say that I wish to see the destruction of the ugly poorhouses, like a low-budget Victorian villain in a primary school adaptation of Oliver Twist. I have lived in social housing for fourteen years of my life. I take this stance not because I believe my childhood would have benefitted from the streets of Yorkshire resembling the Roman forum, but because the beautification of social housing is linked to the survival of one of Britain’s great neoliberal policies: the Right to Buy scheme.
The home is often the greatest asset an individual will ever own, and one they can pass onto their children. If we are to resume helping the poorest in our society to get onto the housing ladder, we must re-establish the incentive of buying your council house.
Mass-produced blocks of unremarkable social housing appeal to the left because they remove the individuality of human life, dragging us all down to the same level and failing to provide an incentive for home ownership outside the state. What incentive does a family have to buy into a mass-produced building with no individuality?
The return of Sir Roger Scruton to government, along with the ascension of “quiet radical” Robert Jenrick to the position of Housing minister, gives me hope for the future. This would be a popular move, too; research found that 82 per cent of the public want architects to focus on “well-built, comfortable and beautiful” homes.
If we are to rejuvenate the architecture of council houses in any meaningful sense, we need a steadfast commitment from the party in government. Outside of the work of the likes of Sir Roger and his Building Better, Building Beautiful commission, little attention is given to these matters, meaning they receive less media coverage than the Liberal Democrat leadership contest.
The beautification of council houses need not be a monumental task. If progressive policies like Right to Buy are to be revived, we must build homes that British people are proud to own. Our housing market should be creating communities that feel unique and individual, yet still retain that feeling of Britishness which we all share, wherever we live in this wonderful nation.