Search site

School of Geography


CONFERENCE - Registration Open

Housing Privatisation, 30 Years on: Time for a Critical Re-appraisal

26-27 July 2010, University of Leeds (Business School), UK

2010 marks the thirtieth anniversary of one of the most significant government policy agendas in modern British politics – the privatisation of public housing and the expansion of owner occupation.  In 1980, the newly-elected Conservative government gave tenants of local authority housing (‘council housing’) the statutory ‘Right to Buy’ their council home at discounted prices.  The Right to Buy was complemented by public spending cuts on housing, deregulation and a range of ‘demunicipalisation’ strategies aimed at transferring the remaining council housing to not-for-profit social landlords.  Since 1997 New Labour has embraced this ‘roll back’ agenda, preventing local authorities from building new council housing despite the massive growth in housing waiting lists.  At the same time, new market-based approaches, such as arms length companies, public-private partnerships, and choice-based lettings, have been ‘rolled out’ to what remains of the public housing stock in return for new investment to tackle disrepair. 30 years on, today less than a fifth of society lives in ‘social rented housing’ compared to 1980 when one-third of the population lived in council housing as a mainstream tenure of choice.  At the same time, Britain is engulfed in a crisis of housing unaffordability and insecurity.  In England alone, 1.8 million households – four million people – are on council housing waiting lists, nearly 100,000 live in temporary accommodation, and 554,000 households are overcrowded.  While we are told by government and economists to celebrate the social and economic benefits of owner occupation and investing in the housing market, the contraction of affordable, secure, public rented housing in favour of reliance on the private sector is seen by critics as a major cause of today’s housing crisis.

So, after three decades of housing privatisation in Britain, this public conference calls on academics, housing professionals, tenants’ and residents’ associations, policy makers, and campaigners to stand back and critically reflect on the aims, methods and, above all, consequences of this neoliberal agenda, and what lessons we can draw for future housing policy.

Keynote speakers include:

  • Professor Peter Malpass (University of West England),
    author of Housing and the Welfare State (Palgrave, 2005)
  • Professor Danny Dorling (University of Sheffield), co-author of The Great Divide: an Analysis of Housing Inequality (Shelter, 2005)

Sessions and Papers


Monday, 26 July 2010

9am-9.45am - Registration / Tea - Coffee

9.45-10am - Welcome

10am-1pm: Opening Plenary

Housing Privatisation in Britain: Motives, Mechanics, Actors and Effects

Convenor: Stuart Hodkinson (University of Leeds) s.n.hodkinson(at)

As we mark 30 years since the privatisation of housing became proactive public policy, this session aims to stand back and critically reflect on the aims, methods, agents and consequences of the neoliberal agenda in housing at multiple scales. 

  • Peter Malpass (University of West England), The Re-privatisation of Housing: a Work in Progress
  • Becky Tunstall (London School of Economics), Bangs and Whimpers: The End of Monotenure in Unpopular Council-built Estates
  • Defend Council Housing, The Case against Privatisation
  • Stuart Hodkinson (University of Leeds), Council Housing and the Private Finance Initiative: Privatisation, or something far worse?
  • John Sturzaker (Newcastle University), From ‘Homes for heroes’ to ‘Homes for locals’: the changing rhetoric of British social housing allocation
  • Connie P. Y. Tang (University of Cambridge), Housing association rents:  are they more market-orientated?

2.00-5.30pm Parallel Sessions:

Session 2: Post-Social Housing: Risk, Privilege, and Control

Convenor: Professor Caroline Hunter (York Law School, University of York) cmh516(at)

This session will examine the legal changes which have accompanied the privatisation of housing over the last 30 years. The achievement of policy change has required constant legislation as well as appraisal of that legislation in the courts. The session will seek to examine questions such as how far the legal instruments have enabled the policy changes sought; have the courts provided a barrier to changing policy; and, has the law been used to resist
policy change?

  • Lucy Barnes (University of Kent), Privilege and Conduct: Law’s Intervention into Landlord/Tenant Relationships
  • Sarah Blandy (Leeds University) & Caroline Hunter (York University), Shifting risks and changing patterns of tenure
  • Helen Carr (University of Kent), Are social landlords different now?  Understanding the liability of leaseholders to pay for works carried out under the Decent Homes Initiative
  • Alison Ball & Andy Hanson (Hull University), Asylums, Control and Residualisation
  • Chris Bateman (University of Edinburgh), awaiting title 

Session 3: Privatisation and the Tenants’ Movement

Convenor: John Grayson (Sheffield Hallam University and AdEd Knowledge Company) j.grayson(at)

This session will consider how privatisation of council housing and related property led ‘regeneration’ programmes have transformed the nature of the tenants movement in Britain since 1980. 

