Architects for Social Housing (ASH) was set up in March 2015 in order to respond architecturally to London’s housing ‘crisis’. We are a working collective of architects, urban designers, engineers, surveyors, planners, film-makers, photographers, web designers, artists, writers and housing campaigners operating with developing ideas under set principles.
First among these is the conviction that increasing the housing capacity on existing council estates, rather than redeveloping them as luxury apartments, is a more sustainable solution to London’s housing needs than the demolition of the city’s social housing during a housing shortage, enabling, as it does, the continued existence of the communities they house.
ASH offers support, advice and expertise to residents who feel their interests and voices are increasingly marginalised by local councils or housing associations during the so-called ‘regeneration’ process. Our primary responsibility is to existing residents – tenants and leaseholders alike; but we are also committed to finding viable alternatives to estate demolition that are in the interests of the wider London community.
ASH operates on three levels of activity: Architecture, Community and Propaganda.
We proposearchitectural alternatives to council estate demolition through designs for infill, build-over and refurbishment that increase housing capacity on the estates and, by renting or selling a proportion of the new homes on the private market, generate the funds to refurbish the existing council homes, while leaving the communities they currently house intact.
We support estate communities in their resistance to the demolition of their homes by working closely with residents over an extended period of time, offering them information about estate regeneration and housing policy from a reservoir of knowledge and tactics pooled from similar campaigns across London.
We disseminateinformation that aims to counter negative and incorrect perceptions about social housing in the minds of the public, and raise awareness of the role of relevant interest groups, including local authorities, housing associations, property developers and architectural practices, in the regeneration process. Using a variety of means, including protest, publication and propaganda, we are trying to initiate a wider cultural change within the architectural profession.
Whether you are facing the regeneration of your estate and in need of advice, or whether you want to offer your skills, expertise and time to our many projects, please get in contact.
‘Everyone has the right to respect for her private and family life, her home and her correspondence.’
– Article 8, European Convention on Human Rights, Human Rights Act 1998
Senior Development Manager
The Guinness Partnership
1 Stable Street
Oldham OL9 7LH
8 August 2016
It was good to meet you two weeks ago at the Northwold Estate residents’ consultation meeting on 28 July. In the last few years The Guinness Partnership has become increasingly faceless and remote, so some face-to-face contact was much appreciated.
I am writing because I have a number concerns about the consultation, as well as some other questions to which I require a response. I am copying in Newman Francis, the ‘community development’ consultancy, but addressing this letter primarily to you, as it was The Guinness Partnership that commissioned the consultation.
From your letter dated 1 July, as well as my conversations with you and others that evening, The Guinness Partnership is clearly stressing that the consultation is genuine, that residents’ views will be fully taken into account, and that we will be kept informed at all stages. I have doubts that this is truly the case, and have many concerns about the process, which I have numbered as follows:
1. The turnout at the consultation was not representative of the residents of the estate. There were perhaps 50 people present, while the estate is home to well over a thousand residents. I do not believe, therefore, that either Newman Francis or The Guinness Partnership made sufficient effort to ensure maximum, representative turnout.
2. In my block of 20 flats alone, only two households turned up. Epping House is a fairly typical block – with 15 socially rented flats, 5 leasehold flats, 2 of which are let by absentee landlords – and therefore a microcosm of the Northwold Estate. I believe this low turnout was for several reasons, including the following:
Several households have residents with various physical or mental disabilities. I do not believe any of these residents were enabled to attend the meeting.
Several households are of residents who do not speak or read English. The Guinness Partnership should have provided the literature in the main community languages that are spoken on the estate, as well as an interpreter to enable them to participate and have their say.
One resident has difficulty reading. I don’t believe she was enabled to attend.
I believe one of my neighbours is currently in prison. I don’t believe he will have been consulted.
No letters, leaflets or invitations were put through residents’ doors regarding the consultation event. Instead, there was merely an A5 poster Sellotaped to the outside of the communal door area. This is not used by three of the ground floor flats, and, as noted above, is not accessible to a large number of residents. ALL residents should have been personally invited to attend this important event. At least one of my neighbours said that they didn’t attend as they didn’t think it sounded important, so greater emphasis on the implications of the consultation is also required.
The meeting was held in the summer when many residents are away.
Residents with children may not have been able to attend in the evening.
Residents who work evenings may not have been able to attend.
As a social landlord and a registered charity that provides homes for some of the most disadvantaged members of society, you will be an expert in the kind of demographic living in your properties, so you will be well aware of all of these barriers to participation. I would like to know what The Guinness Partnership and Newman Francis plan to do to provide proper access to consultation for all residents of the estate in advance of the next meeting on 17 August, so as to not discriminate against anyone on grounds of disability, culture, language, literacy or family circumstances.
3. At the consultation meeting a great deal of stress was placed on the idea that the ‘development’ of the estate is not intended to be a form of social cleansing – unlike other estates redeveloped by the Guinness Partnership, such as the Loughborough Estate in Brixton, which attracted huge criticism of your housing association when residents were evicted to make way for luxury and ‘affordable’ flats priced at 80 per cent of market rent. It was stressed, to the contrary, that all residents are to be ‘encouraged’ to remain or be re-housed on the estate, however it ends up being redeveloped. Yet the housing association will obviously have to build a significant number of flats for sale to pay for the building of the new homes. How, then, does The Guinness Partnership propose to attract people who are able to pay over half a million pounds for a home to an area with a high level of social issues, including unemployment, overcrowding, crime, mental health problems and anti-social behaviour? In other parts of London where estates have been demolished and redeveloped, social cleansing has occurred, and people with social issues have been evicted in order to sell luxury apartments to those who can afford them. I would like to know how The Guinness Partnership aims to address this danger on the Northwold Estate.
4. Likewise, Rossington Street, which cuts through the estate, is one of Hackney Borough’s least well-kept streets, with poor paving and road surfaces, which attracts abandoned cars and fly tipping. What conversation is The Guinness Partnership having with Hackney Labour Council about this road – as again, it will not be attractive to prospective buyers of luxury apartments.
5. As a leaseholder, I would like to receive in writing what my position is in relation to the redevelopment of the estate, what my options will be should my home be demolished, and what The Guinness Partnership’s policy is with regard to leaseholders.
6. As a leaseholder, I would like to have in writing a guarantee that, if my home is demolished, I will be paid the full market rate, as you said in conversation with me; that is to say, that I will be paid the amount I would get for the flat if I were to sell it on the open market today, and not when the demolition of the estate has been announced, plus a compensation fee for the disruption and trauma its demolition and my eviction will cause to my life.
7. TM Architects, who were also present at the consultation, admitted to me that their map exercise with the stickers was in no way going to inform their plans. To me this shows that the meeting was not intended to be a consultation, but merely a public relations and damage limitation exercise. Please explain exactly what the architects will be taking into account when drawing up their designs.
8. When do residents of Northwold Estate get sent a copy of the report of their feedback from the consultation? It’s very important that all who gave up their evening to attend are able to check whether their views are represented accurately and in full in this report.
9. The landscape architects had some wonderful ideas and enthusiasm about making the estate more attractive and green. After over 15 years of neglect by The Guinness Partnership, the grounds are in desperate need of attention and could be really attractive. And in order to attract wealthy property-buyers, obviously much time, effort and money will have to go into improving the whole site. However, I didn’t get a satisfactory answer as to how these new grounds will be maintained. Please provide this, including the cost implications to residents.
10. I asked TM Architects if they had been inside anyone’s home while researching for their designs, and they replied ‘no’, as if this had never occurred to them. It is vitally important that the architects, the Guinness Partnership developers and the consultants see how people live in their homes, and how the layout and other aspects of the flats work for them. I chose my flat because of the excellent design: its layout, storage capacity, light and the wonderful views across the estate, its numerous trees and the skies beyond. In the Newman Francis questionnaire, on the comments boards and in conversations, residents were not invited to talk about their homes, merely the communal areas. It is our homes that are important to us, and any new flats that are built on the estate must be to the same good design and excellent layout as these masterpieces of 1938 social architecture. The architects were talking about ‘efficiency’ of space: this is extremely offensive when talking to residents about their homes and therefore their lives.
