Thursday, 19 June 2014

Pitsea-Laindon ... or ... affordable and self-build housing on brownfield sites

It seems that there is a general preference for large-scale housing developments - rather than small-scale, bottom-up, self-determined house-building.
Futures Forum: Lobbying: big business and big government in East Devon
Futures Forum: Crony capitalism and lemon socialism in East Devon........ The costs of "substantial growth and expanding business"

For example, developers would like to build on Sidmouth's green belt - as noted in a posting from SOS this week:

SOS believes the probable extension of the Local Plan period to 2031 will probably mean another 250 houses for Sidmouth, so be prepared to accept the Persimmon development at Woolbrook.

Consequences of EDDC’s failed Local Plan makes another big housing estate for Sidmouth more likely soon | Save Our SidmouthFutures Forum: Housing crisis in Sidmouth - what housing crisis? ... "Evidence for a housing shortage is hard to come by."

There is widespread concern about the preference for greenfield over brownfield:
Sprawl celebrated in glorious Devon | Brownfield Briefing
Development of brownfield sites should be prioritised over greenfield | Susie Bond
East Devon branch of Campaign to Protect Rural England raise concerns over amount of development planned across the district | Exeter Express and Echo
East Devon Win Key appeal as 5 year Shortfall is ‘Short term’ as Local Plan EIP opens | Decisions, Decisions, Decisions (see comment)

Are there not more imaginative ways of using resources?

Builders are using relaxed planning rules to construct “enormous slabs of thousands of boxlike” homes in towns and villages as though they were “dropped out of a C130 Hercules”, according to the presenter of the television programme Grand Designs.
Kevin McCloud intervened as the Government prepares to publish the results of a national review of architecture and the built environment

Builders 'churning out same old boxes’, says Kevin McCloud - Telegraph

And yet there are corners of brownfield which could be developed in a more sympathetic and creative way - if only 'regulations', as policed by local authorities, were not so restrictive:

The Great Domain of Cost-Plus: The Waste Production Economy

Kevin Carson | December 29th, 2010

Another example is the building codes, which criminalize self-built housing using cheap alternative construction techniques and the use of vernacular materials (earthships, papercrete, cob houses, rammed earth, etc.). Perhaps more importantly, they insulate incumbent contractors from competition by such techniques, and remove the competitive pressure to adopt lower cost methods. The effect is to inflate the cost of subsistence and create an overhead cost of daily living that can only be amortized by a large revenue stream—creating, it follows, a strong pressure for increased wage labor.

In the building trades, according to Ivan Illich the entry barrier enjoyed by licensed contractors "reduces and cancels opportunities for the otherwise much more efficient self-builder." Construction codes prevent most self-building, and drive the cost of professionally built housing to excessive levels. So-called "safety" regulations prohibit simpler and more user-friendly technologies that might be safely managed by an intelligent layman, instead mandating more complex technologies that can only be safely handled by licensed professionals. The system selects against simple technologies that can be safely controlled, and in favor of complex technologies that can only be safely wielded by a priesthood. For example, self-built housing in Massachusetts fell from around a third of all single-family houses to 11%, between 1945 and 1970. But by 1970 the feasible self-building technologies could have been far safer and more user-friendly than in 1940, had not the building trades actively suppressed them.

Illich elaborated in greater detail on both the potentially feasible convivial building technologies, and the measures taken to suppress them, in the case of the "vast tracts of self-built favelas, barriadas, or poblaciones" surrounding major Latin American cities.

Components for new houses and utilities could be made very cheaply and designed for self-assembly. People could build more durable, more comfortable, and more sanitary dwellings, as well as learn about new materials and options.... [But the government instead] defines the professionally built house as the functional unit, and stamps the self-built house a shanty. The law establishes this definition by refusing a building permit to people who cannot submit a plan signed by an architect. People are deprived of the ability to invest their own time with the power to produce use-value, and are compelled to work for wages and to exchange their earnings for industrially defined rented space.

Colin Ward's account of the Laindon and Pitsea communities in Essex parallels the Latin American favelas. Following a depression in agricultural land prices in the 1880s, some of the farmers in the area sold out to developers, who divided it up into cheap plots but did little in the way of development. In succeeding decades, many of those plots were sold (often for as little as 3 per 20-ft. frontage), and used not only for cheap bungalows but for every imaginable kind of self-built housing ("converted buses or 
railway coaches, with a range of army huts, beach huts and every kind of timber-framed shed, shack or shanty"), as working class people painstakingly hauled odds and ends of building material to the sites and gradually built up homes. During the WWII bombing of the East End of London, many working 
class families were bombed out or fled to plots in Pitsea and Laindon, increasing the area's population to 25,000 at the end of the war. In general, the sort of people who resorted to such self-built expedients "would never have qualified as building society mortgagees," owing to their low incomes. 

What in fact those Pitsea-Laindon dwellers had was the ability to turn their labour into capital over time, just like the Latin American squatters. The poor in the third-world cities—with some obvious exceptions — have a freedom that the poor in the rich world have lost....

You might observe of course that some of the New Town and developing towns have—more than most local authorities have—provided sites and encouragement to self-build housing societies. But a self-build housing association has to provide a fully-finished product right from the start, otherwise no consent under the building regulations, no planning consent, no loan. No-one takes into account the growth and improvement and enlargement of the building over time, so that people can invest out of income and out of their own time, in the structure.

Ward quotes Anthony King, in 'The Bungalow', on conditions in the first half of the twentieth century:

A combination of cheap land and transport, pre-fabricated materials, and the owner's labour and skills had given back to the ordinary people of the land, the opportunity denied to them for over two hundred years, an opportunity which, at the time, was still available to almost half of the world's non-industrialized populations: the freedom for a man to build his own house. It was a freedom that was to be very short-lived.

This kind of non-standard construction, "that gives the underprivileged a place of their own," has been stamped out by urban planners of the very cultural type who profess the most concern about the needs of the poor. Such legislation amounts to "a highly regressive form of indirect taxation."
The situation is doubly unfortunate, because urban areas are full of vacant lots which would be ideal for such self-build projects, but which are seen as uneconomical by conventional developers. Two architects, at a time when the London borough of Newham claimed to be running out of building sites, surveyed the borough for sites of less than a half-acre, excluding sites which were claimed for local authority housing proposals, or lay in exclusively industrial areas. They found sufficient land to house three to five thousand people in single-family dwellings. The council, however, told them that "all these small and scattered plots were useless.... Given the local authority's procedures, it would be uneconomic to develop them.” They would, however, have been found quite "economic" by those folks in Pittsea-Laindon.

Ivan Illich - Tools for Conviviality
Talking Houses: 10 Lectures: Amazon.co.uk: Colin Ward: Books
Center for a Stateless Society » The Great Domain of Cost-Plus: The Waste Production Economy


Jonathan Meades in Pitsea
TV documentary bids to dispel the stereotype and show Essex's true colours | Essex Chronicle
Jonathan Meades - The Joy of Essex (29 January 2013) - YouTube
BBC Four - Jonathan Meades: The Joy of Essex

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