EXCLUSIVE: Demolition on cards for iconic Swedish homes
By Simon Hacker | 13th February 2024
They call them Gloucestershire's "flat-pack" houses. Long before IKEA was a household word, a far larger DIY kit from Sweden was seen as part of the solution for Britain's urgent need for modern housing in the war-torn aftermath of 1945.
Often built for homeless families by prisoners of war, many of these iconic Swedish timber houses sprang up as a solution to the post-WW2 housing crisis across Gloucestershire.
Since then, they have become part of the Cotswolds' streetscape, with examples found in Uley, Stinchcombe, Wotton-under-Edge, North Nibley, Bisley, Miserden and Painswick.
But the homes are now in danger of change beyond recognition – and in some cases demolition – as Stroud District Council resolves to move ahead with a project to either upgrade or replace the properties for higher density accommodation that meets sustainability targets.
UK-wide, some 5,000 prefab kits from Sweden were assembled. A gift from the Swedish government, they were built under the terms of 1944's Housing Temporary Accommodation Act and were given a lifespan of just 15 years. But some 75 years later, many examples remain dotted throughout SDC's boundaries, with some still rented as council-owned accommodation next to others which have been bought and are now privately owned.
The idea from SDC's housing committee is not its first: six years ago, the council sought to overclad the houses' distinctive vertical planked elevations by applying an external, insulating render.
At the time, The 20th Century Society, a UK heritage campaign group, urged the council (with apparent success) to ditch the idea, stating: "The existence of a number of well-preserved groups of Swedish Houses in Stroud [district] is a remarkable survival, and we are concerned that these applications will have a substantial and harmful impact on their appearance."
The group added: "The society urges that these applications are withdrawn and that alternatives are seriously considered."
At its February housing committee meeting, members agreed on a "preferred option of redeveloping the Swedish Timber Sites at Stinchcombe, Uley and Wotton-Under-Edge, subject to a further report to Committee setting out details on the proposed schemes, the financial implications and feedback from further consultation".
Alison Fisk, Head of Property Services, told the committee that SDC owns 21 of the district's 42 Swedish homes and that it is now seeking – after a consultation period – to refurbish those at Bushy Beeches (near Bisley) and Barrs Lane, in North Nibley.
She told the committee that a briefing review in December had given the background on the houses and led to the resolution of a preferred demolition of the homes in Uley, Stinchcombe and Wotton-under-Edge, "subject to further reporting on costs and feedback from consultees."
Ms Fisk said: "Officers have begun work consulting with tenants and private owners who are directly impacted."
Uley Parish Council had indicated it will await the full plans before deciding on its position, while Wotton Town Council has told SDC that the cost of refurbishment was considerable and not guaranteed to satisfy EPC ratings, while also being uneconomic.
The council heard: "Wotton Town Council is content that redevelopment was the best option, subject to full plans, however the owners and tenants should not be left in a worse position."
Punchline-Gloucester.com approached the occupants of the four Wotton homes in Mount Pleasant for their views.
One resident, who asked not to be named, said that as yet no consultation had been held: "We really don't know where we are about this. We are aware of what they are proposing, but they haven't told us anything. We're in the dark over it."
They added: "Given the talk of compulsory purchase, it's a difficult issue to speak about."
Average cost for refurbishment, SDC's housing repert said, has been put at £83,000 per property, while a redevelopment price for Wotton, Stinchcombe and Uley – per property – would stand at £312,000.
The report stated: "Because of the large plots that these houses sit in, there is potential to significantly increase the numbers of units at each site, making redevelopment (subject to planning) a realistic option."
But it also indicated that all three sites are likely to involve buying private houses, and contact had only recently been made with some of these owners: "More work also needs to be done to explore funding options and in particular testing different layouts at the Knoll, Uley. Further consultation with ward councillors and the respective Town and Parish Councils is also needed."
With the council's waiting list for accommodation now exceeding 4,000 applicants, the plan was endorsed by the committee, which was told: "There is considerable potential at these three sites to increase the density of houses and to deliver new, high quality, energy efficient (EPC 'A') affordable homes, subject to planning. Initial layout plans have been drawn up as a basis for undertaking the financial appraisals for the sites.
"The redevelopment of these sites will require moving tenants and purchasing back some properties originally sold through the Right to Buy. This option will support the delivery of CW.2.1 of the Council Plan: Deliver new affordable homes across the District, through planning policy and work with partners including community-led housing groups, housing associations and via our own New Homes Programme."
● A timescale for the plan is an yet unknown. A list of all of the prefabricated homes in Britain and their status can be found here at the website of The Prefab Museum.
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