11. The flats and buildings are structurally sound, well designed and 100 per cent fit for purpose. I would like to know, therefore, how destroying such high-quality dwellings can be justified when there is nothing wrong with them. Likewise, Northwold Estate is pleasantly spacious, while still providing hundreds of homes in a small urban area. Cramming more homes in will be to the detriment of the estate’s layout and its spacious feel.
12. The comments boards at the consultation invited criticism of the bin areas, communal areas, children’s play areas, parking spaces and landscaping. All of these aspects of the estate have been neglected of maintenance for many years since the refit of the early 2000s, so of course there is much to criticise. However, the structure and layout of the estate is not at fault: it is the neglect and drastic reduction in caretaking and cleaning that are the causes of what problems there are. It is clear to me that the criticisms gathered in the consultation will be presented to us as being ‘solved’ by the new design. But did anyone criticise their actual home? I didn’t see a single post-it note mentioning anything being wrong with the homes or buildings on the estate, yet these are what will be most fundamentally changed in the demolition and redevelopment of Northwold Estate.
My home is more than just a roof over my head. I did not buy it as an investment but as a place of sanctuary and creativity, and as an affordable way to live on my own when private renting became far too expensive. I selected a former social flat as it was within my means – which will be the case for all the leaseholders on the estate. I would much rather be a social tenant than a ‘homeowner’, but this is not an option for me. I have invested a great deal of money, time and creativity into making my home the place it is, and I am extremely concerned that it may be taken away from me, that I may be forced to leave the estate, the area, or even London. If I have to leave London, it will also mark the end of the career I have built over 20 years. I would like, therefore, to invite The Guinness Partnership, Newman Francis, and TM Architects to come and visit my home. I’d be very happy to show you all round and explain why it is so much more than a roof over my head. This is how all residents feel about their homes.
A resident of Northwold Estate
Below is the reply received from The Guinness Partnership:
Capital Programme Manager
24 June 2016
‘Following the February 2016 Resident Engagement Panel (REP) meeting the Council has sort to establish a constructive dialogue with Architects for Social Housing (ASH) so their proposals for Central Hill could be considered.’
‘The Council has now had the chance to review the ASH proposal and this report sets out a summary of the Council’s findings.’
Architects for Social Housing undertook to produce an architectural proposal for The Alternative to Demolition of Central Hill estate pro bono publico and with very limited financial resources. Lambeth Labour Council has not provided us with a brief, a housing needs survey, a measured survey of the existing estate, a consultant team, a criteria for deliverables, and of course we have received no payment. Not a single member of Lambeth Council, including the Cabinet Member for Housing and Ward Councillor for Crystal Palace, attended ASH’s formal presentations of our proposals: not when we presented to the Central Hill community in February 2016; nor again when we presented to the Residents Engagement Panel in May. Instead, with the backing of PRP Architects, Lambeth Council dismissed our design proposals even before they were published; and they continue to refuse to answer our Freedom of Information request to see their viability assessments months after it was issued. So Lambeth Labour Council’s ‘dialogue’ with us has been anything but ‘constructive’; on the contrary, it has been unrelentingly negative, dismissive and obstructive. Finally, as further evidence of their unwillingness to engage in ‘constructive dialogue’, Lambeth Labour Council has not invited ASH to discuss the issues they raise in this report, or to present our responses, which we are, therefore, publishing here.
Process of evaluation
‘The evaluation carried out by the Council is based on three key considerations:
‘The deliverability of the proposed design when assessed against basic design, structural and planning principles;
‘The feasibility of delivering the proposals within the financial constraints the Council finds itself in, and;
‘The ability of Lambeth to fund the refurbishment costs for the 456 tenanted and leasehold homes on Central Hill and the value for money of this investment.’
The intention of ASH’s design proposal is to illustrate that there are alternatives to demolition that need to be explored for reasons that we have laid out in our critique of Lambeth Council’s Criteria for Demolition, which relate to the social and environmental costs of demolition and redevelopment, and which both Lambeth Council and PRP Architects have failed adequately to consider. The comments from Lambeth Council that follow in this report demonstrate their complete unwillingness to explore the proposals ASH has put forward in a constructive way, and their desire to dismiss them as quickly and quietly as possible based on fabricated figures, withheld information, inaccurate assessments, false claims and deliberate misunderstandings. The point of this commentary is to point out only the most glaring and cynical of these, which raise serious doubts about the integrity of the councillors making decisions about the homes and lives of thousands of Lambeth Borough residents.
Deliverability of ASH Proposals
1. Design and Planning
‘The 250 ‘new build’ homes would be subject to local planning requirements and this would require at least 40% of the new homes to be affordable.’
‘The planning requirements set out a certain mix of property sizes (i.e. 1 beds, 2 beds, 3 beds etc.) and at present the ASH proposal provides too many 1-bedroom homes and not enough family sized homes.’
This is factually inaccurate. In fact, ASH’s design proposal, including the retained existing homes, has a better mix of homes than Option D in PRP Architects’ scheme, which was presented to the residents earlier this year. Nearly 50 per cent of Central Hill Estate following ASH’s refurbishment and infill proposal would be 3 bedroom homes or greater, while only 29 per cent of PRP Architects’ scheme provided 3 bedrooms or more.
‘An initial commentary given by architects, planners, building control and general views were provided to ASH on 14 April 2016 and the Council’s urban designers, PRP, have further reviewed the proposals submitted by ASH and the commentary below summarises the key issues identified in the review:
‘Buildings over four storeys in height will require lift access and therefore where you have buildings in excess of four storeys in the ASH proposal new lift access will need to be provided. This will have both design and cost considerations which the ASH proposal has not undertaken.’
Every new building with over four storeys is already provided with two lifts to allow for wheelchair access. The only location in which we propose new homes to be entered above the fourth floor is on the roof extensions to the prospect blocks (Site 15 in our proposal). We have now shown that, if necessary, lifts can easily be provided to access these new flats. We understand that, although it is desirable that floors at the fourth level and below be accessed by a lift, in mitigating circumstances the lift can be omitted according to the Minor Alterations to the London Plan (MALP):
‘3.48A. As set out in Approved Document M of the Building Regulations – Volume 1: Dwellings, to comply with requirement M4 (2), step-free access must be provided. Generally this will require a lift where a dwelling is accessed above or below the entrance storey. The application of requirement M4 (2) has particular implications for blocks of four storeys or less, where historically the London Plan has not required lifts. Boroughs should seek to ensure that dwellings accessed above or below the entrance storey in buildings of four storeys or less have step-free access. However, for these types of buildings this requirement may be subject to development-specific viability assessments and consideration should be given to the implication of ongoing maintenance costs on the affordability of service charges for residents. Where such assessments demonstrate that the inclusion of a lift would make the scheme unviable or mean that service charges are not affordable for intended residents, the units above or below the ground floor that cannot provide step free access would only need to satisfy the requirements of M4(1) of the Building Regulations.’ (my italics)
This exception potentially includes any buildings that are entered at fourth floor but for whom lifts would be prohibitively expensive. As they have done with the prohibitively expensive Lambeth Homes Standard, imposing this requirement at the cost of what can be afforded by the existing residents is another indicator of Lambeth Labour Council’s desire to socially cleanse residents from their homes under the guise of ‘improving’ them. If it’s a choice between walking up four flights of stairs to their homes and being moved four miles away from their homes, we believe residents will choose the former.
‘The location of the tall buildings is not seen as appropriate and would have a difficult relationship both with the existing Victorian buildings and the retained low-rise blocks of Central Hill.’
In the absence of any clear designation, it is not clear which ‘tall buildings’ this comment is referring to. As part of our planning response to this in our previous statement we wrote:
‘Building new buildings next to existing ones will inevitably create new relationships between the new and existing buildings. This is the nature of building in cities. Good design should mean this is not a problem but an opportunity. Cities are not homogeneous places. The distinctive character of Crystal Palace is rooted in the eclectic mix of architectural styles, as the area has evolved since the citing of The Crystal Palace, including four- and five-storey converted Victorian mansions, two-storey dwellings west of Roman Rise, and 5-8-storey blocks of 1960s flats on the south side of Central Hill. The ground-breaking and award-winning architecture of Central Hill Estate is a key element in the story of the area. A palimpsest of different styles built up over time is what makes cities exciting, vibrant and interesting, the sites of cumulative memory. ASH’s proposal celebrates the existing architecture and community, while also offering the potential for new homes. There is no reason why the design of the new buildings cannot be sensitive to the existing context.’
