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Housing, Ilford

Volume 464: debated on Friday 13 May 1949

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1.45 p.m.

I am grateful for this opportunity of speaking on behalf of my constituents who have such urgent housing problems. I do not think there is an area in the country where the position is worse and where the prospects of rehousing are so tragic and so hopeless. When I say that in 1945 the population of Ilford was 143,825 and today it is 184,680, the terrific problem in the Ilford area can be realised. I have approached the Minister of Health, the Minister of Town and Country Planning, the Minister of Civil Aviation and even the Minister of Education with this problem in order to get some alleviation of the difficulties being suffered in Ilford but so far, I have had no satisfactory result, and therefore, because of the urgency of the matter and in the interests of my constituents, I am compelled to bring this matter before the House.

At the moment there are 10,000 registered applications on the local authority's waiting list. In all these cases the people are married, and they all have children. The local council does not take the names of couples who have no children and it does not accept those who are waiting to get married. I can assure the House that numbers of people are would-be applicants for places on our housing list and they feel exceedingly aggrieved that they are deprived of the opportunity of having children and even of getting married. Men and women who served in the Forces are deprived of a normal life; they know that they cannot have a home for the children which they may bring into the world or even be able to start a home. Of the 10,000 registered applications, 3,500 are what are termed "live and urgent cases." This is after thorough investigation. At the moment another review is being undertaken and the local authority is very apprehensive that the number of urgent cases will have increased and not diminished in the intervening period. Not more than 1,500 houses can be built on the land which is available in Ilford. It means that as well as the 6,500 cases which are not considered sufficiently urgent, we shall have to add 2,000 of the really urgent cases and make them utterly hopeless.

I wish the Minister of Health would come to my constituency one evening when I am attending my office to listen to the problems of my constituents. He could not fail to be moved by the utter hopelessness displayed by those who come to see me. The situation is pitiful. People are living in overcrowded houses where they are not wanted, without facilities for washing and cooking and, in some cases, for eating. I will quote one or two cases. There is a family living in a little box room where there is not even space for a table, and they are compelled to go out for every meal. In a room not much larger there is a family with twin babies. The mother is not even allowed facilities for washing the napkins and other baby clothes which must be washed daily, and as a result she is washing these things at midnight and at 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. because her only opportunity to dry them is during the day in the room in which she lives. The babies are not regarded as "persons" and therefore it is considered that only two people are living in that room although there are actually four. Then I have had numerous cases of four and five people living in one or two rooms with the most meagre facilities for washing or cooking and for airing their babies. Incidentally, one of the biggest bones of contention is the pram that the baby must have.

I wish the Minister could do something about urgent, low-pointed cases. In Ilford, families receive low points if the Ilford girl has married somebody who does not live in or belong to Ilford, or if the Ilford boy brings in a girl from somewhere else, although the case may be urgent. I wish the Minister would stress that needs must come first.

Is it any wonder that such conditions as this are destroying home life in Ilford? I have young wives coming to me and crying that they cannot stand this any longer. I even have young men who went through the war for four, five or nearly six years, coming to me nervous wrecks because of the conditions under which they are living, and they break down in tears when they tell me about their plight. Husbands come to me in distress about wives who have returned to their parents. I have written to the wives begging them to come back, telling them that this is only temporary, but I wonder whether I am not telling lies when I say that. I am terribly worried about the position.

One of the most ugly phases of this situation is the growth of bitterness, of spitefulness, and of callous disregard for decent feeling amongst families and friends. It is tragic that people cannot live together, that they cannot give and take, and yet I cannot really blame those people because this is happening. After all, the housewife has had a harassing time for quite a long period, and when things keep going wrong in her household it is no wonder that her temper becomes frayed and also that of other members of the family. Many decent people today are saying and doing things that they would never dream of in normal circumstances.

We have 23 families in hostels for periods of from weeks up to nearly two years. These are families which have been put on the streets by court orders. I am not complaining of the accommodation in those hostels, it is spacious and it is pleasant. The only thing I am concerned about is the danger to the small children. I visited one last Friday evening and it was pointed out to me that there were 35 steps and the cooking and washing facilities were at least 35 yards away from the room. With young children, it meant either taking them down into a cold stone place or leaving them there and worrying all the time about what was happening to them, especially in view of what has been happening recently.

