Opinion: ‘Building prefabricated council homes could solve Bristol’s housing crisis’

Original article written by Stephen Fear for the Bristol Post Newspaper on 1st May 2019 (also featured on BristolPost.co.uk on 5th May 2019).

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Land and planning expert Stephen Fear on how he thinks the city can solve its housing crisis.

Stephen Fear, of land and planning company Fear Group, explains why Bristol should be building prefabricated council houses

With the possibility of a general election looming, all the political parties seem to be focusing on convincing the voting public of their credentials regarding rebuilding communities.

I have always believed that where a community exists, the need for policing is reduced.

The community has a way of self-policing; people look out for each other in a way that doesn’t exist without neighbourhood spirit.

Creating a community involves making sure that all sections of society can access adequate modern housing, whether buying or renting, that gives long-term security.

We desperately need more homes built that offer lifetime tenancies, where residents can hang up pictures or have a pet without referring to the landlord.

There is a place for private landlords who rent property on short-hold tenancies, but these should be a choice not a necessity.

I would like to see a reintroduction of council housing where young couples can guarantee having a home of their own.

This type of housing can be used as a secure stepping stone to home ownership, or somewhere the residents would be happy to call home for the rest of their lives.

These need to be places people can bring up children and they can be proud to call home.

As a boy, I lived between my mum’s rented and dilapidated touring caravan in Wiltshire and my dad’s council flat in Bristol.

When I was four years old, my mum and dad divorced.

My mum then rented a little caravan parked in a field. It didn’t have mains drainage or electricity. Our lighting and cooking was powered by bottled gas, which always seemed to be running out, and we had a coal fire.

Eventually, my mum was granted the tenancy of a prefabricated (prefab) home – a house that’s manufactured off site before it’s assembled at its final location – in Malmesbury. It had a big garden and backed onto a little wood.

It had a built-in fridge, oven and hob, and it came with a tin shed.

As far as we were concerned, it was a palace. My mum loved it and continued to live there until she died many years later.

The most important thing was that it gave us security of tenure.

For me, it meant I could have the dog I always wanted. For my mum, it meant she felt safe and secure again, having opted to leave the security of her council house in Bristol when she and my dad parted.

I don’t like large, sprawling council estates, but I do like the concept of council housing in general and, with well thought through planning and funding policies in place, it must be possible for the world’s fifth-largest economy to make sure all our citizens have a place to call home. With prefab building techniques used today, I believe this type of building can solve our housing crisis.

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