‘A minimum 10% of units are required to be wheelchair-accessible or easily adaptable for residents who are wheelchair users.’
ASH’s plans provide a minimum of 12 per cent new flats with wheelchair access, with the potential for more if necessary. All our new ‘infill’ blocks over four floors high are provided with lifts, and can accommodate as many wheelchair-accessible flats as are required. So this is not an issue but a careless or deliberate misreading of our proposal.
‘Proposed external staircase for access to upper level roof extensions block the existing north-south public access routes and cannot be built whilst retaining the required access on the public stairs.’
Although the access to upper floors does in some places conflict with existing routes, this does not have significant implications for the existing estate, as there are always alternative routes through the estate. Where it is possible, we have designed the access stair to allow access beneath or alongside these new access points. Once again, we believe that the eviction of residents from their homes is considerably more disruptive than the alternation of a few routes through the estate. This displays a willful desire by Lambeth Council to fabricate paper-thin excuses to reject ASH’s proposal, and flies in the face of common sense and, more importantly, the presumed integrity of the Council’s report.
‘The thickness of the walls as shown are not consistent and are generally insufficient to achieve compliance with Approved Building Regulations, Part L requirements. This is important, as when these are corrected it will require the buildings to increase in size, which will also increase the cost.’
ASH’s proposal is a feasibility exercise, and was based on an Ordnance Survey map at 1:500 scale, so quibbling over this level of detail has very little value except as an indicator of Lambeth Council’s attitude. All external walls on our designs have been shown at 400mm or in some cases 350mm, and it is perfectly possible to achieve part L requirement with these dimensions, depending on wall construction. ASH has not been provided with a more accurate survey by Lambeth Labour Council, so more detailed drawings at this stage would have little purpose. This comment – which frankly is not worthy of an architectural practice – illustrates a persistent desire for a level of detail that is entirely unnecessary at this stage of design, and once again the Council’s desire to fabricate reasons for rejecting ASH’s proposal.
‘Roof extensions and infill elements create Daylight and Sunlight issues.’
All new buildings will, by definition, have an effect on the existing environment, some more than others. We have not been shown that our designs contravene residents’ Rights to Light. If they do, this can be easily mitigated as part of the ongoing design process. Once again, we firmly believe that the existing residents will have access to better amenities in their current homes within the ASH scheme, than if their homes are demolished as part of Lambeth Labour Council’s redevelopment proposal.
‘There is a concern that in order to integrate the new homes above existing homes you would need to run services through existing properties.’
There are plenty of options to deal with services at a detail design stage. Again, we have been provided with no detailed services drawings or surveys, so are unable to make any assumptions. Building on top of existing homes, however, is a common solution to the densification of London, and the concerns raised are inconsistent with its use in contemporary housing. Lambeth Council really are clutching at straws here.
‘There is a concern over the weight of the new homes above existing homes and whether the existing homes could take the additional load.’
At our request Arup Engineers have already carried out a preliminary desktop study to show that a single story extension is more than likely to be acceptable. Lambeth Labour Council, however, have refused to appoint an engineer to follow up this survey. This is a further example of the Council demonstrating that they have no interest in establishing the genuine viability of this proposal.
‘Without further detailed design solutions it cannot be determined whether the above issues can be resolved. However, even if resolved the physical deliverability of ASH’s proposals need to be considered against 2 & 3 below.’
A classic example of ‘kettle logic’. If Lambeth Labour Council were genuinely interested in exploring whether or not these issues can be resolved in order to produce a viable alternative to demolition, they would commission the necessary work to be done. That they have chosen not to demonstrates, contrary to their excuses about the condition of the returned kettle, their desire to dismiss all alternatives out of hand.
2. Financial Feasibility
‘The Council undertook a financial appraisal of the ASH proposal and this is found in Appendix 3. Where available the Council has used cost information provided by ASH; where this was unavailable the Council provided the financial assumptions.’
‘The financial appraisal for the 250 new build homes shows a negative Net Present Value of £6.6m. This means that the money generated through the combined rents of the private homes and Council rent homes is insufficient to pay for the costs of building the new homes. The Council would therefore need to find additional money to make the ASH proposal achieve a break even position.’
‘This also means that there is no additional money generated by the 250 new homes and therefore there is no money generated to pay for the refurbishment of the existing homes on Central Hill.’
‘The Council could not therefore recommend this as a deliverable option.’
The mathematical calculations that ASH was provided with as part of Appendix 3 are, in fact, inaccurate and incorrect, and so cannot be used as the basis for assessing the viability of our proposals. Taking as an example this excerpt (below) from the viability assessment for our proposal produced for Lambeth Council by Airey Miller Construction Management, it can be seen that the assessment relates to one of our infill sites (Site 1) on which ASH has proposed building 30 new flats. The number of dwellings proposed is clearly indicated in the top line of the table as 30. As we go down the page, the chart at the bottom identifies the percentage of flats that will be for private and council rent, respectively, the total percentage of which therefore needs to add up to 100 per cent, with the total number of flats coming to the 30 indicated. However, as we see, only 1 flat for private rent out of the 30 has been accounted for, with 12 for council rent, a total of only 13 new flats. Where, then, have the other 17 private flats gone? Presumably the income from the rent of these private flats has not been added to the overall income from this building, so it’s no surprise that this site have been shown, as a result, to be ‘unviable’, with a negative pre-finance net present value (NPV). Is this simply a sloppy error by Lambeth Council, or a deliberate attempt to make our proposals ‘unviable’?
We have to assume the latter, because on top of these basic mathematical errors that we know of, ASH has not been provided with the assumptions on which these calculations were based. We have been informed by the Independent Advisors on the Residents Engagement Panel, however, that these are different from the assumptions on which PRP Architects’ initial viability assessment was based. ASH has made a Freedom of Information request for the calculations on which this appendix was based, which conflict with those used for the scheme by PRP architects, but we have been told by Lambeth Council that these ‘cannot be provided’. Specifically, they wrote to us that:
‘In all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information until the scheduled publication date. Therefore, the information is not provided to you.’
It is unclear, however, exactly what public interest is served in withholding the information pertaining to the viability assessment of both the ASH and PRP Architects schemes on Central Hill; but Lambeth Council has refused to answer further questions. Again, this is another example of the way in which Lambeth Council have sought to obstruct and dismiss our proposal. Lambeth Labour’s self-appointed designation as the ‘Cooperative Council’ is already something of a running joke, but nobody will be laughing when its deliberate attempts to pervert democratic process leads to the demolition of the homes of over a thousand residents on Central Hill estate. As far as we are concerned, therefore, the viability of the ASH proposal has not been sufficiently established, and we have no confidence in the assessment that Lambeth Labour Council has provided.
3. Investment Requirement for Central Hill
‘To reiterate the point above, as it is such a fundamental one, the ASH proposal does not address the issue of how to fund the costs to refurbish the 456 tenanted and leasehold homes on Central Hill.’
‘The ASH proposal would still require the Council to find the money to refurbish the new homes from existing budgets as the ASH proposal would not generate a positive receipt.’
In fact, there are several possibilities for funding the refurbishment of Central Hill Estate, such as forming a Tenant Management Organisation, or transferring the ownership of the estate to the residents, who can then borrow money against them to build the ASH proposal. Neither, however, has been explored by Lambeth Labour Council. We have not seen Lambeth Council undertake any explorations into alternative funding strategies – which, once again, demonstrates an unwillingness on their part genuinely to explore all the options open to the Central Hill community.
‘As raised in the commentary of ASH’s initial proposals, there are potential issues with building over leasehold homes – all blocks have leasehold interests. Under the leases Lambeth reserves the right to build on adjacent land but does not reserve the right to alter the building in which the flats are contained. Potentially, the ‘enjoyment’ of other residents on the estate can be obstructed or interfered with and so they would have the right to object. The service charging and maintenance issues between Homes for Lambeth and the HRA will be complex.’