Eight Ilford families are already in institutions under the Essex County Council, while we have quite a number of squatters on the Fairlop Airport. The happiness of 10,000 families—and that means at least 30,000 individuals—should not be played with lightly. I am not suggesting that the Minister of Health is playing lightly with these matters. I realise the terrific size of our housing problem, not only in Ilford, but in the whole country. However, I suggest that something should be done to alleviate the sufferings now going on in Ilford.

When the war ended, Ilford not only had a huge new housing problem, but it also had a great war damage problem, for 40,000 houses out of 45,000 were damaged. With the limited labour and materials and the great demand, war damage had to be carried out before housing could be started. Yet Ilford can claim to be one of the best housing authorities. I understand that of the non-county boroughs Ilford has put up more new dwellings than any of the non-county boroughs with a population of over 60,000. They have put up 680 permanent houses and 299 temporary houses. I am assured that houses are being built as quickly as labour and materials will allow, and I also have the assurance of the Ministry of Health that Ilford can build as many houses and as quickly as they are able. There is no difficulty there. The difficulty is that the Borough Council has not the land on which to build houses.

We are told that the new towns will meet our needs. I ask, will they meet our needs, when will they meet our needs, and how will they meet our needs? First, we have no definite time or even a near date when houses are likely to be available in the new towns so that we could give some ray of hope to these homeless people. We have no guarantee that we shall get a share of houses in those new towns or how many there are likely to be. Unless we are able to tell people something about the houses that are likely to be there, they will not be satisfied and will still have a hopeless future.

Again it is said that the new towns will relieve the congestion of traffic, but what is the situation in Ilford? I understand that factories there have been approached with a view to removing to new towns but so far none has responded. So it means that the work will remain in Ilford and, after all, Ilford is not over-crowded with factories. Apart from this, a large number of my constituents are employed in City offices. One would realise that if one could only see the congestion on the tube each morning coming from our Ilford stations. These offices will not be transferred to the new towns, so that even if my constituents were offered accommodation in those new towns, the traffic difficulties would be increased because their travelling distance and time would be doubled. Therefore, I do not think that the new towns will meet the case of Ilford.

There is something that can meet our needs, and that is the land in the Eastern part of Ilford that is destined for a civil airport. The area of this land held by the City of London Corporation, is 915 acres. It has quite a large amount of surrounding open land and green belt which, at the moment, is sterilised for building purposes because of the runway funnels of the proposed airport. The borough engineer tells me that on that land 6,000 houses could be built, all the necessary schools, shops and public buildings. Even the required area for open spaces is there. Yet an airport in that densely populated Eastern outer area of London is decided upon. The dreadful thing about the whole situation is that this airport cannot possibly take shape until 1960; so that all these people can see land there on which houses could be built, yet it is not being used and will not be used until at least 1960.

As well as needing houses, we need school accommodation, of which we are very short. The classes in our schools are large and we are even having to transport children from areas where we have no schools; yet three of our proposed new schools are being held up because they lie in the funnels of the runways for the new airport. Seven of our present schools will be very badly affected by the airport because they lie within distances varying between half a mile and one and one-sixth of a mile from the end of the runway.

The experts advising the Minister of Town and Country Planning will insist, no doubt, that Fairlop is the only possible place which is suitable for this proposed new civil airport for London. I am not satisfied that it would be impossible to move the airport a little further East, where there is plenty of open land which could still be used for agricultural purposes. I believe that the experts have chosen what they believe to be the best situation and that they are not prepared to make a change. While it may not be impossible to change the site of the airport, it might, I admit, be a little difficult to do so; but should such difficulties be allowed to stand in the way of the happiness of so many people and be an obstruction to so much human happiness in Ilford? I have met the Minister of Civil Aviation, who has kindly agreed to look into this matter again. I hope that the Minister of Health will back me up and use his influence in this direction.

But in case we cannot move the airport, and are told that the plan must stand—after all, we are planning for the future—I should like to suggest certain alternatives. These are my own suggestions entirely, for the local authority have made it clear that they do not want any alternatives. They feel that they must insist on the airport or nothing. I am not prepared to be quite so dogmatic; I feel it is necessary to suggest other alternatives which might, perhaps, be acceptable. Will the Minister, therefore, assist our authority by providing, say, 2,000 temporary houses in the open space that is now sterilised round the site of the airport? I am told that when the airport is in operation, the noise will be terrific and that people who live in Ilford will want to move away. As a result we may have vacant houses in which to rehouse our temporary tenants.

