This week, Channel 4 showed the latest film from George Clarke, architect, TV presenter and Shelter ambassador. George Clarke’s Council Housing Scandal is a rallying cry for everyone who believes Britain desperately needs more social housing.
At its core, the documentary is an indictment of the terrible state of housing in this country. Clarke visits people living in temporary accommodation and sees the awful conditions they are forced to live in. He’s visibly moved by families forced into cramped flats in former office blocks with few amenities. He is angered by developers’ use of Permitted Development Rights to produce such miserable housing units, that barely qualify as homes – in issue that Shelter is also shining a light on.
And Clarke makes a powerful argument explaining why it doesn’t have to be this way. He lays out the case that at the root of the housing crisis is the decline in social housing.
Charting the rise and fall of social housing, Clarke traces the origins of mass social housing to the Addison Act – the film was broadcast on the 100th anniversary of the act passing into law – and then shows its decline through the Right To Buy policy.
Clarke explores the utopian vision of 1960s and 70s social housing estates by visiting Dawson’s Heights in East Dulwich, London, to see what we can learn in order to re-imagine social housing for the present. Clarke describes the estate as a ‘tranquil masterpiece’, and interviews its architect, Kate Macintosh. Macintosh firmly states that we need to build more social housing to meet a basic human need – having a place to call home.
The most moving part of the show sees Clarke talk about growing up in social housing in the New Town of Washington, near Sunderland. We visit his childhood home, meet his mother and see the prosperous town that was designed with social housing at its heart. He interviews planner Graham Bell, who designed Washington, and who says that ‘council housing has fallen off a cliff’. He echoes Clarke’s and Shelter’s belief that the government must build more social housing if they want to tackle our country’s current housing emergency.
Taking inspiration from further afield, Clarke also visits the modern social housing estate of Alt-Erlaa in Vienna, Austria, and interviews two generations of residents who are reaping the benefits of good quality social housing. It is astounding to see such a beautiful example of contemporary social housing, which has swimming pools, squash courts and even its own TV channel within the community.
The climax of the show is Clarke announcing that he is rolling up his sleeves and getting stuck into the problem himself. Working with Manchester City Council, he plans to design and build his own new, low carbon social housing estate. Could this be a template for a new generation of social housing? We’ll have to wait and see.
The message of George Clarke’s Council Housing Scandal is simple: if we’re going to end the housing emergency, building more social housing is key in providing the homes the country desperately needs. At Shelter we echo this call, but we need your help get politicians to act. Together we can turn this crisis around. Join the campaign and sign our petition calling on the government to build more social housing.
George Clarke’s Council Housing Scandal was shown on Channel 4 and you can watch it here.