Building on top of leaseholders’ homes is, in fact, standard practice in other London boroughs, so it’s clearly not a fundamental problem to anyone who knows what they’re talking about, as opposed to someone making unfounded assertions confirming already reached conclusions. For example, as part of their ‘Hidden Homes’ project, Wandsworth Conservative Council has built new homes on top of Abbott House in Balham. Plenty of the existing homes are owned by leaseholders, as can been seen from the sale records of the flats. And it is our understanding that Lambeth Labour Council did, in fact, explore the possibility of building homes on top of the existing homes on the Hemans Estate. Is Lambeth Council now saying that it has different leasehold agreements with leaseholders there?
As to the ‘enjoyment’ of existing tenants: it is far more likely to be ‘obstructed’ or ‘interfered’ with as a result of a full demolition scheme than with some additional housing. With demolition, residents will not be able to ‘enjoy’ their existing homes and amenity spaces at all. Even if they are able to afford to return to the estate, which is highly unlikely, the amenities proposed as part of PRP Architects’ scheme would be considerably less than they currently enjoy. With adequate resources, ASH is quite capable of ensuring that no Rights to Light are infringed upon.
As to the complexity of service charging: again, we recommend that Lambeth Labour Council look at other councils that are doing exactly this. The fact that it is ‘complex’ should not be a reason to demolish an entire estate, or is the Council claiming incompetency? Given their inability understand ASH’s proposals, this would be the one thing in this report that is true.
‘Lambeth’s key priority is to build “More and Better Homes” and so any proposal has to look at how many additional homes can be delivered – specifically affordable homes, and also how it can deliver investment to the Lambeth Homes Standard for the retained Lambeth stock.’
‘The proposal by ASH would be challenging to deliver in light of the constraints highlighted above, in particular in building above existing homes, and the Council considers a more realistic and achievable figure would be 128 new homes.’
The council has not provided any evidence of how they have arrived at this new figure, which they have plucked from the sky, nor illustrated that they have tried to mitigate any of the constraints highlighted, most of which are due to the constraints of their comprehension and honesty in considering them.
‘The financial assessment of the costs given by ASH and income for the development of 250 homes shows a negative net present value of –£6.6m. As such the proposal is not feasible to be developed.’
ASH disputes this figure, which once again has been produced from thin air. We have not seen any accurate figures for its calculation, or the assumptions by which these figures were reached. To reiterate what we said above: the only figures ASH has been provided with are mathematically incorrect, and therefore cannot be trusted. The same might be said of the Council that, whether through incompetence or deliberately, provided us with those figures.
‘The ASH proposal will not generate any surplus money to fund the refurbishment of the existing homes and so residents will see no benefit other than the development of 250 new homes on their estate.’
We do not believe, or accept, that this is correct, as we do not have confidence in the viability assessment produced. In order for us to assess the veracity of Lambeth Labour Council’s viability assessment, we need to see it and have it independently assessed. As we have said, though, Lambeth Labour Council has refused to provide us with this assessment. Readers may come to their own conclusions as to why not.
‘In light of the assessment the Council cannot recommend the ASH proposal as a deliverable option and it will not be considered as part of the consultation with Lambeth tenants, leaseholders and freeholders on Central Hill.’
Contrary to this report, to which an architectural practice of PRP’s standing should be ashamed to contribute, ASH is convinced, and can show to anyone willing to attend our presentations – as Lambeth Labour Council is not – that our ‘Alternative to Demolition’ scheme is the most socially, environmentally and financially viable future for Central Hill Estate. Our proposal may be viewed on our blog here, and we reiterate that our designs are part of a feasibility study, and can be developed in further consultation with residents to meet their needs, rather than the investment opportunities of property speculators on London’ s housing market.
Finally, before ASH is asked to defend its proposals against the fabricated and disingenuous appraisals of a report such as this, Lambeth Labour Council has a duty to the residents of Central Hill Estate to answer the many questions about the social and environmental costs of their proposed redevelopment scheme. To this end, ASH has outlined these questions in our text Criteria for Estate Demolition: ASH Response to Lambeth Labour Council, which we recommend as further reading for both residents and councillors alike. We look forward to receiving Lambeth Council’s response.
Architects for Social Housing
Below is PRP Architect’s Design Compliance Risk Assessment for ASH’s proposal, on which Lambeth Council’s report is based, with ASH’s point-by-point response. All the images reproduced in this post may be viewed in greater detail on request.
This week Architects for Social Housing met with Adrian Dobson, Executive Director for Members, and Maxine Mckenzie, Executive Director of Communications, to discuss ASH’s protest against the RIBA’s nomination of Trafalgar Place for this year’s Stirling Prize.
First of all we got security out of the way. We asked them to speak to the police and tell them we have the RIBA’s agreement to protest outside their headquarters at 66 Portland Place. To their enquiry, we warned them that since it’s the Heygate Estate redevelopment that the RIBA has chosen to nominate for Britain’s foremost architectural prize, we expect a lot more angry people to be there this year than there were at last year’s protest against the nomination of Neo Bankside, and advised them that the best way not to piss off protesters is for cops not to push them around, tell them the pavement they’re standing on is private land or that they’re blocking a public right of way. They agreed, and will be speaking to the police in advance. However, we told them that our intention is not to stop people attending the ceremony or to enter the building ourselves, but to speak to guests on the way in and make them aware of the reasons for our protest.
We then moved onto these reasons. We filled them in on the Secretary of State’s decision, which they hadn’t heard about yet, to reject Southwark Labour Council’s Compulsory Purchase Order on the Aylesbury Estate on the grounds that it violated leasholders’ human rights to enjoy their property and have their homes respected, and that the redevelopment scheme discriminated against them in contravention of the Equality Act. To make the link between this decision and their nomination of the redevelopment on the former Heygate Estate we told them our protest chant:
AYLESBURY ESTATE: HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION! HEYGATE ESTATE: STIRLING PRIZE NOMINATION!
Which they looked slightly worried at. We then raised the issue of Ben Derbyshire, the RIBA’s new President Elect, being Managing Director of HTA Design, the lead architectural practice on the Aylesbury Estate. At their suggestion, we will be writing to him to ask for a response to the Secretary of State’s decision, and whether he now agrees that the Aylesbury regeneration scheme he has steadfastly supported against widespread criticism does in fact violate the human rights not only of leaseholders but of all tenants on the estate, and whether he intends to continue colluding with its implementation by Southwark Labour Council and Notting Hill Housing Association.
We then went on to the specific reason for our protest. They were fairly vague on the social cost of demolishing the Heygate Estate, so we gave them the figures on how many homes for social rent are being built on the ruins of the demolished 1,200 council homes (82 out of the 2,535 new builds), and showed them a displacement map of where the previous residents have ended up. We then gave them the figures for Trafalgar Place, the project nominated by the RIBA, which is providing no social housing, and showed why its 25 per cent affordable housing quota, based on a 2-bedroom apartment selling for £725,000, is only affordable to real estate investors. We accused the entire Elephant & Castle regeneration project of being social cleansing, and questioned why its first completed stage has been nominated by the RIBA for the UK’s foremost architecture prize.
They looked pretty sheepish about this, so we criticised the role of the RIBA in giving legitimacy to the false narratives of estate regeneration propagated by politicians and developers with awards like the Stirling Prize, and accused them of contributing to the disinformation and lies with which the public are deceived about the reality of a property boom disguised as a housing crisis.
We brought up the fact that only 16 per cent of RIBA members even bothered to vote for the new President, citing this as an example of the lack of a clear reason for the existence of the RIBA, and suggested that taking a stand on the social and ethical issues facing the architectural profession, specifically with regard to its role in the social cleansing of estate communities, would give the RIBA a clear identity and role to play in the profession. This occasioned much scribbling.
We discussed the barriers to the agency of architectural practices, and they told us that whereas 85 per cent of architects were employed in the public sector in 1965, today the figure is 2 per cent. We argued that if the profession is to claim that distinction, keep dressing its practitioners in funky glasses and black polo-neck jumpers, and not become mere tools of the building industry, it has to work to reclaim a wider remit than its current reduction to an employee’s duty to the client. We spoke of the social legacy of the post-war era, and of its betrayal by the current generation of architects, and argued that the over-riding duty of an architect is not to the client but to the residents who live in the homes and spaces they design. Once again, as we had when we met the RIBA last year, we spoke of the need for architects to start observing the existing ARB Codes of Conduct, and specifically their responsibilities for the effects their work has on the community, and suggested that a new Social Code of Architects be drawn up.