As another alternative, I ask the Minister of Health to press his right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning to use some of the green belt, of which there is a good area in Ilford. Surely, some 1,200 acres of land now left open because of an airport is a sufficient slice of green belt to take from the borough? Failing these suggestions I make one final appeal; that the Minister might assist the borough in gaining land outside Ilford on which to build houses.

It is no use the Minister telling me, as I am sure he will, that the population of Ilford is already too large. The people of Ilford are already there. They have got to be housed and we must do something about it. They are suffering in a most tragic way. We cannot throw them out on to the streets or into the open fields merely because they are overcrowded. Something has got to be done, now or as quickly as possible. This suffering cannot continue for ever. I ask the Minister of Health to give this matter every consideration—the consideration it truly deserves. I hope I have impressed upon the Parliamentary Secretary the urgency and importance of very sympathetic consideration. I regret that I have taken so much time, but I know that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me in my desire to relieve so much of the anguish and desperation existing in Ilford today.

2.6 p.m.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Ilford (Mrs. Ridealgh) has put her case so ably that there is very little I can add. I know the sympathy with which this matter is approached by the Ministry of Health, but I should like to emphasise to the Parliamentary Secretary the extreme urgency of the problem. It is not a matter upon which there can, or should, be long negotiations between the Government Departments concerned. The human problem which is involved is so intense that we should be able to enlist on our side the Welsh ardour of the Minister of Health.

I have here a letter which I received yesterday and which illustrates the kind of problem with which the authorities in Ilford have to deal. This is one of the usual housing problems which come to me and my colleagues, and have already been referred to. This letter says:
"The sanitary inspector has been to the home and he said it was overcrowded. Three families in three bedrooms, six adults and three children. My husband is sleeping in a van at his place of work and he is waiting to get into London Hospital for an operation. The reason for writing is because the local council seem to ignore the fact that I was bred and born in Ilford."
That is the sort of housing problem which we are meeting frequently in Ilford. It affects housing not only in Ilford, but in the East End of London. We have in Ilford, people who came there during the early part of the war, when the East End was so intensely bombed. They have lost their position on the housing lists of the East End boroughs in which they lived for many years by virtue of their leaving those districts in 1941 and 1942; and they have no high place upon the list of Ilford because of their very short residence in the borough. That is a problem which we in Ilford know as the problem of the displaced persons. It is not a problem which can be met by a local authority itself; it must be dealt with by the Ministry in a specially framed order or regulation.

The letter to which I have referred goes on to speak of the worry which this position is imposing upon that woman. She says:
"Also it is a great worry to me as I had a stillborn baby on 5th January last and I am still under the doctor."
The intense worry of that situation, with her husband obliged to sleep in a van at his place of work, with no room for the children at home, with the illness and weakness of the woman under that stress, is a problem to which the Minister, I am sure, with his knowledge of the poverty and suffering of the people of Wales, will not hesitate to give sympathetic consideration for the benefit of the people of Ilford.

I have another letter dated 11th May:
"Coming straight to the point, Sir, my problem is housing. I have tried everything a man can possibly try and no one seems to take the slightest notice, which makes me feel that my wife and my child and I might just as well be dead, as alive in a place where we are not wanted. When I married my wife I had to take a living-in job … with my wife as we had no accommodation. We had to pack up this game when my son decided to come along. I sent my wife back to her mother in Ley Street, Ilford, where we are now and I lived-in on the job where I worked."
Just before the baby was born the man tried to obtain assistance from the authorities, but they could do nothing until the baby was born. That is another situation which has been mentioned already. Although we have a housing list of 10,000 names, it is a very small part of the ultimate problem in Ilford because so many cannot be accepted. The letter goes on:
"My in-laws opened their doors to my wife and child again and I lived-in on the job. In 10 days my wife and child were put out again on the first day of that heavy fog. If I went to one person or organisation, I went to a dozen but no one could do anything, and all day the child was in my arms. I eventually got to my Church padre who put us for awhile in the library at the Thompson Rooms. … Here we had to keep shifting around as the room was required. The trustees put us out of there as it was against their rules having us there … and we are back again with our in-laws; 13 of us are in the house and it is just about impossible to manage with cooking and washing facilities, drying of clothes and privacy, rest and everything. If given an interview I could put the case to you in more detail. All a working man like me is asking is even a flat of his own where he may obtain shelter and look after his wife and child and have a bit of rest. … The Town Hall reckon there is nothing they can do."
I am afraid that is the position, unless, we can enlist the enthusiasm, the eloquence and that debating skill, so highly appreciated on this side of the House, possessed by the Minister of Health. If he will take up the case for Ilford and if he can get us that piece of ground which is now sterilised for 10 years because ultimately it will be wanted for an airport, and bring his great gifts to the service of these people suffering so intensely from the drastic, tragic conditions under which they are forced to live, then something may be gained and we may have a piece of land on which we can build 5,000 houses for 5,000 families.

