As the first Chairman of the Housing Committee of Birmingham City Council, John Sutton Nettlefold took a stance against slum clearance and municipal house building, and instead repaired unsanitary houses in the city centre under Part II of the Housing of Working Classes Act, 1890. At the same time, he advocated the introduction of a German-style town extension plan under the influence of T.C. Horsfall’s book and from his own experience from visits to German towns. In the report to the city council in 1906, Nettlefold proposed town planning and municipal land purchase in the suburbs to prevent the creation of future slums. Enthused by what they had seen, the Housing Committee recommended that there should be powers to control development in new areas to ensure a better distribution of houses and provision of roads, and to buy land in the suburbs where private enterprise could be encouraged to build working men’s houses at moderate rents. By moving in this direction, Birmingham was emerging as one of the first British local authorities to espouse Town Planning ideas, which have since been taken as basic principles influencing the type and direction of development.
It was Nettlefold who popularised the term ‘town planning’ in Britain. Thus Nettlefold, in collaboration with the garden city movement, played a unique role in British town planning until the enactment of the Housing and Town Planning Act, 1909.
Nettlefold, intent on proving that these radical ideas for town planning could work, took up an option on 36 and subsequently a further 18 acres of land to the north of Harborne. A Committee was set up for the formation of a Society on Co-partnership lines, which became Harborne Tenants Ltd. The company was founded to promote the erection, co-operative ownership and administration of houses on the lands at Moor Pool. Substantially built houses would be constructed and let at ordinary rents to pay a moderate amount of interest on the capital investment and to divide the surplus profits after expenses amongst the tenant members in proportion to the rents paid by them. Profits would be divided in shares.
As an example of community planning in Birmingham, Moor Pool was indeed radical, contrasting starkly with the grim back-to-back housing prevalent in the City.
The Harborne Tenants co-partnership scheme was an illustration of a garden suburb undertaking on a small scale and it was predicted that in three years it would come to bankruptcy. Instead it was in precisely three years that it achieved financial success.
Moor Pool is an almost complete example of the original Estate. Harborne Tenants, despite what must have been considerable cost in maintaining the tenanted properties, kept the Estate remarkably intact. English Heritage’s (Michael Taylor) said: ‘There appears to be every reason to regard Moor Pool as very significant historically and architecturally on at least a regional level’ and (Kim Auston) English Heritage’s Landscape Advisor, called it an ‘exceptional survival’. The quality of the open space network is such that English Heritage have proposed that it should be included in their Parks and Gardens Register and an application was put forward. If Moor Pools application had been progressed, such a unique success would have likely have enabled funding applications to support restoration of the many open spaces.
Many of the values put forward by Nettlefold are now considered significant features of present day ecological and sustainable communities and the Town and Country Planning Association thinks there are important lessons to be learned from garden suburbs such as Moor Pool, and garden cities such as Welwyn.
Limited success with the many back to back properties was achieved but encouraging a healthy lifestyle and reducing child mortality rates was a crucial aspect of Nettlefolds ongoing vision. Moor Pool was to showcase what could be achieved and the allotments were a key aspect of this. Rather than centralised allotment areas there were many smaller ones and these were easily accessible by the many pathways from the rear of the Estates houses. Everyone had the opportunity of an allotment within a short distance of their property. Sadly numerous were lost over the years to rear garden extensions, garages and recently development by Grainger plc.