They argued that there is a contradiction between the values expressed in the RIBA’s nominations for the Stirling Prize and its housing policies, which they proposed were not so far from those of ASH. Rejecting this comparison, we referred to the recent RIBA publication on the ‘Ethics of Estate Regeneration’, which they said was produced by its Housing Group in response to the issues ASH raised at last year’s protest. We gave them a copy of ASH’s commentary on this text, suggested they publish it in the RIBA Journal, and pointed out that, among its many faults, it took as its point of departure the conviction that the exclusive role of architects in estate regeneration is to use their skills to convince residents of the error of their misconceptions about the benefits of having their homes demolished and replaced by high quality homes they can’t afford to live in.
To our enquiries, they told us that Ben Derbyshire has made noises about turning the RIBA into a forum for debate rather than the promoter of a particular architectural stance, so we suggested they invite ASH to speak at their next debate on these issues, such as the recent Stephen Lawrence Memorial Lecture on the theme of architecture and community. They nodded, but made no definite commitment, even when we promised not to offend too many architects.
We ended by relating to them some of the comments and suggestions on this page by supporters of ASH, as follows:
Get rid of Ben Derbyshire. Since he’s their new boss, they somewhat understandably didn’t respond to this, but it was worth a try.
Set up an RIBA Ethics Committee to ensure that no estate regeneration scheme that reduces the overall number of homes for social rent or socially cleanses the community from the estate, or any project that incorporates segregated entrances, etc, is ever again nominated for the Stirling Prize.
Recommend that architects employed in estate regeneration, as part of their contractual obligations with clients, insist on an analysis of the social cost of the project and its negative effects on residents, as well as its environmental cost and negative effects on the wider area, and not be satisfied merely with its financial viability, before accepting the brief.
Replace the cult of ‘Starchitects’ and their celebration in awards like the Stirling Prize with an appreciation and promotion of the social values of architecture.
Create an Albert Speer Prize for architects that don’t care whom they work for. This got a bit of a laugh.
Finally, we told them we would once again be awarding the O. J. Simpson Prize at the protest. We were slightly surprised that they’d heard of the prize, but we assured them that in five year’s time it will have overtaken the Carbuncle Cup as an expression of the failings of contemporary architecture, and asked them if they wanted the RIBA’s name indelibly associated with its winning.
If you’d like to continue this conversation and make your own views known, please join us at 6pm on Thursday, 6 October, outside the RIBA headquarters at 66 Portland Place, for the ASH Stirling Prize Protest.
A lot has been written already about Friday’s decision by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, to accept the Government Inspector’s recommendation not to confirm Southwark Labour Council’s Compulsory Purchase Order on the homes of leaseholders on the First Development Site of the Aylesbury Estate regeneration. But in the understandable excitement at this rare victory, not all of it has been accurate. The London News even printed an article by Toby Porter, a former journalist for the Daily Mail, that confused the objections raised by leaseholders with the reasons why the Secretary of State has refused the Compulsory Purchase Order.
As the letter from the Department for Communities and Local Government shows, most of the objections the leaseholders raised have in fact been rejected by the Secretary of State – specifically:
That social housing will not be provided on the new development: an objection he ignores, as you’d expect of a member of a Government that, with the Housing and Planning Act, removed the obligation to include any homes for social rent in new housing developments;
That Southwark Council’s redevelopment plans are unviable: he concludes, to the contrary, that they are;
That the refurbishment of the estate was not considered as an alternative to demolition and redevelopment: in fact it was, but the results of the extensive research commissioned by Southwark Labour Council were not presented to the Executive Committee, and on this evidence – or rather, on the lack of it – the Secretary of State concludes that refurbishment is unviable;
That the scheme will not benefit the wider area: although this is one of the legal conditions of issuing a Compulsory Purchase Order, since these objections are to its effects on the leaseholders making them, there is no obligation for the Secretary of State to consider such a claim – which he doesn’t.
So despite initial appearances to the contrary, the former Managing Director of Deutsche Bank hasn’t developed a sudden concern about the social cleansing of London’s council estates. The actual reasons the current Secretary of State gives for refusing the Compulsory Purchase Order are listed in the letter under the following paragraphs:
‘It will have considerable economic, social and environmental dis-benefits in terms of consequences for those leaseholders remaining on the Order land.’
‘The deficiencies of the scheme include the number of dwellings that fail to meet the Council’s adopted standards for sunlight and daylight, and the extent of overshadowing to the proposed amenity areas.’
‘The Council has not taken reasonable steps to acquire land interests by agreement.’
‘The interference with residents’ (in particular leaseholders’) Article 8 rights is not demonstrably necessary or proportionate, taking into account the likelihood that if the scheme is approved, it will probably force many of those concerned to move from this area.’
‘The interference with residents’ peaceful enjoyment of their property was not necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest, and accordingly that the interference with Article 1 of the First Protocol was not proportionate.’
To clarify these last two reasons, under the European Convention on Human Rights to which the Secretary of State refers, everyone has: ‘the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence’ (Article 8); and ‘is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions’ (Protocol 1).
‘There are significant negative impacts on protected groups if the Compulsory Purchase Order is confirmed.’
Under Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, from which the ‘Public Sector Equality Duty’ arises, this consideration – which goes on to make particular reference to the age and ethnicity of the leaseholders and the disproportionate negative effects the Compulsory Purchase Order will have on elderly residents unable to stay in the area, children forced into new schools, and residents from black and ethnic minorities separated from their cultural communities – makes up by far the largest section of the letter, and has the most potential for all residents’ rights. However, its implications are qualified by the following statement, which is much more in keeping with the considerations of a Tory Minister:
‘Mitigation of negative Public Sector Equality Duty effects – by suggested modifications to the Order – is in practice not possible. Full planning permission has already been granted and it would therefore not be practical to require changes which could not in practice be put into effect.’
All of which leads the Secretary of State to the following conclusion:
‘He considers that potentially there is a good opportunity for the Council to work positively with the remaining leaseholders to alleviate the negative aspects he has highlighted above with a view to resubmitting an Order in due course to achieve successfully the objectives set out in the planning framework.’
So, in a further effort at reaching ‘agreement’, we can expect Notting Hill Housing Association to throw a large amount of money at the leaseholders to compensate them for their relinquished human rights, and in doing so relieve Southwark Labour Council of its duty to public sector equality. As the letter states very clearly:
‘Compensation is not a relevant consideration in relation to whether the Secretary of State should confirm the Order because this issue is dealt with separately by the Upper Tribunal.’
Which I believe in legal terms is what’s called ‘passing the buck’.
However, the power of leaseholders over their homes has been greatly increased, which definitely makes this decision a victory for those fighting the demolition of their homes. But we should be clear about exactly what that victory is based on, which is the property rights of leaseholders, not what some of us mistakenly understand by human rights. If nothing else, the increased compensation leaseholders can demand might make developers and housing associations like Notting Hill Housing think twice about getting councils to issue Compulsory Purchase Orders.
But potentially the most useful part of this document is the long section on Public Sector Equality Duty (paragraphs 23-33). Here the considerations of the Secretary of State this duty gives rise to are only sited in the context of the leaseholders who made their objections to his Department; but there is an argument to be made that the negative effects of being moved away from community support networks are just as applicable to tenants, and that simply re-housing them elsewhere doesn’t mitigate those effects.
This is, perhaps, where the real victory lies in this decision by the Secretary of State: not in the property rights of leaseholders, but in the potential for articulating the human rights of all residents whose homes are threatened by estate demolition schemes. Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to which the Secretary of State refers, protects a person’s ‘right to respect for his private and family life, his home.’ This opens the possibility to argue that, even though they don’t own the property, a tenant’s council flat is their home, and therefore that its demolition, their eviction from it and relocation to a new property against their will, is an infringement of their human rights to respect for that home.
The other opportunities this decision opens to those of us fighting estate demolition schemes is that if councils can be compelled to consider arguments for the viability of refurbishment – which Southwark Labour Council did not for the Aylesbury Estate – and alternatives to demolition are proposed before planning permission is granted, then the Secretary of State is under obligation to consider them, or at least to consider why a given council didn’t consider them, or at least to consider their considerations. Unfortunately, by the time objections to a Compulsory Purchase Order get to his Department, planning permission will already have been granted; and challenges to whether councils have genuinely considered options other than demolition properly belong in judicial reviews by the High Court. But in our own struggle against Lambeth Labour Council, ASH are in the process of showing that their rejection of our proposed alternatives to the demolition of Central Hill Estate was based on fabricated figures, false evaluations, deliberate misunderstandings and a complete refusal to engage with us. So we imagine that they, and other Labour Councils implementing estate demolition schemes across London’s boroughs, will be studying the Secretary of State’s decision closely.
