Archives for category: Housing

Streets

Most of us take our address for granted. We buy or rent a property and there it is. Usually a number, a street name and a place to act as an identifier for our home so that our friends can find it and we can receive our electricity bill promptly. However an address is also a legal requirement on a property covering everything from ownership documentation to insurance and ease of locating it by the emergency services. 

Before 1765 all properties were known by name alone but in that year an act of parliament decreed that all new properties in towns and cities should be numbered to their road starting from 1 e.g.42 Shrewsbury Gardens. Generally odd numbers are on the left of the street and even numbers on the right, facing out of town. Some towns (notably London) however employ an out and back arrangement with 1 – 10 up one side then 11 – 20 returning down the other. New properties subsequently created on a street will probably employ a suffix e.g. 42B. If a house is divided into flats the suffixes will generally be applied upwards so that 42A is at a lower level than 42B; however a basement may have a higher suffix such as 42C if it was converted at a later date. The ground floor will have the lowest number but whether this is 42 or 42A depends on local policy towards property sub-division. Sometimes the number 13 is missed out from a road for superstitious reasons. It may be absent altogether from new, or replaced at a later date with 11A or 12A. Where there are uneven numbers of houses on each side of the road the odd or even numbered side will just continue e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10. 

Once a property has had a number it must always officially have a number, though it’s possible a number may change in exceptional circumstances. It is generally accepted for a householder to apply a name of their choice on an unofficial basis providing the number remains on official documentation; but again local policy may vary. If several small buildings are removed and replaced with a larger one a series number may appear such as 271-275 as frequently seen on city centre office blocks. 

If your property is given a name from new these days, odds are it’s a block of flats. Blocks are generally given names on new developments, but also on established streets where there isn’t sufficient space in the existing number series for all the flats, however in this case it will also have a property number. So if a large house such as 67 Manchester Road is pulled down and replaced by a block of flats, the new block will be called something like Priory Court, 67 Manchester Road and its individual units in series thus: 5 Priory Court, 67 Manchester Road. It’s unlikely that the word “Flat” will be in the official address so it is just “5” rather than “Flat 5”. However if the block does not have a name which is rare, but does happen, then the word “Flat” is used e.g. Flat 5, 67 Manchester Road. When a new block of flats is built on a major estate development it is less likely to have a street number. The address will be as flat then block then street e.g.84 Vulcan House, Lockwood Way; alternatively the flats may just be numbered to the street without reference to the block at all but this only happens in the case of fairly small blocks.  

The only other occasions a new property is given just a name is when it is being built or converted on a street with no history of numbering; usually in a small village or on an old industrial estate. 

Historic street naming can be problematic. Modern data management demands consistency and for that reason punctuation marks, such as apostrophes for example, are no longer widely used and tend to be removed from official documentation, frequently incurring the wrath of a grammatically correct resident. They were however used in the past and this sometimes creates problems when searching for an address in a database; not least because if the field isn’t configured correctly it will remove everything following it. Ambiguous spellings are also an occasional problem; it is not unknown for a street name to be spelt differently at either end. 

So who thinks of street names and block names? This varies from place to place; sometimes the local councillors will choose names, other times it is down to an individual council officer. Frequently the developer will request a name of their choice or it may be opened up to local consultation as often happens on major new social housing developments. In all cases the council officer responsible will have to consult various bodies; notably the emergency services, who may veto a chosen name if they deem it unclear or liable to cause confusion.  

Usually in the UK, the names of living people are not used unless they are royalty. This is to avoid honouring somebody who is later disgraced, and to avoid controversy. Beyond that there may be a specified theme such as trees: Oak; Ash; Hazel etc. If it is an individual road or block that needs a name then local history will invariably be consulted to acknowledge a former factory or historic personality. If an estate is built on a disused airfield, its blocks or roads may be named after aircraft types; a development on a paddock may choose horse breeds. Look out for streets called The Meadows or Orchard Way for a clue as to what was there before; or The Beechings (after Dr Beeching) which will usually be built on former railway land.  

Writing this I can think of an exception to every rule I have given but for the most part these rules are followed making our streets and towns easier to navigate however sometimes addresses that look official aren’t actually legally recognised. If nobody can ever find you on their “system” then it might be worth checking with your local authority street naming and numbering officer to make sure everything is in order. It usually costs a few pounds to register an address but it’ll save you a lot of bother at a later date if you need a quick sale or to make an insurance claim.

 

 

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larner2a

I must have been seven or eight and was being taken to Birmingham on the train. As the train entered the city fringes I remember very clearly passing a huge forest of high-rise flats. I now know this was the Castle Vale estate and there must have been well over thirty towers. They were standing ethereal above the haze of a misty morning; at once beautiful and forbidding. As a child from the country they were the epitome of urban living; glamorous and sophisticated. They were my fantasy. I wanted to live somewhere like that. 

That train journey was in the very late seventies when the development was a little over ten years old; relatively modern in housing terms, but by that stage the estate had a reputation for crime and deprivation that was far from the glamour that youthful me imagined. It was designed as a solution to urban deprivation; a massive overspill estate on a former airfield accommodating 20,000 of the cities least advantaged residents. 

Unwittingly I was living the vision of the planners. From the safe distance of the railway this estate had an awe-inspiring beauty stimulating the imagination. But that was the closest middle-class kids like me were ever going to get to it. The real story for those living there was one of vandalism, crime and squalor compounded by poor maintenance and ever diminishing services. Since then, this and similar estates in every major British city have gradually been demolished. Only two blocks at Castle Vale now remain amid the replacement low-rise development because schools were incorporated into the structures and demolition was too complicated. The standard of living has improved and it is now regarded as a model of community-led regeneration. 

