In George Clarke’s Council House Scandal, which aired last night, the architect and presenter shone a light on the housing scandal and kicked off a call to arms for people to support his campaign to combat the housing crisis.
Not only would he like the government to fund 100,000 new council houses each year over the next three decades, but also temporarily suspend selling council houses through Right to Buy until the housing crisis is resolved.
He’s also working a mini estate of the future right here in Manchester, taking inspiration from successful social housing estates he’s seen in cities like Vienna, and demonstrating what can be achieved in order to provide people with stable and sustainable homes.
“I’m going to be building a pioneering modular, low-carbon housing estate, embracing all the inspiring designs I’ve seen so far and now Manchester City Council have offered me a derelict plot with potential,” said declared George as he walked along the canal in Newton Heath, north Manchester, just before the credits rolled, with his progress due to be aired on Channel 4 in due course.
“It’s one of the sites where I plan to create an estate of the future, build it to the highest environmental standards, using the very best in modern methods of construction and design it beautifully in order to reduce the stigma associated with social housing across Britain.”
It’s a personal campaign for George, who took viewers back to the Washington estate in Sunderland where he grew up in the Seventies and where his mum still lives.
One of the new towns built after World War Two, he highlights that by 1979, almost half the UK population lived in a council house and recalls it was a “fantastic” place to spend his childhood.
“It’s not just about the house but the space outside too, the landscaping and the pedestrianised areas,” he noted.
As an ambassador for Shelter, George has wanted to highlight the housing crisis for many years, but it’s apt that it’s become a reality on the 100th anniversary of the 1919 Addison Act, which marked the creation of council housing on a mass scale.
Named after Dr Christopher Addison, a minister who wanted to build good quality affordable housing for people across Britain following World War One, the government financed the construction of over 250,000 desirable homes and by 1980, there were 6.5 million council houses across the UK.
But there’s been a steep decline in the intervening years due to council houses being sold off and a lack of investment in building new ones, resulting in just 2million council houses today and a million people on the housing waiting list.
It’s also marked a rise in depressing, uninspiring and cramped temporary accommodation that’s been compared to 21st century slums.
Earlier this year, George attended Europe’s biggest housing conference in Manchester, where he announced his plans. Now the programme has aired, he’s hoping people will get behind his campaign to lobby the government to act.
In the meantime, work is set to begin on the pioneering new estate in Newton Heath this autumn, and although the planning application has yet to be approved, it’s hoped the first homes could be completed and occupied by March 2020.
Known as the Silk Street project, the plan is to provide affordable homes on a former cotton mill site owned by Manchester City Council, and George attended the first consultation event at Newton Heath library to meet local people and hear their thoughts on new housing design and construction.
The masterplan, that’s been drawn-up by Manchester-based Sixtwo Architects, would see 21 new houses, offering three and four bedrooms and between 45 and 54 one and two-bedroom apartments arranged in three separate buildings bordering the canal.
There would also be extensive landscaping, green energy measures and car charging points.
“The pioneering Silk Street project will create up to 75 much needed high-quality new Council Homes for Manchester residents,” says Suzanne Richards from Manchester City Council.
“We have been clear from the outset that we want to demonstrate the benefits that modular and modern methods of construction can bring to both the quality and speed of delivery of these affordable new homes.”
In December 2018, Manchester Council began a long-term review of affordable housing to help meet growing demand.
Updating a commitment from 2015, the Council has predicted 32,000 new homes will be built in the city before March 2026, including 6,400 affordable homes to meet the city’s 20 per cent affordable homes ambition.
“We are committed to ensuring that Manchester residents have access to high quality, well-designed, affordable housing and are keen to explore the latest techniques that can help deliver that ambition as quickly as possible,” adds Suzanne.
“Local communities are at the heart of this and it is important we consult widely to hear people’s views and deliver the very best for everyone.”
Watch George Clarke’s Council House Scandal on All4 and visit councilhousescandal.co.uk for more info.