As to why he made it, perhaps the Tory Government is worried about the growing power of Labour Councils in London, which – as the July Progress Conference held by the right-wing Labour cabal demonstrated – is where the Labour Party sees its future power base over the next decade. Perhaps another, wealthier, more powerful developer wants a cut of the Aylesbury pie, and convinced the Secretary of State to scare Notting Hill Housing Association away. Who knows? But a precedent has been set, and we need to use it to save the homes not only of leaseholders, but also of the tenants that make up the majority of residents on London’s housing estates, and who – not because of their age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy, maternity, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation (all of which are protected against discrimination by the Equality Act), but because of their poverty (which isn’t) – are disproportionately and negatively effected by an estate demolition programme that is socially cleansing the working class from London.
Northwold Estate, in the London Borough of Hackney, was recently informed that the Guinness Partnership, one of the largest housing associations in Britain, and which took over the running of the estate from the Labour Council seven years ago, were now looking at options for its regeneration. These are:
Infill, building new flats on unused land on the estate;
Partial demolition and redevelopment of the estate;
Full demolition and redevelopment of the estate.
The first consultation, which is being conducted by the firm of Newham Francis in collaboration with TM Architects, was held on 28 July, with a second held shortly afterwards on 17 August. A total of 130 residents from the roughly 1,500 that live on the estate attended these events. Despite this, residents have been informed that the Guinness Partnership will be presenting its proposals for their estate at the end of September, a mere two months from the initial consultation.
The declared aim of the regeneration is to ‘build more homes’ and ‘create mixed communities’. However, leaving aside the fact that housing estates are already some of the most mixed communities in London, we know from the example of the full demolition and redevelopment of the Loughborough Estate in Brixton what protocol the Guinness Partnership is likely to follow.
Leaseholders will be offered compensation for their homes and encouraged to move off the estate rather than go through the ten years it will take to decant residents, demolish the existing homes and build the new ones. If they still wish to return to the new development, the compensation they can expect to receive in return for their demolished homes will barely be enough to allow them to enter into shared equity or joint ownership, effectively turning homeowners into renters.
Secure tenants, meanwhile, who are currently being told that they will be rehoused in the new flats within two years – a blatantly false statement – will find that when the time comes they will be offered nothing more than the Right to Return to the new developments if they can afford the hugely increased rents. Large numbers will accept offers to be re-housed elsewhere in the borough, or more likely further out, and their current homes will either be left empty, filled with new tenants on assured short-terms tenancies, or, as was widely practiced on the Loughborough Estate, occupied by property guardians. As a consequence, when the time finally comes to establish the tenancy mix in the new development, the number of flats set aside to accommodate residents on secure tenancies will have been drastically reduced.
Even then, what tenants haven’t been told by the Guinness Partnership is that under the Government’s Housing and Planning Act 2016, there is now no longer any requirement for new housing developments to contain any homes for social rent, and that, as a consequence, Labour Councils across London are replacing their promises to do so with so-called ‘affordable housing’. As is increasingly widely known by now, this means up to 80 per cent of market rate, and in Hackney the average rent for a 1-bedroom flat is currently £1,500 per month, over £1,900 for a 2-bedroom flat, and nearly £2,700 for a 3-bedroom flat. These figures, however – which are totally unaffordable for the majority of tenants on Northwold Estate – are only the average rent, and considerably less than the prices they can expect to be offered on the luxury flats the Guinness Partnership want to build. This, and not the lies with which they are being placated, is the real, financial context of tenants’ and leaseholders’ Right to Return to the new development – which is the only right they will be guaranteed.
Faced by these facts, all of which add up to a programme for the social cleansing of the Northwold estate community, a group of residents – both leaseholders and tenants – have started a campaign to defend their homes and their community from the Guinness Partnership and Hackney Labour Council. Refusing the options they have been offered without prior consultation, their demand is for:
The maintenance of the existing estate;
The retention of the borough’s rapidly dwindling stock of social housing;
The continued residency and tenancy status of the existing community on Northwold Estate.
Please give your active support to the Northwold Estate campaign: @savenorthwoldE5
Initially built in 1938, Northwold Estate now contains 480 council flats, of which 140 leasehold were purchased through the Right to Buy before the estate was bought by the Guinness Partnership, providing homes for around 1,500 residents. Despite a lack of maintenance since the refit in the early 2000s, the buildings are structurally sound and the homes in a decent state of repair.
Additional mansion blocks, updated in style but in keeping with the look of the overall estate, were added in the 1950s, increasing the number of council homes for Hackney’s largely working-class population.
The external lifts were added in the 1980s, and new playgrounds in some of the forecourts allow children to be watched over by parents from the kitchen windows of the flats above. Despite this, these flats do not meet modern home standards, and therefore cannot be gutted and refurbished as luxury apartments. So despite the appearance of choice, full demolition and redevelopment – which is also the most profitable course of action for developers – is the only option the Guinness Partnership will be genuinely considering, as their employment of TM Architects indicates. However, like the hundreds of thousands of Georgian and Victorian conversions in which millions of Londoners live, this failure to meet modern housing standards does not mean the estate that 1,500 residents call home is no longer ‘fit for purpose’. Nor does it justify its demolition in the middle of a housing shortage of homes in which Londoners can afford to live. On the contrary, what are not ‘fit for purpose’ are the hostels, bed-sits and other forms of temporary accommodation to which the bulk of the estate’s tenant households will be decanted with the promise of their return.
As part of the managed decline of the estate, vacant lots have been fenced off and used for rubbish collection, while garages, once in 24-hour use, have been run down into a state of disuse. Following the Housing and Planning Act, these now qualify as ‘brownfield land’, meaning any developer that proposes a housing development on the land will automatically be granted planning permission in principle.
The balconies of the mid-rise blocks have recently been painted white, a ruse often employed to convince residents that their homes are safe from the bulldozers.
This garden courtyard between several blocks was recently closed on the grounds that it encouraged ‘anti-social behaviour’. Under the Antisocial Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014, this now encompasses anything that ‘has caused, or is likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress to any person, or is capable of causing a nuisance or annoyance to a person.’ Despite this, when we visited the estate these children had climbed the fence and were enjoying the garden – an act of civil disobedience which, whether it causes a nuisance or not, we recommend their parents follow.
In a tactic employed on every estate across London facing ‘regeneration’, the community hall, which overlooks this playground, has been closed to residents – though it may still be booked on extortionate commercial rates. This effectively deprives the community of a place to organise resistance to the Guinness Partnership’s plans to demolish residents’ homes and drive them out of Hackney.
Northwold Estate has been designed as an urban village of mid-rise blocks around a large central square, precisely the type of architecture being promoted by the Government’s narrative of City Villages: More Homes, Better Communities. But it would seem that some villages and communities are considered better than others.
The estate plan is like a jigsaw of interlocking blocks, with smaller courtyards opening onto larger ones, giving each block an individual identity and unique relationship to the larger whole. Far from facing demolition, Northwold Estate should be adopted as a model for the kind of social housing London so desperately needs.
The external walkways act as balconies onto the interior courtyards, with plenty of space for parking, and numerous trees growing around the estate, providing an important environmental resource against air pollution.
A measure of the Guinness Partnership’s commitment to estate maintenance is the state of its Housing and Repairs Desk. No maintenance has been carried out for over 15 years. Like the garages and bin yards, this land has been fenced off from residents and can now be categorised as brownfield land. When planners draw their red lines around estates they want to demolish, the existence of red-lined blocks of land within the estate grounds acts as encouragement to the investors who will fund their demolition project.
The detailing in the brickwork of the estate demonstrates an attention to detail and pride in craftsmanship glaringly lacking from the generic, brick-clad facades of the ‘luxury housing’ being built on the demolished council estates of London – as a visit to the Guinness Partnership’s redevelopment on the former Loughborough Estate will confirm. ‘Glorified rabbit hutches’ was one tenant’s opinion of the new homes he’d been re-housed in.
