|Rushden Echo, 15th December, 1933, transcribed by Gill Hollis
Rushden Urban District Council
Rushden’s Great Attack On Housing Problems
“Rushden has no slum population,” declared Mr. Leonard Perkins at Wednesday’s meeting the most important one in recent years of the Rushden Urban District Council. Other members agreed with that view, and paid tributes to the cleanliness of tenants who have been “struggling under adversity,” but the Council, in coming to grips with the long-standing problem of worn-out and insanitary property, found it necessary to order the demolition of over 20 houses, the reconstruction of many more, and a considerable number of repairs.
Before deciding to build 70 new houses in Highfield-road and 24 “replacement” houses, the Council heard striking evidence of a demand for homes in Rushden, and it was revealed that hundreds of families have been on the waiting list for years.
Mr. Roe launched out against the evil of sub-letting, and demanded closer control of Council houses, disclosing that tenants have been sub-letting without permission and charging high rents to the occupants of their rooms.
The chief business of the evening was to pass resolutions concerning house property which has become unfit for occupation, and lengthy recommendations were presented by the Health and Sanitary Committee.
The report stated that the Medical Officer (Dr. Muriset) attended a meeting of the committee on November 22nd and submitted a report on various houses which he had inspected under the Housing Act, 1930.
The sub-committee, consisting of Messrs. Tysoe, Spencer, Greenfield and Hornsby, appointed by the committee on September 19th, reported that they had, together with the Sanitary Inspector, inspected all the houses contained in the Medical Officer’s report. They suggested that the properties be divided into four groups:-
Properties in the clearance areas were:-
The sub-committee stated that the houses marked red on the plans were, by reason of their disrepair, or sanitary defects, dangerous or injurious to health, and unfit for human habitation, and that the only satisfactory method dealing with the conditions was the demolition of the buildings.
The sub-committee also stated that the houses marked green on the plans were by reason of their disrepair, or sanitary defects, dangerous or injurious to health, and unfit for human habitation, and the only satisfactory method of dealing with the conditions was the demolition of the buildings. Owing, however, to the age and other conditions of the occupants, the sub-committee recommended that the demolition, in these cases, be deferred until such time as they cease to be occupied by the present occupiers.
The committee gave very careful consideration to the report and resolved to recommend to the Council that the areas above mentioned be clearance areas under Section 1 of the Act; the areas marked red to be demolished and cleared by December 31st, 1934, and the areas marked green to be demolished and cleared within twelve months of their ceasing to be occupied by the present occupiers.
The properties placed in Group 2 were:-
With regard to these houses the sub-committee stated that in their opinion they are dangerous or injurious to the health of the inhabitants by reason of their disrepair, that such conditions can be effectively remedied without the demolition of the buildings, and that therefore they be improvement areas under Section 7 of the Act.
The committee approved and resolved to recommend to the Council accordingly, and also that the Clerk be instructed to take the necessary steps under the Statute.
The properties placed in Group 3 were:-
The sub-committee were of opinion that these houses were, owing to their sanitary defects, not fit for human habitation, but that they were capable, at a reasonable expense, of being rendered fit. They therefore recommended that notices be served upon the owners, requiring them to do the works, as specified in the notices, within a reasonable period, not being less than 21 days from the service thereof.
The committee considered the list of repairs necessary to render the houses fit for human habitation and resolved to recommend to the Council that statutory notices be served upon the owners under Section 17 of the Act.
With regard to the property placed in Group 4, Nos. 17, 18 and 19, Woburn Place, the sub-committee stated that in their opinion these houses were unfit for human habitation owing to their state of disrepair and sanitary defects, and were not capable, at a reasonable expense, of being rendered fit. They therefore recommended that these houses be closed for human habitation, but not demolished, and that the Inspector be instructed to serve statutory notices on the owners under Section 19 of the Act.
The committee approved and resolved to recommend to the Council accordingly.
