16 AUGUST 1930, Page 18


[To the Editor of the SPECTATOR.]

SIR,—With the passing of the two 1980 Housing Acts, the one for England and Wales and the other for Scotland, Local Authorities will now be able to devote their attention without delay to preparing slum clearance schemes. It must be noted, however, that equally important with the new shun legislation is the promised measure for applying town-planning to areas already built over.

The word " town-planning " as generally used in Great Britain is an absurd misnomer, for it really applies to open areas, and not to congested towns. During. the last few months a. number of conferences have been held in Whitehall between officials and representatives of local authorities to consider possible legislation for extending planning to our towns, and it is already obvious that legislation on this question will be extremely troublesome. Mr. Neville CI in n ffier- lain, who is a strong advocate of controlling development, on many occasions asked that the representatives of local authori- ties should give him the backing which he would need in order to obtain Parliamentary sanction for such a measure, and Mr. Greenwood will also need the support of public opinion.

The future Bill will endeavour to ensure that the best use pOisible is made of the land within our towns in the interests of the community. There may be an area, for example, where there are hundreds of back-to-back houses, lacking air and light, divided by narrow streets, and owned by many indivi- duals. If a plan could be laid down for the future recon- struction of the whole area, some of the narrow streets might be abolished ; better ventilation admitted ; the health of the inhabitants would be improved ; and the value of the property would be increased. But it is probable that some of the individual owners would protest strongly at any interference with what they would claim to be their private rights.

Possibly on this point we can learn from the experience of America. The City of Kansas, with a population larger than that of Newcastle-on-Tyne, has a special system for dealing with such improvements as the widening of streets or the provision of parks. The property owners themselves appoint a small jury to assess both the compensation due to the owners of the property that is taken away, and the benefits gained by those who find their property has improved in value. About 85 per cent. of the cost of compensation from the purchase of land has in the past been assessed on the owners, and 15 per cent. on the public purse. Over £2,000,000 has been spent on improvements in Kansas, and it is said that the owners who have paid the assessments have gained in increased value more than the amount paid. Is it not possible to work out in this country a scheme on similar lines that will help us to replan our towns, possibly to decentralize, and to prevent by wise proVision new slums being created in the future ?

One difficulty must be frankly expressed. There is a general impression among business men in this country that town-planning has a Socialistic 'flavour, and is the particular hobby of high-brow enthusiasts. This is entirely a mistake. Under the new Bill the Ministry of Health will probably encourage bodies in this country to adopt the New York system, and to co-opt on their committees representatives of big business interests. In that case recommendations will be accepted, not as the fads of reformers, but as sound common sense.

We may hope that Mr. Greenwood during the coining autumn will be able to reach a satisfactory agreement with local authorities, so that with the least possible delay he may be able to introduce the promised legislation which has been too long delayed. All housing reformers should be prepared to study and, if possible, to support such legislation, recog- nizing that the solution of their problems depends upon the wise distribution of the homes of the future, as well as upon the actual demolition of slums and the provision of new homes.

—I am, Sir, &c., B. S. TowisaoE. 53 Netherhall Gardens, N.11".3.