Even on a high-density estate like Northwold, the inventive transitions between courtyards and blocks provide areas for formal and informal playgrounds where kids can play in safety away from cars and the street. It’s unlikely, of course, that any but the wealthiest parents will be able to afford the price of the luxury apartments the Guinness Partnership wants to build in their place. The bulk of the properties will be real estate investments by nom-domicile buyers and buy-to-let landlords.
The huge back gardens are home to mature trees planted 80 years ago when the estate was first built, none of which will survive its demolition and redevelopment, further depleting the environment.
The transition between the estate and the surrounding neighbourhood is managed through a row of lower blocks that harmonise well with the terraces opposite, and lead onto a grid of village-like side streets that combine car and pedestrian use.
The large sports facilities, which are used not only by children from the estate but by local football teams, will all be lost to a redevelopment whose bottom line is to maximise profits for investors by building the highest density of luxury apartments on as much land as possible.
Like all the land Northwold Estate stands on, the maintenance depot belongs to Hackney Council, and is part of the demolition plans of the Guinness Partnership. The housing association has the full co-operation of the Labour Council, which has already overseen the demolition of 18 council estates in Hackney with the loss of 915 homes for social rent and the construction of 3,343 flats for sale or rent at the full market price.
In an image of the estate’s future, this bland, generic block (above), built on former brownfield land, is private accommodation; and the estate pub (below), another community centre closed down, has been turned into private flats.
This crumpled piece of A5 paper, stuck to the outside of the notice board for Epping House, was the extent of notice residents received for the ‘consultation’ conducted by the firm of Newham Francis; while inside the cabinet a poster warns tenants that subletting their flats is now ‘illegal’, punishable by a two-year prison sentence and a fine of up to £50,000, and encourages them to end their tenancy.
Architects for Social Housing has been invited by residents to help them with their campaign to save their homes and their community. We will keep supporters abreast of events and how they can lend their support to campaign initiatives. The future of Northwold Estate is in all our hands.
The first man who, having enclosed a plot of ground, took upon himself to say ‘This is mine’, and found people naïve enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. How many crimes, how many wars, how many murders, how much misery and horror, would have been spared the human race if someone, tearing up the fence and filling in the ditch, had cried out to his fellow men: ‘Do not listen to this imposter! You are lost if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to all, and the earth itself to no one.’
– Jean Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of the Inequality Between Men (1755)
Manifesto of the Public Land Liberation Army
There is no such thing as private land. You may be fortunate enough to own the property on it, but the land it is built on is ours. We who live on the land are merely its custodians for future generations. If those who claim to own the land sold it to you, they did not have the right. We were not consulted. It was not theirs to sell. You have been deceived. The land is the result of hundreds of generations of labour, which was not undertaken for the profit and pleasure of a wealthy individual or elite. We do not acknowledge the laws passed by that elite to steal from us our collective inheritance of the land we were born on, which is that of the entire planet. All land is by definition public, and we are here to take it back. Help us to enforce this principle collectively by enacting your public Rights of Way over privately owned property – and soon, before they sell it all from under us.
Land Ownership and Class Division
Land is the first and fundamental form of property. The claims to its ownership began in the Neolithic with the raising of animals as livestock on a limited area of land, and above all with the cultivation of land for agriculture. Significantly, it was from the latter that the division of humans into classes began. Before that, one might own personal belongings and have, perhaps, a tribal leader who had a greater say on the disposal of the tribe’s collective resources, but the idea of owning the land from which the tribe took its food would have made no sense to the seasonal movements of hunters and gatherers. It was only when, in the decisive moment in the evolution of man, the hunt and the search for food was transformed into repeated labour on the land that ownership of that land became something to lay claim to and defend.
From this came the twin institutions of monuments and war, the architecture of warlords and the labourers that built and died for it. At which point there emerged a new kind of human activity. First, that in which, through laborious repetition, the present moment is deferred to the future in which those actions bear fruit; and second, in which the fruits of that activity are in excess of the needs of consumption. Only mass production of the means of subsistence by a labouring class could have sustained the enormous squandering of that surplus labour by a non-labouring class on a monument such as, for example, Stonehenge. What are monuments but, first and foremost, the declaration of the resources at the disposal of the non-labouring elite, whose ownership of the land and labour required to produce them they continue to signify down to the present day? Ownership of the land and the social division of peoples into classes emerged at the same time in prehistory, and their subsequent intertwining, which no social revolution has been able to unravel, has been the history of humankind.
Nothing, except in degree, has changed since. Walking through one of the most beautiful and gentle parts of England recently, what struck me most was how much land there still is, even in this so-called crowded little island, in the possession of a few very wealthy people. It is impossible to admire these immaculately tended lawns, these tastefully restored manors and well-maintained hedges, these lush green fields reserved for the horses of banker’s daughters, these bosky hills planted by generations of agricultural labourers under the custodianship of country gentlemen, without thinking of the battle for land that is driving the class war in London. The idea of the scarcity of land in a country that is, as we are constantly told by our state propaganda, ‘full’ is as ideological an image of England as the politics of austerity in a nation with the sixth strongest economy in the world.
As I walked through its open expanses, I imagined the children of families that have been driven out of their homes by multi-millionaires running free through these ancient woodlands, living in communities in the vast empty manors that were built in a time of such vastly unequal wealth and poverty that we deceive ourselves it lies in the distant past rather than in our immediate future. It is nothing less than an obscenity that the poorest and most vulnerable members of our class-driven society are being systematically reduced to even greater poverty, and deprived by law of the means to escape it, when lawns and fields and houses like this are the private property of a few. While this state of affairs exists, let no one speak to me of nationhood or democratic government, of common sense and equality under the law, of the dignity of man or capitalism as the best of all possible worlds. We are a pack of dogs fighting in the dirt for the bones from our master’s table, and until we learn to bite the hand that feeds us none of us deserves to be called civilised. The working class is revolutionary, or it is nothing.
On the Revolutionary Meaning of Hedgerows
They say that to estimate the age of a hedgerow, every different species of tree or shrub within a hundred foot stretch is equal to a century of years. In this hedgerow, which runs along the lane to Barnsgate Manor on the edge of Ashdown Forest, even with our urban eyes we managed to identify holly, ivy, oak, hazel, hawthorn, bramble, honeysuckle, bindweed and sticky weed, with, on the verge, cow parsley, stinging nettles, various grasses, buttercups and forget-me-nots.
I was trying to understand my attraction to hedgerows after we walked along this one. In terms of their use as a boundary marking out private property, whether between one farmer’s field and another or, just as commonly, between a banker’s rural idyll and the road, I hate them and all they stand for. They are a peculiarly English expression of the deeply ingrained notion that ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’. But beyond their utility, there is an older meaning, which is about the meeting between man and nature from which the British landscape emerged.
Like the dry-stone walls of northern England, the hedgerows of the south, a legacy of Anglo-Saxon husbandry, require considerable skill and knowledge to create. But unlike a wall, a hedge cannot be made in a few days, no matter how many hands are put, willingly or otherwise, to the task. The labourer who plants the hedge will never see its full glory; nor will his sons and daughters, or even theirs. The hedgerows of southern England are the work of hundreds of years. And although that continuity is a product of the ownership of the land that is passed down from father to son, and therefore as blatant an image of aristocratic privilege and working class bondage as the manor house, they are, too, a product that, almost uniquely in today’s world, cannot be made by machines in a day. The richest hedge fund manager, the most impatient landlord, cannot buy or make a hedgerow for the rural manor that is the sign of his entry into the landowning class, no matter how much he pays. As such, the hedgerow, in a dialectical reversal of its historical meaning, is today a symbol of resistance to the commodification of the land we stand on, the labour we are forced to live by, the world we are damned to live in. Burn down the manors, comrades! Cultivate the hedgerows!
The Norman Yoke
The elusive class distinction by which everyone is so eager to define themselves these days always makes me laugh, so let me clarify it here. If you’re one month’s cheque from being evicted from your home, whether on a salary or benefits, you’re working class; if you inherited a home, or the money to get a mortgage on one, you’re middle class. But in reality, if you belong to either class, you’re a peasant or the serf who works his farm.