What is the case put against this idea? There are technical considerations, and efforts were made to find other sites before it was decided that Fairlop should be used. One consideration is that the airport must be situated near London. There are many sites within 30 miles of London where an airport could be placed, with all the technical requirements for a modern airport, but the one factor is that they are not so near to London as Fairlop. The fact that 10 or 20 minutes would he added to the ground travelling time of potential passengers to the airport is to be weighed against the human problems involved in these matters and these 3,000 urgent cases, of which my colleague has spoken. These technical considerations are small and must he swept aside when they are compared with the human problem now held up and obstructed by these considerations. I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to convey to his chief the urgency of this problem and its seriousness and to enlist his gifts in our aid.

2.15 p.m.

I am sure we would not complain in any way of my hon. Friends the Members for North Ilford (Mrs. Ridealgh) and South Ilford (Mr. Ranger) raising this matter, because they are properly raising an issue of supreme importance to those whom they represent. I compliment them on the way in which they have persisted in their efforts in the series of interviews and deputations they have supported in order to give a full airing to this very important matter.

Both my hon. Friends have rightly said that this is not a matter which can be looked at in isolation, examining Ilford by itself. This is indeed a problem of London as a whole and it is well known that one of the tragic legacies that this Government have had to face has been the growth, the ill-organised, untidy growth, of London stretching into suburbia on all sides. I think my hon. Friends will be the first to agree that the Government were right to insist that this steady sprawl of London must be checked, and if it were not checked it would exaggerate the very misery and personal hardship about which my hon. Friends are so rightly concerned. Therefore, the Government decided, some years ago, that we could not allow the further development of London in the unchecked way in which it had developed in past years. Ilford is a very typical example of a suburb of London which has sprawled out during the inter-war years at a terrifying pace and of the loss of land which might have been more valuably used, and, indeed, to the great hardship, eventually, of the whole of London.

In saying that, I am merely stressing the fact that I am sure my hon. Friends realise that whatever action were to be taken about the land to which they have both referred it is still true that the housing problem of Ilford cannot be solved within the limits of Ilford itself. We must look outside Ilford for the easing of this very serious situation. Here again, I would point out to my hon. Friends that it is not quite true that Ilford is the most seriously affected of all the areas on the perimeter of London. I assure them that this problem affects very many of the outer London suburbs which, as I say, must be regarded as a whole.

May I say a word about the point both hon. Members have raised on the action of the local authority in selecting certain categories of residents for inclusion on their waiting lists? As I think both my hon. Friends know, that is a matter for the local authority. I think they will know also that a subcommittee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee recently issued a valuable report recommending to all local authorities that they should not limit their housing waiting lists to those who have residential qualifications in their particular areas. Indeed, if this were to happen throughout the country it would have the most deplorable results upon very many people who could not possibly produce residential qualifications for any area in the country on the basis which some of the councils stipulate.

Is my hon. Friend aware that that intensifies rather than alleviates the problem?

I fully realise that. I think both my hon. Friends know that my right hon. Friend has issued a circular to local authorities drawing their attention to the recommendations of this sub-committee and asking them to give urgent consideration to the needs of those who do not necessarily have residential qualifications in their area. As far as Ilford is concerned, this is a most important matter when we consider the other areas adjacent to Ilford which might possibly be able to make some contribution in the future towards Ilford's need.

The hon. Lady the Member for North Ilford, who initiated this Adjournment Debate, detailing very graphically the trials and difficulties which they were facing in Ilford, very properly mentioned that there was an area just outside Ilford which she felt ought to be used, at any rate in the interim period before the Ministry of Civil Aviation were able to make use of it for aerodrome purposes. Again, this is not merely a problem of whether we should or should not build houses upon an aerodrome site. It is still a problem of whether we should or should not allow the further sprawling development of this part of London, and whether we should not concentrate our attention upon what I regard as the more useful project of trying to secure the more rapid development of the new towns, of which at any rate one already is under construction.