It appeared from the report of the sub-committee that if the foregoing recommendations were carried into effect, a minimum of 24 new houses would be required to be constructed to re-house the persons displaced.
It was accordingly resolved to recommend the Council to authorise the Housing Committee to prepare a scheme for the provision of the 21 houses required, under Sections 9 and 26 of the Act, and report to a future meeting.
“Very Serious Problem”
Dr. Greenfield introduced the report and observed that he would like to make a full statement, as he took it that only those who had been members of the Sanitary Committee had had the opportunity of examining this question.
“It has been said,” continued the doctor, “that we have not any slum houses in Rushden, but those of us who have been round to inspect the property are convinced that there is a considerable number of houses that should be swept away. It is a very serious problem that has been talked about for years, and at last we have come to grips with it.
“It was on the report of Dr. Mackintosh, the County Medical Officer, that the committee acted, and if he has done his work as thoroughly all over the county as at Rushden, then he had done a very remarkable work indeed.
“The committee thought it right and proper that we should see every one of these houses ourselves, both upstairs and down, as we had a certain duty to the owners as well as to ourselves.
“The conditions, I think, astonished several members of the committee. There are actually houses in Rushden that consist of two rooms only, with no scullery, no water, no sink and no larder; and there are cases where one w.c. serves four or five houses. In fact, some of the houses are extraordinarily bad.
“There are people living in these houses who recognise they are bad and are anxious to get out, but there are others who, though they would like to get out were they able to, have not the means to do so. Still more strange, there are people living in these deplorable conditions who do not want another house and want to live on as they are.”
Describing the various areas set forth in the scheme, Dr. Greenfield said the houses in the improvement areas required considerable structural alteration putting two houses into one or building a new scullery or staircase. Besides the four main classes they had seen a large number of other houses which might have been included in the report, but they thought they could deal with these in the ordinary way of business by serving notices on the owners to do certain repairs. They did not wish to bring these people into publicity at the moment, but might do so later if the notices were not carried out.
There was still another class of house, inhabited by old people to whom it would be a great hardship to turn them out. They felt that these cases could be left over for the period of the tenants’ lives, but they would require that no other families should be allowed to live there afterwards.
No Slum Population
Mr. Perkins: When these houses are demolished it will not be until such time as we have erected new houses in which to place the tenants or other people with whom the tenants arrange an exchange. We don’t want the public to think these poor people will have to go to the Workhouse.
Mr. Perkins thought that Dr. Greenfield’s presentation of the case would enable the people to see that the Council was moving in the matter without overdoing things in the first instance. The scheme would be useful, too, in getting landlords to improve property which was not a credit to the town.
It had been said that they had no slums in Rushden, and in one sense that was true. They had no slums because they had not a slum population. There were many who, when put into better houses, would be better tenants.
Mr. Richardson observed that in some cases a space might be left which could be used for the benefit of the town. He wondered if it would be possible to acquire sites and use them in this manner.
The Chairman: That will have to come afterwards. It is a useful suggestion.
Dr. Greenfield: My remarks on these houses might possibly be open to misconstruction. It is true that some are thoroughly bad and in a dirty condition, but there are other cases where, although conditions are thoroughly bad, the tenants have made an extraordinary success of them; struggling under adversity, they have made a wonderful success of what they have got. I hope people will take notice of that.
There were certain cases marked for improvement, added Dr. Greenfield, where the landlords might prefer to shut the houses up.
The Chairman said the tenants were exceedingly willing for the committee to see the houses, and placed no obstacle in the way. He, too, could testify that many tenants made the houses really nice, although they were not fit to live in. He thought the scheme was a step in the right direction.
Mr. Hornsby said that while a large number of houses were in a very poor condition structurally they were practically worn out it was pleasing to see the cleanliness of a large number of the tenants. They also found that quite a number would be only too pleased to get into better houses so that they could have better facilities and better conditions.
The complete report was then adopted, and the necessary resolutions were passed.
