London's Pulse: Medical Officer of Health reports 1848-1972

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Lambeth 1925

[Report of the Medical Officer of Health for Lambeth Borough]

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Reconditioning v. Demolition of Unfit Houses.
Much consideration is being given to the important question of
improving slum areas otherwise than by the demolition of the unfit
houses and the building of new houses on the cleared sites, the only
method which is at present available for Local Authorities to carry out
at the expense of the Public Funds under the existing Housing Acts.
This adumbrated change of policy is particularly interesting to the
Lambeth Borough Couuncil, as it is really the proposed adoption of
the policy of such Council, and may be described as the " Lambeth
policy," as carried out within the Lambeth area, as a routine, for more
than 25 years, but more energetically and more in detail since the War,
during the past six years, since the appointment of the two special
Housing Sanitary Inspectors, who are' whole-time officers, who were
appointed for the purpose when the Housing, Town Planning, etc.,
Act, 1919 (a post-War Statute), came into force.
The " Lambeth policy " of keeping houses under official supervision
and serving notices as required for defects found, upon the
owners concerned, has proved a marked success, as shown by the
well-known fact that there are practically no so-called "slum areas"
(in the usual acceptation of the term) within the Borough, as there are
in some neighbouring and other Metropolitan and provincial districts.
This fact is worthy of re-emphasis, as it has been emphasized again and
again in Lambeth Annual Reports and Special Housing Reports for
many years past.
Experience shows that many of the houses in "slum areas " can be
modernised and made habitable—reconditioned, without the very heavy
outlay that is involved by a demolition scheme. Capital must be
available, however, and new legislative powers will have to be conferred
upon Local Authorities if they are to have the necessary machinery to
recondition rather than, or as well as, to demolish unfit houses on an
area. At present, such work can only be done by private enterprise,
but the necessary capital, and consequently the necessary labour and
materials, are not forthcoming. If the Local Authorities are able to
step in and finance or undertake similar work, there can be but little
doubt that important improvements can be effected, and the present
standard of housing conditions raised, and, subsequently and consequentially,
also, the conditions of the tenants, who have responsibilities
as well as the landlords, in regard to private property. Under existing
procedure, an area, that is regarded as a slum area, must be compulsorily
purchased by a Local Authority with the object of demolishing
the houses, situated within such area, and afterwards of building new
ones. The price paid is generally the site value, with practically
nothing allowed for the houses, which, by virtue of being on the site,
are ipso facto deemed to be insanitary and unfit. Such, however, is
never the case in so far as all the houses are concerned, as there are
always some houses that are more or less fit (structurally and
sanitarily), but are crowded in with houses that are admittedly unfit,