One Estate, One Council, One Day
Adrian Goldberg explores the role of the modern local authority, as seen through events on one housing estate in Birmingham, where the city council is the largest in Europe.
What is the role of the modern council?
The Grenfell Tower tragedy left many people puzzled, angry even, about the role of the modern local authority. Many assumed the responsibility for fire safety in a block of social housing would rest fair and square with the council - the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. in fact, an unofficial debate after the fire, revealed a complex tangle of responsibilities between the council and a variety of "arms-length" public bodies and outright commercial organisations.
Adrian Goldberg grew up on a council estate in Birmingham, The city local authority - the biggest in Europe - built and collected the rent on the brand new house the family moved into in 1976. And, every day, Adrian took a council-subsidised bus service to the secondary school run by his local education authority. On the way home he'd drop into his council-run library to pick up some books or take a swim in the council run pool.
All of which makes him an ideal candidate to judge the changing nature of the local council. He returns to Druid's Heath where he was brought up and where his mother still lives in the very same council house. It's an estate of a dozen or so tower blocks along with low-rise housing - in the southern suburbs of Birmingham. in 1976, it was brand new. Adrian helped lay the new lawn in his new garden. For the first time, the family was able to keep a dog.
In 1986, taking part in a BBC initiative called Domesday Reloaded, junior school pupil Ana Coalter praised the underfloor heating at Pleck House - one of the tower blocks on Druid's Heath. She also observed that many of the residents were noisy, the milkman refused to deliver and the lift often broke down.
Today, it remains the only council estate in the city not to have been "modernised." A council paper says two parts of the estate require "major intervention due to the poor quality and layout of existing housing." Regeneration plans have been made. In this programme, Adrian spends 24 hours on Druid's Heath investigating what help and services residents really need and to what extent the council is addressing those needs. Will the planned regeneration transform the lives of existing residents? Is the lift any more reliable in Pleck House than it was in 1986?
Birmingham is the home of the confident municipalism pioneered by Joseph Chamberlain when he was Mayor of Birmingham and which has been copied across the UK and in many parts of the world. It's a spirit that was eloquently summarised by Walsall MP John McShane in the Commons in 1930:
"A young person today lives in a municipal house, and he washes himself ... in municipal water. He rides on a municipal tram or omnibus, and I have no doubt that before long he will be riding in a municipal aeroplane. He walks on a municipal road; he is educated in a municipal school. He reads in a municipal library and he has his sport on a municipal recreation ground. When he is ill he is doctored and nursed in a municipal hospital and when he dies he is buried in a municipal cemetery."
Today, the situation is much more complex.
Presenter: Adrian Goldberg
Producer: Beth Sagar-Fenton
Researcher: Kate Whannel.