A House For Twopence
In accordance with notice given at the last meeting, Mr. Roe asked the Housing Committee chairman to give the number of sub-let unfurnished rooms in Council houses, to state whether in the committee’s opinion the rents charged to sub-tenants were excessive, and to say what action the committee was going to take.
Mr. Allen replied that he had prepared a list of all tenants who sub-let, and would pass it round for the members to look at while he explained it.
Mr. Roe: I only want to know the figures.
Mr. Allen said the Housing Inspector or the other rent collectors called at every house and according to their investigations there were 17 tenants who sub-let. Seventeen out of 602 was not a great number. In one or two cases the rent being charged was excessive. In one case the tenant paid 10s. 2d. and sub-let for 7s.
Mr. Roe: With all respect, that is the information I have found out.
Mr. Allen: I am only answering the questions I was asked.
The Chairman: It is rather complicated.
Mr. Allen said there was a rather bad case that let the committee down. The applicants said they had a tubercular child who was coming out of hospital. Immediately they had the house they sub-let. The rent was 9s. 7d., the sub-tenant paid 7s., and the legal tenant had a house for 2s. 7d. there was another case where the rent was 10s. 2d. and the sub-tenant actually paid 10s.
More Control Wanted
Mr. Roe: My reason for asking for the information is that I have had statements made to me with regard to sub-letting which I think is very unsatisfactory. I have made full inquiries over these cases and am bound to admit that they are very unsatisfactory to this Council. I was under the impression that Council tenants were not allowed to sub-let without the written permission of this Council. It has been printed in the rent books that no tenant shall sub-let without written permission, and this means that the Council has power to give permission, with which I quite agree provided the accommodation is there and there is no overcrowding. I quite agree than tenants should be allowed to sub-let in some cases, but as far as I can find out the committee are not consulted at all. More control of our Council houses is absolutely necessary.
Mr. Roe then quoted a number of cases which he said he could substantiate. In the first case he enquired into, the application for a house was made by a man who had a wife and a delicate child. Some time afterwards a doctor’s certificate was handed in, emphasising the urgency of this case. In view of the child needing a separate bedroom, special consideration was given, and a house was allotted in August. Sub-tenants were actually occupying a sitting room and two bedrooms before the tenants took possession, and it meant that the delicate child was either to occupy his parents’ bedroom or sleep downstairs.
One house was occupied by 11 persons three adults and eight children; and two of the adults and six children were sub-tenants.
One tenant paid an inclusive rent of 10s. 2d. and sub-let two rooms for 10s., so that he actually paid twopence a week.
“These tenants are taking advantage of those who have been less fortunate than themselves” declared Mr. Roe.
Mr. Roe moved that the committee should consider the matter, and suggested that proper legal forms of tenancy should be signed by all Council tenants, and that in cases where the Council gave its sanction to sub-letting a record should be made of the rents charged. “We are one of the very few Councils who do not insist upon a legal agreement,” he added.
Mr. Perkins, seconding, said it seemed a very fair proposal, and would enable the committee to frame regulations so that the abuse should be stopped.
“The man who can get a house for twopence a week is doing very well; he should be on some branch of the Finance Committee, or in the House of Commons. He is certainly very clever in his way. But they don’t tell us these things before they get the house; they creep in quietly. It shows that we have done right in appointing a housing inspector, and I have no doubt the officer will go to a house where there are 11 people and serve a notice to abate the nuisance.”
Mr. Allen: We have difficulties that I cannot explain in public. We do not want to turn people into the streets. We have already informed the tenant in one case that he is doing an illegal thing, and that is as far as we can go at the present. These people must go somewhere and with the housing shortage it is exceedingly difficult. Mr. Roe’s resolution was carried.
70 New Houses
The Housing Committee reported that as suggested by the Minister of Health in his Circular No. 1334 and in pursuance of a resolution of the Council, a conference of local builders, friendly societies, public utility societies, building societies and other persons interested had been held at the Council Buildings, on Tuesday, October 24th, when the provisions of the Housing Act (1933) were thoroughly explained.
