I didn’t start living on Harold Hill until 1980 but lived there for eighteen years. For twelve of those years I was a Labour Party Councillor. So the following narrative is based on what I have been told and my research from newspapers.
Clement Attlee’s government between 1947 and 1950 took momentous decisions. Most importantly were those about the provision social housing. Both bomb damage and slum clearance caused huge housing problems in inner London areas. Attlee’s ambitious programme was unpopular with many land-owners and the Government was forced to enact the law on CPOs. (Compulsory Purchase Orders). Then the LCC (London County Council) was tasked to find an experienced senior officer to head up the project. Professor Abercrombie was selected and he decided that the natural boundaries of Straight Road, the A12, and Noak Hill Road, the farm land at Harold Hill, was an ideal site for development. All the farmers and farm labourers were enraged that Londoner’s were taking ‘their’ land. And their land would house despised slum dwellers. They put up a spirited opposition. Protest demonstrations were held at the new Town Hall in Romford. Despite the intransigent attitude of both the Council and the farmers all the farms were issued with a Government CPO. The national interest came first!
The construction of the estate took place over five phases (lasting years). The first two phases were completed to a good quality. Room sizes were built to Parker Morris standards by the L.C.C. Later phases brought a significant lowering of quality of workmanship. I heard that builders on these phases simply asked those lining up to draw their unemployment pay if they wanted some work. It didn’t matter if they had no relevant skills at all. As a consequence the properties were “jerry-built.” This fact was well known by both residents and visitors. The Briar Road estate fared slightly better but still had poorly designed heating systems, small rooms and asbestos roofs. The Briar Road development quickly became known as “the rabbit warren.” It had many bushy, leafy alleyways between small grassed areas, car parks, flatted blocks and individual blocks of housing. This really caused the police a growing problem with crime especially with a high volume of burglaries, shed thefts etc. Criminals knew these alleyways and could just slip away. This was especially the case when being chased by the police who no longer walked the beat and therefore didn’t have ‘local’ knowledge.
It seems that the current Council (2016) has now compounded these crime issues. They are building on almost every piece of grassed area. Just about every other car park or brown field properties is now ripe for ‘development’. Harold Hill was a fine cosmopolitan social housing estate but thanks to the decisions to overdevelop Harold Hill has been ruined. Overdevelopment has exacerbated the fears of bigots and racists that I’m sure the Council never meant to encourage, but never-the-less, they have!