Walking in one of the less visited parts of Ashdown Forest recently, through a jigsaw of fields whose boundaries were laid down by the Anglo-Saxons, we crossed the clearly marked path through the grounds of a manor house and saw, in a clump of trees in the next field, a temple. Some people think being rich means having your own yacht or plane or fleet of luxury cars to park on a double yellow line outside Harrods; and it’s true that the class of people that do – the bourgeoisie that owns the means of production in which you and I are expected to slave our lives away and be grateful for the opportunity – run this world. But the real wealth isn’t in money or how many ships you have moored in Monaco, it’s in land.
Just 0.3 per cent of our population – 160,000 families – own two thirds of the land in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, making us second only to Brazil as the country with the most unequal land distribution in the world. This is the real establishment, the people who own Britain: not tenants of a freehold on the property that’s built on it, but the trees, grass, mud and rocks, all the way down to the earth’s core and forever. It’s not for sale at any price, and you can be as rich as God and still not buy it, for the simple reason that it was never purchased in the first place. It was given, in return for political power and the lives of the men that died fighting for it, by kings.
Those who own it, who inherited it from their fathers and will bequeath it to their sons, are mostly Normans, or at least Anglo-Normans, descendants from the ninety or so families that tied their banners to William the Bastard’s mast and fought with him at Hastings, then administered the feudal system he introduced when they won. Half the country was placed in the hands of 190 men, a quarter in the hands of a mere 11 men. To their descendants – the Beauchamps, D’Arcys, FitzWilliams, Harcourts, Lyons, Mandevilles and Percys – our so-called Royal Family are arrivistes, nouveau riche foreigners who don’t know how to behave in public. The rest – the Arabs, the Russians, the Americans and the Chinese – keep them in tweeds and oil wells and armies, and in return they rent them a manor or three, toss them all the golf balls they can hit, and invite them round in the evening when the port’s being served to discuss what laws they want changed. But the land we live on, all 60 million of us, is theirs. And, barring a revolution, it always will be.
Whose Britain Is It, Anyway?
The BBC programme of this title, which set out to answer the question of who owns the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, was first televised in 2006, and it feels its ten years out of date. Where Jon and Dan Snow talk about Madonna and Mohamed Al-Fayed encroaching on the Mayfair streets of the British establishment, now they would be talking about the Qatar, Kuwait and Hong Kong investment authorities buying up huge swathes of London property.
Besides now owning Al-Fayed’s Harrods, the Qatar Investment Authority, which holds over $170 billion of assets from the country’s oil and gas surpluses, also owns The Shard, Canary Wharf and the former Olympic Village in Stratford. Knight Dragon, the Hong Kong investment vehicle of billionaire Dr. Henry Cheng Kar-Shun, owns much of Greenwich Peninsula. While City Hall, the home of the Greater London Authority and its democratically-elected Mayor, today sits on the More London private estate, which is owned by the St. Martins Property Group, the investment company representing the real estate interests of the State of Kuwait. The fifth largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, the Kuwait Investment Authority has assets exceeding $592 billion. Among its extensive property holdings in London, the St. Martins Property Group also owns London Bridge City, 150 Cheapside, 1 Bunhill Row, 5 Canada Square, 60 Threadneedle Street, and the Willis Building at 51 Lime Street. Members of the London Assembly, our democratically elected representatives to the GLA, have been prevented from conducting television interviews outside City Hall by private security guards in the employ of St. Martins, who insist they need a special permit. And protesters, against their Right to Protest and Freedom of Assembly under article 11 of the Human Rights Act 1998, are prohibited from gathering there without prior corporate permission.
And yet, despite their best efforts, of which these are only some, to invest the profits of every stolen oil refinery, coal mine and steelworks in London real estate and land, the Arabs, Chinese, Russians and Americans have not made any significant inroads into the tens of thousands of acres and billions of pounds of land owned by the the Duke of Buccleuch (250,000 acres), the Duke of Northumberland (135,000 acres), the Duke of Westminster (133,000 acres), the Earl of Lonsdale (70,000 acres), and, of course, the Dukes of Cornwall (135,000 acres) and Lancaster (45,500 acres) – better known as the Prince of Wales and his mum, who also owns the estates of Balmoral (50,000 acres) and Sandringham (20,000 acres).
An alien visitor to this country who was shown the political and legal justifications for the distribution of its land would conclude that the inhabitants of these isles are mad, or stupid, or so lacking in human dignity that we deserve to be the landless serfs we are – and they would be right. Everyone in my family as far back as Caratacus’s favourite goat herder slaved their entire lives away in a field, down a mine or on a factory line to pay the rent on the land they lived, worked and died on. The descendants of murderers and thieves who still own that land, whose ancestors were given it by William the Conqueror, Henry VIII or some other autocrat in return for power, or who simply stole 7 million acres of it during the land enclosures of the 18-19th Century, will never be compelled to give it up under the existing legal and political system. It is in the face of this enforced expropriation of our putative birthright from 90 per cent of the population of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland that the revisionism of parliamentary politics is most clearly revealed as the ineffective irrelevance it is. Political and social revolution is the only means to undo the obscene injustice under which our ancestors have lived as far back as history records, and what descendants we might have will continue to live under until we, as a class, do something to change it.
Rights of Way
With increasing frequency, and particularly in London, we are told by the security guards employed by the private companies that own the ground we’re walking on that this isn’t a public way, that we can’t ride a bike or skateboard here, that we can’t sit, eat or loiter here, that we can’t protest or demonstrate here, that we can’t use a megaphone, play music or speak loudly here, that we can’t lie down, rest or sleep here – all of which is justified with the information (which they proudly announce as if it were unanswerable) that this is ‘private land’. But in fact, all land in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is privately owned land: it’s owned by the Crown, then leased to the Government, the Church of England, Oxford, Cambridge and Eton, the Ministry of Defence, the National Trust, the Forestry Commission, the degenerate offspring of a few hundred Norman lords, and several thousand privately-owned corporations. There is no such thing as publically owned land, which in itself is a misnomer. Common land, another misunderstood term, refers to the rights of common over land adjacent to that leased by commoners. We own none of it. We are subjects of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, and since her ancestor, William the Conqueror, turned us into a feudal society, we don’t own a square foot of the land we walk, live and die on.
What we do have – for the present – are public Rights of Way over that land, irrespective of who owns it. The security guards that are increasingly dressed to resemble a cop – and who think, because they do, that the private company logo on their shoulder gives them the right to overrule those rights – are speaking crap; and every time you obey their instructions you are relinquishing those rights to the practice and precedence it sets. Those rights, like all rights, aren’t written in stone, as liberals like to think, but penciled-in negotiations within an ever-changing law. The regularly heard claim that ‘Housing is a human right!’ is perhaps the most dangerous misunderstanding of the legal and political systems under which we live. Under the Human Rights Act of 1998 there is, as you would expect of laws drawn up to defend private property: the right of respect for your private home (article 8), and the right to peaceful enjoyment of your property (protocol 1). But housing is not a human right in the sixth richest country in the world; and while we might claim that it should be, to do so outside a programme that seeks to overthrow the capitalist basis of our legal rights is meaningless. A quick look around our streets, in any case, should relieve the liberals who like to repeat this chant of their illusions.
What we should have no illusions about, however, is that following the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act of 2003, Her Majesty’s Government has increasingly sought to use those new powers to control what the subjects of Her Majesty can do on Her land – for instance, by issuing dispersal orders to protesting crowds followed by curfews against their return; or public space protection orders that criminalise the homeless or anyone else the police or local council doesn’t like the look of. Despite its failings to house us, the Human Rights Act, which incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic British law, is the only legal obstacle to the ‘Full Spectrum Dominance’ (to use the phrase coined by the US military) the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland exercises over the land, space and time of its subjects, which is why our new Prime Minister of that Government, Teresa May, is so keen to replace it with a British Bill of Rights. So the next time you see a sign prohibiting your public Right of Way over privately owned land, be aware of what your choice to obey it means and will mean for all of us in the future.
There is no neutral space in which to hide anymore, not inside your heads, not inside your homes. The class war is marching down your street, through your front door, along your hallway and into your bedrooms. Will you do what you’re told, pull down your shutters, ‘keep calm and carry on’ – as the ubiquitous signs tell us – and by your obedience collaborate in the social cleansing of London? Or will you pick up a weapon and fight back?