Manifesto

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.

  1. We propose architectural 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.
  1. 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.
  1. We disseminate information 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.

E-mail: info@architectsforsocialhousing.co.uk

Twitter: @ASH_Housing

Facebook: ASH (Architects for Social Housing)

Events: http://www.opengardenestates.com

ASH Good Practice Guide to Resisting Estate Demolition

Unfortunately it takes longer to unwrap a lie than it does to tie it with a pretty bow and sell it to ‘the People’, and the Greater London Authority’s Draft Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration, published in December 2016, is a cellophane-wrapped, ribbon-tied box of untruths. This commentary by Architects for Social Housing, therefore, is considerably longer than the Guide itself, which is a compilation of the myths used to justify London’s estate demolition programme. Of course, as Alexander the Great famously demonstrated, the quickest way to untie a mythical knot is with a sword, and the best response to this draft is the organised resistance of estate communities to its proposals, beginning with their refusal to engage in any consultation with the public institutions and private companies that are intent on demolishing their homes for profit. It’s clear that this draft and the consultation it invites, sent out to every housing estate in London with a Toolkit for Local Meetings, is a precursor to the individual estate consultations which – as any resident who has gone through the process can testify – will be used to justify the demolition of their homes.

What follows is ASH’s commentary on the Greater London Authority’s draft text, to which we have opposed our own Good Practice Guide to Resisting Estate Demolition. Although we have not commented on every paragraph, for ease of reference we have retained the GLA’s titles and paragraph numbering in red. And in place of its anonymous and highly fanciful case studies of estate regeneration, we have provided real and verifiable examples of estate demolition. We have no illusions that the Greater London Authority, the London Mayor or the Homes for Londoners board he chairs will read or respond to our comments; but we hope that, when local authorities and housing associations refer to the GLA’s Guide in order to justify their plans to demolish an estate, residents new to the language of ‘regeneration’ will be able to use our commentary to challenge them. It shouldn’t be hard, as this is one of the worst written policy documents we’ve ever read. So bad is it, in fact, that rather than responding to its contradictory, inaccurate, misleading and frequently meaningless statements – which render this draft useless as a means of consultation – residents should seek to use this Guide as a weapon with which to defend their homes. It is this that the ASH commentary has been written to provide. A PDF file of this report can be downloaded here:  Homes for Londoners

FOREWORD

It is unclear what connection the Mayor is drawing between the ‘soaring cost of housing’ in London and estate regeneration, although it’s clear that the latter is being proposed as a solution to the former. London’s housing crisis is one of affordability, and until estate regeneration results in more homes Londoners can afford to live in, its proposal as a solution to that crisis is an argument that is yet to be made. So far, estate ‘regeneration’ has, without exception, resulted in a net loss of social housing and the dispersal of the community that lived there.

Contrary to the programme of estate regeneration being aggressively pursued by Labour councils across London, we are happy to see the Mayor state that:

‘We must protect and improve estates owned by councils and housing associations across London. The social housing they provide is a foundation of our mixed city. Indeed, it ensures that Londoners on low incomes have somewhere decent and affordable to live in the capital.’

If that is the case, however, why is the social housing on ‘regenerated’ council and housing association estates being replaced with ‘affordable’ housing – just as the Mayor himself does when, in the very next paragraph, he writes of demolishing these estates ‘to make the most of opportunities for building new and affordable homes’?

As for the Mayor’s desire to see residents ‘closely involved’ in estate regeneration, involvement, no matter how close, does not mean agency over the process. And the need for tenants to be ‘treated fairly’ does not clarify what the criteria for such fairness is. We get a good idea of what the Mayor means, however, when in the very next line he writes: ‘we must protect existing affordable housing throughout.’

As the Mayor should know by now, council housing is not ‘affordable housing’. If this blurring of the distinction between them – coming a mere two paragraphs after a declaration of the importance of social housing to Londoners on low incomes – is an indication of what the Mayor means by ‘treating tenants fairly’, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of this report.

