It was Harry Jones’ first meeting as a councillor. He later became Sir Harry after a long and distinguished career. He told me about his astonishing experience at his first meeting.
A councillor urged ending the building of a half-constucted tower block of flats at St. Julian’s, filling the void with concrete and inscribing on the side of the building, ‘This giant tombstone was erected in dishonourable memory of the failed concept of hi-rise living.’
That was in about 1976. My remarks were part of a many-faceted campaign against experimental housing. My simple concept was that the evolved model of two –storeys, upstairs for sleeping to protect us from the sabre-toothed tigers, downstairs for living plus two enclosed areas, one in front for decorative use, one behind for utilitarian use. The further the ambitious, creative, imaginative, phallus building architects strayed from the ideal the worst the results became for satisfying habitation. I was also campaigning long before Thatcher for tenants to have the right to buy their houses because in the modern world, rent is theft not property.
Newport did twice begin to sell council houses in the 60s and again in the 70s. We also built only three tower blocks and avoided most of the extravagant designs of wedged shaped or flat roofs popular in Cwmbran. I was too late to avoid the open plan designs that denied people the defensible space they desired.
Years of experience have reinforced my belief in the ideas of the young Councillor Flynn of 50 years ago. The council was urged to build more tower blocks. A fundamental fallacy was that they made better use of space. It was generally an illusion and much exaggerated as we embarked in building estates to the traditional plan that is much loved of two story dwellings. Newport was not short of land and it was right to spurn the dreams or architects.
The unimaginable horrors of this week are the stuff of fiction. All our worst fears are churned up by the suffering of those who were trapped. Newport Council reacted swiftly on Wednesday to the anxieties of their hi-rise dwellers after the Grenfell nightmare. Those who live in high rise deserve the reassurance that only massive investment in new safety measures can provide. We are indebted to the councillors on the 50s, 60s and 70s who built for the fundamental needs of people for acceptable habitats and disregarded the ambitions of architects out to leave massive indelible hi-rise marks of their pioneering fallacies.