Most commentators now see high-rise housing estates as a huge mistake born out of the ceaseless optimism of modernist sixties planners who had an idealised vision of an urban utopia which was ultimately defeated by human nature. The estates were laid out paying great attention to visual aesthetics to reflect that fashionable post-war idea of what the future might hold but with less thought to the wind tunnels and eddies they created. Going almost unnoticed was the fact that these were homes to thousands of people; these were where people actually lived. The inhabitants were the poor and the vulnerable; the elderly and disadvantaged; this was where disaffected youths congregated in stairwells and objects were thrown from high windows; where lifts broke down and weren’t fixed and as they became older crime and anti-social behaviour increased making them ever less desirable. For all their architectural splendour this type of high-density communal living is best removed from the housing stock, but it would be wise to remember they were built in response to specific problems. 

The danger here is that the economic realities which produced these huge estates are back with us today. The competing interests of a desperate need for additional housing and a powerful conservation movement; both equally valid could yet focus developers on the advantages of large scale high-rise development to make the best use of limited space. The signs are there. Modern blocks are getting taller and wider. Initially most are intended for first-time buyers but invariably they are becoming buy-to-let after a few years. Occasionally even very tall residential towers are springing up across London and other cities marketed as desirable new concepts in urban living which is exactly how the original estates came about. How long will it be before we see a twenty-first century Castle Vale trumpeted as the solution to all our housing problems? The post-war slab sides, flat tops and regimented rows may be a thing of the past but how much better will living conditions be with amorphous design and air-conditioning?

 

thamesmead

For most of the last thirty years we have been told by the government that we should maintain close family ties and support our parents and grandparents in their old age rather than allowing them to become a burden on the state. This, along with stable (heterosexual of course) marriage, is usually referred to as “traditional family values”. At the same time governments have told us that if we can’t find a job we should move to where we can; assuming we have the skills of course. For many of us these two aspirations are contradictory. If we do one, we can’t do the other. 

As of April 1st, those council and housing association tenants claiming housing benefit from the state for their living accommodation are subject to what is now commonly known as the “bedroom tax”. Actually it’s not a tax at all; it’s a benefit cut, but to those affected the result is the same. Tenants will lose money for every spare room that their council deems them to have. Each adult or couple is entitled to one room but children under sixteen must share if they are of the same sex (don’t get me started on gender expression at this point!) and those under ten whatever their sex. Separated parents will not be allowed to keep a room for their child to visit; nor will it be possible to keep a room for a child who is away studying. 

Of course, as with so much in this country, the “bedroom tax” was dreamt up by political advisers who live and work in London. Down here there are huge numbers of one-bedroom properties and ample public transport connecting them together. Unfortunately this situation does not extend much beyond the M25. In most provincial towns and cities one bedroom properties are few and far between. Land is cheaper and there was never any need to build them in such large amounts. Now people will be priced out of larger houses as incomes outside London are much lower, yet there are less one-bedroom properties for them to move into. The result will be increased homelessness, empty houses, dispersed families and overcrowding as children share rooms and make way for lodgers; as a consequence of all this there will be a likely increase in domestic violence and child abuse as well as an increased birth rate. This has all happened before during the industrial revolution. 

Through the late twentieth century we’ve lost sight of the risks that serious, widespread overcrowding brings as we’d largely eradicated it. It is not just a problem for those who have the misfortune to live in those conditions; it’s a problem for all of us. Infections and diseases spread like wildfire in cold, damp and overcrowded conditions. The prevalence of air-conditioning in our modern trains and buildings will ensure that the overall health of the nation will take a tumble with consequent effects on the wider economy through sickness absence and reduced productivity. 

Meanwhile in London; more and more studios and one-bedroom properties are springing up and they’re getting smaller and smaller. Often they are marketed as “executive” or “luxury” but to me they look like the sink estates of the future. These properties also inevitably lack storage space; few new flats inside the M25 have any storage areas – a luxury you may think – but fairly crucial if you want such basics as an ironing board, a mop and bucket, a broomstick and a clothes horse. These usually have to live in the bathroom and kitchen where they become dangerous obstacles. Most flats do not have a garden so there is no drying space for clothes leading to damp within the building (especially in winter) or the need for a washer-dryer; either way heating and electricity bills will increase accordingly and as we all know electricity is expensive. In these conditions mould and condensation become problematic and have a negative effect on our health. 

The result of the bedroom tax here will see older people living in the cold, damp upstairs flats that they had to move to when their children left, struggling to store the necessary items to keep themselves clean and safe. They won’t be able to have family members to stay so the NHS/DSS will have to step in and help. People of all ages will need to relocate to unfamiliar areas away from friends, families and the social networks that they rely on. 

Besides the bedroom tax, there is a clear need now to set stringent standards in housing quality. It would be good to see the reintroduction of a reasonably generous minimum floor area and designated bedrooms should also have a minimum size suitable to accommodate a king size double bed, wardrobe and chest of drawers with sufficient space to walk around them. Every new property should come with a storage cupboard of sufficient size to accommodate the household necessities; and if no drying space is available then there ought to be sufficient space to have a proper electric dryer alongside the other necessary appliances. Dividing walls between neighbouring flats should be solid and sound proofed; and all rooms, particularly bathrooms and kitchens should have an opening external window. 

Provision of housing should also be more carefully planned. Market forces are not necessarily best in this area; instead social housing ought to be specified according to need and then built by private firms within the prescribed guidelines. One, two and three bed properties need to be constructed in numbers proportionate to existing projected demographic requirements rather than endless executive studio apartments with high maintenance fees which will never see an executive within their design life. With these rules in place and a commitment to demolish older properties which don’t conform I believe that overall standards of living will be improved immeasurably.