My suggestion was for temporary houses. I realise that we cannot allow this sprawling to go on all over the country. That was my idea in suggesting, say, 2,000 temporary houses, because surely within 10 years we should be able to find places for those people. It is now that those people have got to be housed; they cannot wait 10 years before they are housed.

I quite appreciate my hon. Friend's point, but we are not talking in terms of 10 years' time. At any rate, one of the new towns—Harlow—which can be of immediate benefit to the East of London, and not to Ilford only, is already building. With regard to the other new town of Basildon, we are, as I think my hon. Friend knows, pressing forward in order to start building as soon as possible. I agree with my hon. Friend when she says that the new town at Harlow may not provide immediate accommodation for people living in Ilford, because many of the people living in Ilford in fact work in offices in the City of London. That would suggest, at any rate, that they are not tied to Ilford as a particular area, and they could find accommodation elsewhere.

At the same time, it is true that Harlow and the other new towns will be providing new accommodation for people in the East of London generally, and in so far as we are easing the position in the East of London, this will contribute to the benefit of people living in Ilford itself. Therefore, while it may not make an immediate direct contribution, it is bound to make a contribution to the benefit of all those adjoining areas of which Ilford is a part. I hope my hon. Friends will regard that as a very proper way of trying to tackle the problem which, as I say, does not affect Ilford alone.

My hon. Friends have made also a series of other suggestions. The hon. Lady suggested the possibility of temporary houses. I think she knows that the Government have decided to terminate the temporary housing programme. Indeed, that is now completed, and it would not be possible at this stage to restart that type of house building. We desire to concentrate our whole resources, both of labour and of materials, on new house construction and repairs which are still required, rather than to divert them further into temporary housing accommodation at this stage. I should mention at this point that there is still available land for building in Ilford, which would probably provide accommodation for about 1,000, in addition to the houses which are now under construction, and that means that there is a programme available for the Ilford authority for about another 18 months or two years before this issue becomes an immediate one. Within that period I am satisfied that we can ensure the useful development of the new towns outside London which will, as I suggest, siphon off some of the pressure.

I would also say, in confirmation of what my hon. Friend has said, that the Ilford Corporation have done a very useful job of work indeed in housing in their area, and that they have undertaken some block flat construction which, if further developed, may again ease the situation in their area. It is, of course, a matter entirely for them to decide, but I hope that in these very trying and difficult issues that are common to so many of the outlying areas of London, we shall not be pressed to give up our long-term determination to ensure that all the evils that have arisen from the unplanned growth of London in the past shall not be allowed to continue still further. I say this in spite of the very sympathetic and natural desire of us all to deal with the housing problems of our own areas. I appeal to my hon. Friends to look at the problem of London as a whole and to aid us in every way they can to see that this particular problem of Ilford is not tackled in isolation.

I make this final point. We are most sympathetic to the case which has been put forward. We are anxious to help in every way we can to alleviate these problems within the terms of the resolution that I have mentioned, that we shall not allow this general development of London beyond its present stage. The officers of the Ministry have been in consultation, and will shortly be in consultation again, with the Ilford Corporation, and will certainly take into consideration what use could be made of the land to which my hon. Friend has referred. Whether any easement could be made there which would be of help to Ilford in dealing with this problem, I hope she will be willing to accept my assurance that we shall examine this problem with the greatest sympathy, in the closest contact with the other Ministries involved, and will do our level best to help her in the difficulty in which she is placed.

Would the Parliamentary Secretary be prepared to see that Ilford is given a definite date regarding some houses in the new towns, and some guarantee that they will get a certain number of houses, so that we can at least throw out some hope to our people?

I quite appreciate the desire of my hon. Friend, but I am afraid I could not do that. It is true that we are desiring these new towns to develop as natural centres combining industry and housing, and the whole question is under consideration. I cannot yet tell whether we shall be able to take into either of these new towns industries from Ilford itself; but I can assure my hon. Friend that by bringing new industries out of East London as a whole we shall in that way he making a real contribution to the problems of Ilford.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes to Three o'Clock.