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Transfer Of Houses

Volume 530: debated on Wednesday 21 July 1954

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I beg to move.

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the transfer, 10 years after construction or acquisition, of houses, buildings or land provided under the Housing Acts, 1936 to 1952, by the London County Council or other local authority outside its own area to the local authority for the area in which the houses, buildings or land are situated.
The Bill is an attempt to meet the needs arising from a very acute problem in my constituency, Dagenham, but this problem is also serious in a number of other areas, and will be of growing importance in many districts in the early future.

At present more than half of the houses in my constituency belong to an outside municipal authority, the London County Council, for whom the ratepayers in Dagenham do not vote and over whose policy they have no control. When 17,000 out of a total of 30,000 houses belong to an outside authority it creates a very serious problem for the people living in that district. In addition to the 17,000 belonging to the London County Council, there are 3,000 belonging to the local council, there is an estate belonging to West Ham Council, and there are about 10,000 privately-owned houses. There is very little room in the area to build more houses; at most, there is room for perhaps 3,000 more, whether municipally or privately owned. The number on the housing list is about 4,400. This means that there is very little prospect of a large part of the population being rehoused in the area.

The London County Council are reasonably good landlords and maintain property in good repair, but the fact remains that most of the houses on the Becontree Estate, which forms the greater part of the L.C.C. housing in Dagenham, were built between 1925 and 1933, some 20 or 30 years ago. When that estate was built, the people who moved in were newly-married couples or people who already had small families. We thus have a large population growing up in the area.

At present we have a partial solution to the problem of finding houses for this population. When people grow old or die, the London County Council usually give the tenancy of the house to the eldest grown-up child living in the house. That is frequently done, but it meets the needs of only a small part of the population which is growing up in Dagenham, and a large number of people cannot be found houses in that way. Out of the 17,000 L.C.C. houses, quite a number fall vacant each year, but those vacancies are not given to local inhabitants; they are given to new people who come in from the London County Council area. That is producing a real grievance among the inhabitants of the district.

Immediately after the war the London County Council made arrangements by which sons and daughters of tenants were allowed to go on to the L.C.C. housing list and were found houses on different new housing estates built by the L.C.C. But the L.C.C.'s own lists in London grew so large that that privilege was cancelled. At present the L.C.C. allot 50 houses a year to be filled by the Dagenham Council and the Dagenham Council make a financial contribution in return for that concession. When these houses are allocated, they are not allocated in Dagenham, however; they are allocated on other L.C.C. estates very much further out. The result is that Londoners are allocated houses in Dagenham and frequently have to travel a long way to and from their work, whereas the people from Dagenham may be allocated houses in some other L.C.C. estate, such as Aveley, and may have to travel a long way to and from their places of work. That is not at all a satisfactory solution.

The fact is that council estates grow up as individuals do, and when an estate is 20 or 30 years old it should be considered to be adult and arrangements should be made, I believe, for it to be transferred, if the people wish, to the local authority within whose boundaries it happens to be. We have already made such arrangements for new towns. When the new towns corporations have completed their job and when the new towns are going concerns, they will hand over the houses and all their properties to the local authority on the spot. That is a very useful precedent which I suggest we should now follow in the case of estates built by councils outside their own boundaries, when these estates become mature.

In Dagenham such a large part of the property belongs to an outside council that it is a very acute problem, but it is also serious in neighbouring areas, such as Barking and Ilford, where many houses are also L.C.C. owned, although in those areas the L.C.C. houses form a very much smaller part of the total housing available.

I suggest that after 10 years, when an estate has settled down, the local authority on the spot should have the option of approaching the Ministry of Housing and the owning authority—the L.C.C. or any other owning council—and of making proposals to take over the estate with, of course, all outstanding financial liabilities. Certain problems may arise. One might concern the question of repairs. I suggest that if the owning council has not maintained the estate in proper repair, then that should be borne in mind from the financial point of view when the estate is taken over and some arbitration should be arranged by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to settle how far the repairs have been done.

This problem is already becoming important in many areas around London where estates were built by the L.C.C. before the war. Many new estates have been constructed since the war or are under construction now, so that this problem will grow as estates in other authorities, such as those at Harold Hill, Ockendon and Slough, mature in the years to come. I suggest that we should take steps now to enable a local authority to take over an estate after ten years if it wants to do so.

This is mainly a problem of greater London, and even if we have a reform of local government, as the Government have proposed, it is unlikely that the boundaries of London will be extended so as to cover all the estates which the L.C.C. have built in every part of southern England. Even in the north and the Midlands, many estates have been built by local authorities outside their boundaries, and if these estates are not subsequently brought inside their boundaries, a similar problem will arise.

We ought to pass a Bill of this kind so as to enable any authority which finds an outside authority owning an estate which is growing up within its boundaries to take it over. This is a serious problem that is likely to grow in the years to come; a solution on these lines is the right way to deal with it.

I rise to oppose this Bill. My first point is that I think that it would have been good manners, to put it politely, if, before a matter of this kind was raised, affecting the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), some discussions had taken place with the people likely to be affected. So far as I know, there is no demand in that part of Greater London for this Bill. I know of one area close to my hon. Friend's constituency which is not supporting the Bill, and I think that it would have been well if talks had gone on, particularly with the authorities which my hon. Friend mentioned or with the London County Council, before such a proposition was put forward.

The fact is that in Dagenham and Barking, and all the areas round that side of London, a great deal of additional housing for the local inhabitants has been provided with the co-operation of the L.C.C. In one case, co-operation is now going on in the building of a new estate, and it is quite false, therefore, to give the impression to the House and to the country that there is friction between the local authorities in that part of Essex and the L.C.C.

There are also some practical difficulties. Even if the House decided that this Bill should be put through—and that in itself would be very difficult to do at this late stage of the Session—the fact is that none of the local authorities immediately concerned could possibly stand the financial loss to them if they had to take over these estates. The Becontree Estate of the L.C.C. has cost London many millions of pounds.

An enormous sum is spent each year in maintaining the houses on this estate in decent condition and providing social facilities for the people living in the area which. if they had to depend on the financial ability of the local authorities, probably would not be provided. If the estates were taken over by the authorities in whose areas they are, then those authorities would also have to take over the balance of the capital cost and all the deficits each year, because there are large financial losses on all these estates year by year. It seems to me that my hon. Friend has not given very much thought to what this Bill might mean to the authorities on behalf of whom he seemed to be speaking.

The only reason the London County Council have ever gone outside the county is because of the enormous housing list which they have.

I agree that it applies to many other large areas in the country. The L.C.C. had special powers to enable it to go outside the county because of the enormous overcrowding in London. I know that my hon. Friend has taken some part in preaching the need for the proper town planning of London and all our other great cities, but in the case of London we should have to decant at least 500,000 Londoners to somewhere outside London. [An HON. MEMBER: "To Scotland."] If Scotland would be prepared to bear the cost of taking 500,000 Londoners and providing them with jobs as good as they have in London, with as good housing accommodation and all the social facilities, I have no doubt that a good many London Scotsmen would be willing to go home.

I think that proper consideration should be given to the enormous financial implications and to the way in which the staff run and maintain these estates. I believe that the Bill, if passed, would lead to unnecessary trouble and friction in these areas, and would be bad for housing and bad for the people of London who have spent so many millions of pounds on this project. I hope the House will refuse leave to introduce the Bill.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 12, and negatived.