The conference was very poorly attended, and up to the present no proposals had been received for the erection of houses under the Act.
The Committee were satisfied that if further houses for persons of the working classes were to be provided, the Council would have to undertake their erection.
An estimate of the cost of the construction of further houses, including the purchase of land, and the making of the road with the necessary sewer, was submitted by the Acting Clerk (Mr. W. L. Beetenson).
From this estimate it appeared that owing to the very favourable condition of the money market (loans being now obtainable at 3¼ per cent.), houses of the non-parlour, three bedroom type (similar to those just completed on the Highfield-road) could be built to let at a net rent of 6s. 3d. per week, provided the Council contributed an annual sum of £2/15/6 for each house.
The estimate was considered at length, and ultimately the committee resolved to recommend the Council to instruct the Acting Clerk to apply to the Ministry of Health for permission to proceed with the erection of a further 56 houses of this type, on the Highfield-road, on these terms.
It was understood that this number would complete Highfield-road, and the Surveyor was instructed to prepare a plan for the lay-out of the remainder of the land on the Irchester-road site.
Hundreds Of Applicants
Mr. Allen said they held the meeting to see if they could get local builders to build houses that could be let to the working classes at a reasonable rent. The result was practically nil, and it now fell upon the Council to provide these houses.
There was a great need for houses in the town. The application book contained 304 names that were there in June, 1931, and these people had not yet been successful in getting houses. He had also in the office approximately 300 further applications. He was not saying that all these applications were urgent. Some were exchanges from one house to another, but in the main they had about 400 good applications for Council houses it might be more than that.
There appeared to be a vast number of workers coming into the town far more than those who went out to work.
Mr. Allen then quoted as independent evidence the special housing report of the County Medical Officer, stating that there was a very serious shortage of houses within the rental capacity of people employed in Rushden.
“In view of the shortage of houses in the town,” continued Mr. Allen, “and also the high rents which are now being paid by sub-tenants, the Housing Committee thought about 100 houses would be a start, but some of us did not consider these would cope with the case. Then the Acting Clerk got out an estimate of the cost. We could build to let at 6s. 3d. a week (provided the Council contributed an annual sum of £2 15s. 6d. for each house), plus rates, which would probably be about half-a-crown.
“As the Council has paid a subsidy in the past under the Wheatley Act, this £2 15s. 6d. is practically the same. I am asking for permission to alter 56 houses to 70, as the Surveyor has found that he can place 70 houses and so complete Highfield-road.”
The report was adopted without further comment, the number of houses being amended form 56 to 70.
Busy Rating Committee
Presenting a report from the Rating Committee, Mr. Hornsby said the decision to engage a man to measure the property had proved very helpful indeed and well worth the money.
Mr. Coles said the Committee had now completed its special work, and the Council should thank the members for the time and attention they had given. They had had 38 meetings and gone through strenuous times.
A vote of thanks proposed by Mr. Coles was carried.
The Chairman said that in addition to the 38 meetings a sub-committee had gone round to view the properties. There had been an immense amount of work done, and he hoped it would give satisfaction to the town.
A letter from the Social Service Committee invited the Council to give consideration to any scheme for the improvement of the town, such as the levelling of the Cemetery Field, that would absorb some of the unemployed.
The Chairman: If the Highways Committee could see their way to absorb even a few of the unemployed, it would be helpful.
On Mr. Allebone’s proposition, seconded by Mr. Horrell, the letter was referred to the Highways Committee.
Commenting on the receipt of a notice regarding the suspension of shop hours regulations next week, Mr. Roe said he believed it meant that shopkeepers next week would be able to keep open as long as they pleased, and would be able to keep open on the Thursday half-holiday provided they closed on the Bank Holiday and the half-holiday following.
The Acting Clerk (Mr. W. L. Beetenson): On the Bank Holiday and an extra half-day.