We suggest the ‘trust’ the Mayor wants residents to have in the process of estate regeneration would be better ‘built’ if he didn’t start by deliberately confusing this fundamental difference between social and affordable housing. As the Mayor will know from his own much-publicised childhood on a council estate, the difference between a family paying a social rent and an affordable rent defined as up to 80 per cent of market rate is the difference between being able to afford to live in a flat and being forced out of it.

As a former lawyer used to the subtleties of language in the service of wealth and power, the Mayor will also know that residents ‘shaping the options’ presented to them by councils is not the same as choosing what those options are.

It is unclear to what ‘good practice’ this draft is supposed to be the guide, but judging by this foreword it is a guide to how to deceive residents about:

  • Their influence over London’s programme of estate regeneration;
  • The options presented for their choice;
  • The consequences the demolition of their homes will have on their ability to continue living on their estate.

Given this confusion, phrases about an approach to estate regeneration that ‘puts local people at its heart’ are empty at best – at worst deliberately misleading.

INTRODUCTION

The reason estate ‘regeneration’ has resulted in what this draft calls ‘conflict between residents and local authorities’ is precisely because it does not involve ‘refurbishment’, ‘investment’ or ‘renewal’, but overwhelmingly results in ‘demolition’ and ‘rebuilding’. The Guide would benefit in both clarity and honesty if the Mayor discarded these euphemisms and called the document what it is – a Good Practice Guide to Estate Demolition.

If estate demolition brings ‘many benefits’, why then does it result in this conflict with residents? Are the homes being proposed in fact ‘better quality’ than the ones residents already live in? The cases of Solomon’s Passage in Peckham (built by Wandle Housing, a housing association supported by the Mayor), of Oval Quarter in Brixton, and of Orchard Village in Rainham, indicate the contrary. But even if the new flats (they are not ‘homes’: it takes residents to build these) are of better quality, for whom are they built? Certainly not the residents with whom local authorities are in conflict. The question about estate demolition that no council, housing association or developer has yet answered is simple: if estate redevelopment, as the Mayor argues, brings so ‘many benefits’, why are residents so virulently opposed to it?

And what, exactly, does the Mayor mean by ‘better quality neighbourhoods’? The London neighbourhoods with the highest levels of crime, tax avoidance, anti-social behaviour, drug-dealing, money-laundering, empty homes, non-domiciled residents and all the other social ailments by which London is afflicted are not those neighbourhoods in which council and housing association estates are concentrated, but in the boroughs of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea.

Or does the Mayor mean to hold up the generic, chain-store lined, overwhelmingly white and exclusively middle-class neighbourhoods of somewhere like Paddington Basin, or the corporate hunting grounds of Westfield Stratford City, or the internationalist wasteland of Kidbrooke Village, as models to which the heterogeneous, locally owned, racially mixed, working-class neighbourhoods in which housing estates are found should aspire?

Whatever the Mayor believes, it’s obvious that for estate ‘regeneration’ to be a ‘success’ it must be successful for existing residents. Only then will it receive their ‘support’, rather than the opposition which, despite its dismissal in this draft, is growing and becoming ever more militant as residents see what has happened to other estates. From the four poles of London, the estate names of Heygate, Woodberry Down, West Hendon and Ferrier will not be silenced by the empty promise of a ‘full and transparent consultation’.

Equally as empty, the ‘right to return’, as tenants know, means nothing more than the rights of those with the financial capacity to do so to return to homes if they can afford the more than doubled cost of social rents converted into ‘affordable’ rents. And a ‘fair deal’ to leaseholders is nothing more than the right to shared ownership of a flat they once owned and now rent – at the risk of losing their entire investment – towards a sale price up to four times what they were given in compensation for their demolished home.

