From country to suburb: The why and the how of suburban development. A universal phenomenon with examples from south-east London.



The regulative environment in which developers have operated has become more restrictive and tighter over time. In the late 16th and early 17th century the Crown banned all new building on the fringes of the metropolis, but this was largely ignored by builders, and by the City and County authorities charged with enforcing it. For much of the 18th and 19th centuries private estates ran their own affairs; some were conscientious in the way their lands were built on abut many were not. The state did not really start to become involved until the second half of the 19th century. Building and drainage plans had to be submitted to the local authority and some authorities started safeguarding land from development. This they did by buying it and making public open spaces. This happened on a small scale for example in Camberwell with the purchase of Peckham Rye and Goose Green and on a bigger scale wit the London County Council’s purchase of woodland at Shooters’ s Hill, which became a green belt on the LCC’s boundary. After World War I authorities could determine housing densities and after World War II powers have increased dramatically and range from overseeing minor alterations to properties to zoning whole areas for particular functions.

Two post-war pieces of legislation have also been influential. The first was the 1967 Leasehold Reform Act, which gave tenants on private estates the right to buy the freehold to houses. This prompted a number of estate managers to sell up their land to local authorities. For example the Whidborne Estate, which managed Deptford New Town/St John’s sold up to the London Borough of Lewisham at this time. At St John’s the houses largely stayed intact, but in other instances, such as the Evelyn Estate in Deptford, local authorities undertook slum clearance and extensive redevelopment. Some estates wished to continue with an active role inland management, principally those in more exclusive areas. Most notable were the Dulwich and the Cator Estates. The Dulwich and Cator Estates continue to exercise considerable control over their area through a scheme of management to which all residents subscribe.

The second piece of legislation was that of right to buy of the 1980s. This empowered local authority tenants to buy, at considerable discount, homes they previously rented. This did not significantly alter the face of suburbia, but it did undermine the role of local authorities as providers of housing.