Plans Of New Road
Plans were passed for the following building enterprises:- Two houses, Prospect-avenue, Messrs. T. Swindall & Sons; two houses in Blinco Road, Messrs. T. Swindall & Sons; house on the Washbrook-road allotments, Messrs. T. Swindall & Sons; new road off the Wellingborough-road, Mr. Robert Marriott; garage at “Franklands,” Wellingborough-road, Mrs. W. Brown; store at the rear of No. 29, Queen-street, Mr. A. E. Abbott; garden store at No. 15, Park-avenue, Messrs. A. Sanders, Ltd.; cycle shed at No. 41, Purvis-road, Mr. F. J. Tyman; store shed at No. 10, Wentworth-road, Mr. P. Fett; garage, Wilson-road, Mr. F. J. Tyman; garage in Portland-road, at the rear of No. 50, Queen-street, Mr. Ralph Rice; garage, Wilson-road, Mr. G. E. Cave; garage at No. 52, Pratt-road, Mr. W. R. Dilley; garage at No. 35, Park-avenue, Mr. E. Gaunt.
Mr. Wilmott said that when he was a boy the site of the new street off Wellingborough-road was called “Water Running.”
A letter was received from H.M. Coroner, stating that at a recent inquest held by him the jury were of opinion that the portion of High-street between the railway bridge and the Station Approach was inadequately lighted, and that another lamp should be placed there.
The letter was referred to the Lighting Sub-committee.
Attention was called to the congestion often caused in High-street by the indiscriminate leaving of cars, and the Acting Clerk was requested to communicate with the police authorities with a view to a system of unilateral parking being adopted.
It was reported by the Inspector (Mr. F. S. F. Piper) that 175 tails were taken to the depot during Rat Week.
What Is A Drain?
The Inspector was authorised to charge fees of one guinea for the examination of drains at private houses and the issue of certificates.
Mr. Perkins: Have we got any nearer to a knowledge of what is a private drain and what is a sewer? (Laughter.)
The Chairman: I am afraid the law is in as much of a tangle as ever. They make decisions and then reverse them. It is a nice thing for the lawyers, I think.
A letter from the Director and Secretary of the Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington, stated the terms and conditions upon which articles would be loaned to the Rushden Hall Museum. These would mean alterations to the rooms an expense the Parks, Baths and Hall Committee did not feel justified in incurring.
Dr. Greenfield said the committee could not see their way at the moment to avail themselves of the offer, because there was a considerable number of regulations which had made it difficult for them.
The Surveyor (Mr. J. W. Lloyd) reported that the Hall gardens had been thoroughly cleaned. It was decided to sow them with grass seed.
In presenting the Housing Committee’s report Mr. Allen said he would like to make an announcement with regard to the frosty weather and the danger of water pipes freezing up and bursting. The Council owned about 600 houses, and a little precaution might save a great deal of money. The Inspector had sent round a handbill giving instructions, and their observance was very important.
The first report of the new Housing Inspector stated that the work of renovation was proceeding satisfactorily.
Mr. Allen said the report had been very helpful to the committee.
A list of rent arrears showed a reduction in the sum owing, but in one case the Clerk was instructed to serve notice to quit, and in four other cases a warning was issued.
Mr. Allen said there were one or two cases where the Council would have to take drastic action if there was no improvement.
One-and-a-half acres of spare land on the Irchester-road site were let for one year at a rent of £1 10s. per acre.
The Finance Committee agreed to the purchase by Mrs. F. Darlow of a portion of the land (at the rear of her house) acquired by the Council for the extension of Spencer Park.
Members in attendance were:- Messrs. J. Spencer, J.P. (Chairman), C. W. Horrell, C.A. (vice-chairman), W. C. Tarry, J. Roe, A. Allebone, C.C., F. Green, D. G. Greenfield, J. Allen, W. E. Capon, L. Perkins, M.B.E., A. Wilmott, G. W. Coles, J.P., J. Hornsby, J. T. Richardson and T. F. B. Newberry. Mr. T. Swindall, who was indisposed, sent an apology for non-attendance.