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A Contrived Countryside: The Governance of Rural Housing in England 1900-1974

Research output: Book/ReportBookpeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationCham, Switzerland
PublisherSpringer, Cham
Number of pages582
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-62651-8
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-62650-1
Published29 Mar 2021

Publication series

NameLocal and Urban Governance
ISSN (Print)2524-5449
ISSN (Electronic)2524-5457

King's Authors


This book was initiated to examine the proposition that weak affordable housing provision in the English countryside resulted from local leader opposition to working-class homes. On investigation, the vested interests of landowner-employers and the in-migrant service-classes were found to be insufficient to account for working-class rural housing deficiencies. Looking ‘behind the scenes’ at policy processes over 1900-1974 highlighted the primacy of national agents in producing a countryside devoid of sufficient quality homes for the working-classes; leading to a rural environment ripe for exploitation by urban incomers. They found a ready stock of poor-quality abodes they had the resources to restore, alongside a limited existing supply of low-income dwellings, which combined to enhance the scope of developers and individual householders to transform the countryside into a middle-class playground. Throughout the Twentieth-Century, pathways to housing improvement for the low-paid largely depended on public policy interventions. But key concepts in evaluating housing distress were contested, assessments of deficits were permeated by assessments of local capacities to act and national policy decisions continued to be made against a backcloth of serious information deficiencies. Rural councils generally had limper responses to housing shortfalls than larger urban centres, even though rural leaders were well aware of accommodation local woes. Yet there was diversity in rural council responses, with some performing as strongly as cities, although actions more generally demonstrated the detrimental rural effects of an unreliable construction industry, inflated costs, poor basic infrastructure and national restraints on the scope for positive action. The solution to these handicaps was in national hands, but ideological and electoral considerations favoured adherence to the convenient but flawed assumption that rural areas were in decline, and ignored the debilitating effects of a government-induced low-wage rural economy. Piling pressure on adverse rural provision, dogma and failed national economic policies led to state policies limiting potentials for rural improvement. Rural councils responded through flexible policy retorts that squeezed gains from national straightjackets. There was unevenness in local vision and in institutional commitments to achieving better outcomes but the overriding constraints were embedded in national government policies. None of this was inevitable, but dominant tendencies within powerful national interests favoured amateurism, muddling through rather than visionary policy, status-infused top-down hierarchies, poor productivity and actions aimed at power retention rather than targeting improved living conditions, all of which made rural outcomes difficult to avoid.

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