Re-working brownfield sites for new council homes


Curtis Gardens, Acocks Green - Birmingham - built on a cleared site, and photographed in the 1960s (Copyright Elliott Brown)


What is the future for outdated housing estates from the 1950's built on brownfield sites in the UK? Should they be demolished or re-invented, designed with our current ideas on environmental protection and with communities at heart?


Historic England has written about the history of the creation of council homes post second world war, pointing to when the Housing Act of 1st August, 1930, was given Royal Assent:


'This single Act led to the clearance of more slums than at any time previously, paving the way for the creation of many post-war council housing estates.... Although the intentions of the 1930 Housing Act were to improve living conditions for the poorest households, the urban renewal strategy of slum clearances was a controversial one. Critics argued that often the housing built to replace demolished streets was too expensive for many tenants to rent', it states.


It notes also that many estates were built on greenfield sites that were 'miles from the nearest city centre, so shops, pubs and clubs and even churches were included in the layout'. It described how at Chelmsley Wood on the Clifton Estate, the homes were built on acres of green space to the east of Birmingham, known as Bluebell Woods. The design brief was the separation of cars and pedestrians in a planning style known as the 'Radburn layout', which itself was an American off-shoot of the English garden city concept. Although it has social issues, Historic England also states how the development has elected three Green Party councillors and evolved numerous grassroots community organisations such as the Gro Organic group that are working towards environmental urban regeneration.


In recent news, West Midlands Combined Authority has now announced the demolition and redevelopment of a housing estate on an original brownfield site, in north Coventry, with an investment by the authority of £1 million.


Wood End was built by the city council in the late 1950's to rehouse families from the inner city as well as people moving to Coventry to work in the then booming car industry. But the area's fortunes declined and it became one of the city's most deprived neighbourhoods. It has now been earmarked for major redevelopment together with the nearby Manor Farm, Henley Green and Deedmore neighourhoods - a project that will eventually see more than 3,300 new homes built.


Houses off Milverton Road on the Wood End estate are being knocked down in order to pave the way for developer Keepmoat Homes to build 94 high quality new homes on the 5.5 acre site, of which 20 will be available for social rent in partnership with Citizen Housing. The scheme will generate dozens of employment opportunities, including apprenticeships and work placements, which will de delivered throughout the lifetime of the project.


Cllr Mike Bird, WMCA portfolio holder for housing and land and leader of Walsall Council added:


'By unlocking brownfield sites like Wood End for redevelopment we are also relieving pressure on the green belt and helping the region build its way towards a successful post-Covid-19 recovery that is greener and more socially inclusive.'


While issues of building homes on the green belt will remain for councils, as well as ensuring that community facilities and place-making is well designed, it is interesting to read Historic England's record of how some councils' planning avoided 'eating up the countryside' in the 1950's:


'There were examples of small-scale development on cleared sites, with Birmingham City Council making great use of brownfield land. One of the notable features of this urban planning was the commissioning of public art to sit within the new estates. Lauded as a 1960s' time capsule, one of the city's developments is Curtis Gardens in Acocks Green. The small estate, which consisted of three 12-storey apartment buildings and houses that were meant to provide accommodation for elderly residents, was built in 1964 following years of campaigning by Labour party activist John Curtis.


'Play facilities for children were designed into the Curtis Gardens development and the sculptor John Bridgeman was commissioned by landscape designer Mary Frances Mitchell to create a piece of artwork. Known simply as 'Play Sculpture', the fish-like piece is listed Grade II and is a rate example of a play sculpture surviving in its original location.'

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