A History of the County of Chester: Volume 5 Part 1, the City of Chester: General History and Topography. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2003.
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HOUSING AND SUBURBAN DEVELOPMENT, 1974-2000
Although Chester's population was falling from 1971, (fn. 1) house-building continued apace, mostly in the private sector. By 1991 there were over 33,000 houses in the urban wards, of which 68 per cent were owneroccupied. (fn. 2) Demand for housing in the city was led by managers working in Merseyside, Greater Manchester, and north Wales, and house prices in Chester were consequently among the highest in the North-West, 14 per cent above the national average in 1992. (fn. 3)
One of the reasons for high house prices was the shortage of building land on the outskirts of the city. The district council remained committed to encouraging new residents into Chester, a principal reason for its proposal in the mid 1990s to breach the green belt south of the city. Local people also needed housing, in part because of the greater number of single-person households. The loss of residents within the city walls was another matter of concern. In 1975 there were c. 1,500 residents in the inner city, half the number in 1961. (fn. 4) To utilize existing space better and tempt residents back, dwellings suited to professional and single people and childless couples were created on the upper floors of the Rows and other city-centre premises. Small housing units were also built within the conservation area and on reclaimed land such as the site of Northgate station west of Victoria Road, where between 1985 and 1991 Northgate Village was built, (fn. 5) with very small terraced houses and blocks of flats grouped at high density round courts shared by pedestrians and vehicles.
The council's ability to provide social housing was severely limited by government financial restrictions. In 1977 plans were made for a steady programme of new building for families on the housing list and to replace unfit dwellings. Government policies prevented its completion, and land assigned for council houses was later turned over to the private sector and housing associations. Despite council co-operation with the private sector, the waiting list continued to expand beyond the 3,250 families needing accommodation in 1976. (fn. 6) The difficulty in remedying the situation was exacerbated by the government's 'Right to Buy' policy of 1980, which seriously depleted the existing housing stock. Chester had been selling council houses since the early 20th century, but until 1980 always built more than it released. Between 1980 and 1993, however, the stock fell by almost 2,000. By 1994 only 15.6 per cent of the housing in Chester was council-owned, there was a waiting list of 3,750 families, and 109 families were homeless. Financial constraints also hindered the refurbishment of older council houses. In 1993, for example, over 3,000 of them lacked central heating, and by 1994 some 3 per cent in the district as a whole were reported unfit for human habitation and 74 per cent in need of much improvement; the government, however, would not approve the 10-year investment programme of £8.3 million a year said to be required. (fn. 7)
Private house-building for families with the highest incomes followed the pattern established in the 1950s. Most took place within or as extensions to existing suburbs, and only a little in small groups on greenfield sites. Typical in its North American-influenced style was a development off Eaton Road in the 1970s and 1980s of detached houses with open front lawns. More original was Claverton Court, built in Queen's Park c. 1980 for the Architects' Benevolent Fund to designs by Brock Carmichael, and extended in 2000. (fn. 8) The only distinguished individual house built in Chester after 1974 was the Schreiber House off Eaton Road, designed c. 1983 by James Gowan as a post-modern fusion between the ideas of Le Corbusier and Palladio. (fn. 9)
Houses for a slightly lower income group were built in far greater numbers, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s. The main concentrations were around the southern perimeter of the Lache estates, and south of Great Boughton in the angle between Chester Road and the Chester southerly bypass (A55). The planning principles followed national trends: at Great Boughton a spine road (Caldy Valley Road) was laid out to serve separate closes of mainly small detached houses on cramped plots. Each group was developed individually by a large house-builder. The architectural styles adopted were conservative, embracing neo-vernacular, neo-Georgian, and by the later 1990s neo-Victorian. At Great Boughton a Sainsbury's supermarket and a retail park formed part of the development. During the 1990s there were a few schemes on brownfield sites, for example a block of flats and some houses on a former factory site south of Overleigh Road, Handbridge, and an extensive area of flats and houses, eclectic in style, designed by Jane Derbyshire and David Kendall for Bryant Homes on the site of the Royal Infirmary west of the inner ringroad. Some new housing was tucked into spaces within the city centre, for example a modest terrace behind King Street and two schemes by Robin Clayton between Duke Street and the city walls, but few of those developments were architecturally noteworthy. (fn. 10) The most distinctive new housing was probably Salmon's Leap, designed in 1976 by Gilling Dod and Partners for a restricted site close to the river in Handbridge, (fn. 11) and the discreet infill designed to Donald Insall and Associates' concept as part of the rehabilitation of Lower Bridge Street, such as Insall's houses of the early 1980s in Castle Street, Castle Place, and St. Mary's Hill. (fn. 12)