  • Sharon Hayward, Privatisation and the tenant movement in London
  • John Grayson (Sheffield Hallam and AdEdKnowledge Company),  From power to engagement over thirty years, an overview of the effects of housing privatisation on tenant movement organisation
  • Quintin Bradley (Leeds Metropolitan University), Universal claims: strategies and mobilisation in the English tenants’ movement
  • Paul Watt (Birkbeck, University of London), ‘Hands Off Our Homes’ (again): anti-stock transfer campaigns in the ‘silent’ South East of England
  • Paul Watt and Stuart HodkinsonBeyond the Fragments? Anti-Privatisation/-Gentrification Struggles in English Working-Class Urban Areas
  • Stewart Smyth (Dublin City University), Abstentions, expulsions and stock transfer: a tenants’ campaign and the struggle for accountable housing 

Tues, 9.30am-1pm Parallel Sessions

Session 4: Housing regeneration at the crossroads: the end of the New Labour era. Privatisation, hybridisation or sustainable mixed communities?

Convenors: James Rees (University of Manchester) James.E.Rees(at)
Graham Squires (University of the West of England)

We find ourselves at something of a juncture after a decade of ‘New Labour’ policy towards housing, regeneration and its much vaunted ‘Urban Renaissance’ – all of which have received critical scrutiny from academics. This is therefore a timely opportunity both to look back at the key hallmarks of the New Labour approach to regeneration and housing in the context of the wider historical themes of the conference; and to look forward to where we might be going. 

  • Lawrence Cassidy, Salford 7, relocating, segregating and diluting the urban working class. Reflecting on the ideologies and strategies of ‘slum’ clearance and regeneration.
  • Richard Lee, The Elephant Is Not For Sale
  • James Rees (University of Manchester), Urban Housing Market Restructuring: neighbourhood privatisation, tenure transitions and “mixed communities” viewed from a wider framework of a sustainable and socially-inclusive urban renaissance
  • Leif Jerram (University of Manchester) & Antony Lockley (University of Salford), Using History and Developing Evaluation Tools for Housing-Led Regeneration (HLR)
  • Graham Squires (University of the West of England), Privatisation in an Urban Renaissance: Urban Design in City Centre and Fringe Neighbourhood Regeneration from a Housing Perspective 

Session 5: Alternatives to the Market

Convenors: Kim McKee (University of St Andrews), km410(at)
Tom Moore (Sheffield Hallam University), Tom.Moore(at)

As public sector housing has declined, housing that is controlled and owned by the local community has been increasingly promoted by government. These models of community housing provision, which include tenant-management
co-operatives, housing co-operatives, and more recently, community-land trusts, represent important and significant alternatives to the market. This session aims to build and develop our critical understanding of community housing provision as a valuable ‘alternative to the market’.

  • Kim McKee (University of St Andrews), Community Ownership of Social Housing in Glasgow: empowering Glasgow’s tenants?
  • Malcolm Harrison (University of Leeds), Property rights, empowerment and ‘consumer insulation’: asset-based welfare systems and the real ‘third way’
  • Udi Engelsman & Alan Southern (University of Liverpool Management School), Key success factors: A comparison of the US and UK urban community land trust landscape
  • Peter Bevington, Time to let the CAT out of the bag?
  • Tom Moore (Sheffield Hallam University), Community Land Trusts as 'third sector housing'?
  • Paul Chatterton (University of Leeds), Cohousing and low impact living: the example of Lilac in Leeds

2.00-5.30pm: Closing Plenary

Making Public Housing Work

Convenor, Sarah Glynn (University of St Andrews),

This session is based on the premise that public housing has an essential and important role to play. It acknowledges that public housing has suffered problems of poor management, poor design, contradictory policy, and, of course, chronic shortages of funding. It asks what we can learn from this, and also from the generally less well-publicised success stories, to enable public housing to continue to perform an important role in the future, and to perform it better. 

  • Danny Dorling (University of Sheffield), The Right-to-Sell: a National Housing Service?
  • Sarah Glynn (Honorary Fellow University of Strathclyde), Making Public Housing Work
  • Alan Wigfield and Cathy Davies (Salford University), Did it have to be like this? A socialist critique of New Labour’s performance in housing
  • Glyn Robbins (London Metropolitan University), Arguments for a renaissance of municipal housing
  • Malcolm Fraser (Malcolm Fraser Architects), awaiting title