Leeds To Make Amends
New Estates Cause Poverty And Illness
A £15,000,000 slum clearance scheme, involving the demolition of 30,000 back-to-back houses, cannot be carried out quite according to plan without certain drawbacks being discovered. In Leeds these come under a variety of categories, human and economic.
The poor lived well in the slums. " We have plenty of fresh air now, but we can't live on that," is a saying frequently heard, and its realism is forced on anyone who investigates conditions amongst the poor on any of the new estates in Leeds.
The bulk of the people moved to the new estates have found that rents, added to the cost of transport, have brought them to the poverty line.
A differential rental system was introduced to meet the case. This has since been abolished in theory, but it still operates in practice. There is no alternative.
The cost of living on the nevi estates is considerably higher than in the poorer quarters near the centre of the city where the labouring classes and the man on the dole can buy food much more cheaply, either from the small shopkeepers, or in the market. Those living on new estates have to pay tram or 'bus fares, which make heavy inroads on a weekly budget.
The man who likes his gill of beer, his plate of fish and chips, and even his " tanner on a horse," finds these things a luxury beyond his means on new estates.
A leading butcher, near the market, whose Saturday night customers included a large number of poor people, related to our representative that their custom had gradually disappeared, and he was wondering how they were faring.,
Recently, an old age pensioner, a woman who had traded with him for years, came in after a month or two's absence, he said. She explained with tears in her eyes that she was now living three miles away from the centre of the city, and had not been able to afford any meat. Her husband was in failing health and had not been out of doors since they were moved " against their will." "We'll never be able to settle down again," she exclaimed.
Many families find it hard to settle away from their old habitations, and whenever a house has been empty or to let, either in an area actually in process of demolition, as in Newtown, or one scheduled, as in Holbeck or West Street, there has soon been a rush of eager tenants.
Slums Seem Healthier It is a remarkable fact that during an epidemic there is a higher mortality amongst the children on the new estates than in the slum quarters of the town. But this phenomenon is not peculiar to Leeds. It has been noted at Middlesbrough and in the South as well.
The cause has been set down to malnutrition and insufficient clothing, for which high rentals and cost of transport are blamed.
School children are exposed to all the rigours of climate, while going to and from school. On the new estates some schools are over a mile distant. In the slum quarters the school was generally " just round the corner."
Sites nearer the Centre
Leeds Housing Committee has been taking note of all these things, and is now looking for housing sites nearer the centre of the city. It is recognised that many people not only prefer but are obliged by force of circumstances to be near their work.
A beginning will be made with the Kirkstall Road district. The whole of the area will be rebuilt with tenement flats, and 2,000 to 2,500 families will be re-housed here.
Altogether it is hoped to put back 4,000 families " within a reasonable distance of the centre of the city, and in the areas in which they formerly lived and wished to live."
The Small Shopkeepers
The small shopkeepers are another class who have sustained genuine hardship by the property clearance. They were told in the first instance that no accommodation could be provided for them on the new estates, and indeed the rentals asked were prohibitive to a small trader.
Now the announcement is made that " on the large housing estates subsidiary shopping areas have been planned where the small shopkeepers will be the first established. The shops will be reserved first for shopkeepers who have been dispossessed in slum clearance areas. In the letting of the shops the character of the man and his business ability will be taken into account, and not the amount of his capital."
The chairman of the Housing Committee, Mr. H. A. Blackhah, has admitted that some shopkeepers in the clearance areas have been placed " in a terrible posi tion." He agrees that the law for the compensation of tenant shopkeepers is altogether wrong.
There is, he regrets, no power to give compensation, but only what is called ex gratia grants. When the small shopkeepers recently waited upon him, he assured them that he was anxious to help them as far as he could, and added " I wish to heaven the law were different."