Given that this is what both tenants and leaseholders are faced with under the euphemism of ‘estate regeneration’, we welcome the Mayor repeating his already-broken campaign promise that ‘demolition should only be followed where it does not result in a loss of social housing, or where all other options have been exhausted.’ Welcome it, but find it unconvincing, because in every estate demolition carried out so far in London there has been a loss of social housing, and because on Cressingham Gardens, Central Hill, Knight’s Walk, West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, financially viable and socially and environmentally preferable options to demolition have and are being dismissed out of hand by Labour councils.

Nevertheless, while the ‘right to return’ for tenants and a ‘fair deal’ for leaseholders are meaningless as principles, we will hold the London Mayor, its councils and housing associations to the principles that the demolition of estates will only go ahead when:

  • It has resident support;
  • It does not result in a loss of social housing;
  • All other options have been exhausted.

However, we look for stronger definitions of the agency of Londoners – residents and no-residents alike – over estate regeneration than words like ‘shape’, or the meaningless promise that consulting them will be ‘meaningful’.

By indicating that the Guide in which these principles will be set out is only one of the documents councils, housing associations and developers can appeal to when proposing their plans, the Mayor has undermined in advance whatever status this document may have as a binding guide to estate demolition. Are the example documents referred to – the government’s Estate Regeneration National Strategy, whose advisory panel includes CEOs of building companies and housing associations; Altered Estates, a text produced by architectural practices benefiting from the demolition and redevelopment of the Aylesbury estate; the forthcoming document by the privately sponsored business pressure group London First – compatible with the principles outlined above? One can easily imagine a situation in which a council, housing association, developer or architect, seeking approval for an estate demolition scheme, refers to one document over another in order to get what they want.

We remind the Mayor that the government-funded national strategy on estate regeneration headed by Michael Heseltine and Housing Minister Gavin Barwell was announced by David Cameron as a ‘Blitz’ on England’s ‘hundred worst sink estates’. These are hardly the terms of a ‘full’, ‘transparent’ or ‘meaningful’ consultation, and yet the Mayor has not hesitated to align this Guide with its terminology and intentions.

Nor is it enough, as the draft outlines here, to confine the Mayor’s influence to the withholding of GLA funding to demolition programmes that do not meet its principles. Since there is quite enough profit being made by private developers and builders to compensate for any withheld public funding, we call on the Mayor to make a pledge to withhold planning permission for any estate demolition programme that does not meet the three key principles outlined above.

Unfortunately, where we would expect to see such a pledge, without which the entire Guide is nothing more than what the Mayor ‘wants’, we instead get a statement that undermines the principles outlined so far – that ‘the loss of affordable housing should be resisted unless it is replaced at existing or higher densities’.

We remind the Mayor – as it seems necessary to do again and again – that social housing is not ‘affordable’ housing, and that although, under the old Section 106 agreements in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, the affordable housing quota on any new development may include a proportion of homes for social rent, on estate redevelopments the difference is the difference between tenants being able to return to the estate and being socially cleansed from their neighbourhood.

Of what worth is the principle to only allow demolition where it ‘does not result in a loss of social housing’ when, at the bottom of the same page, it is contradicted by the statement that the ‘loss of affordable housing’ should be resisted? We remind the Mayor – we guess not for the last time – that there is no affordable housing on council and housing association estates, and to elide the difference between the two is precisely the kind of deception that has been the cause of the ‘conflict’ between residents and local authorities.

Replacing social housing with affordable housing ‘at existing or higher densities’ is exactly what councils and developers have been and are doing, and the prime cause of residents’ resistance. If the Mayor and members of the Greater London Authority don’t know the difference between social and affordable rents, tenants do, just as they know what the replacement of the one with the other will mean for them.

In the light of which, the Mayor’s promise ‘to protect and strengthen his commitment’ is meaningless, unless that commitment is to the social cleansing of London’s estate communities by local authorities, led by Labour councils, and financed by housing associations, developers, builders and every other investor getting rich on London’s programme of estate demolition.

CHAPTER 1

AIMS AND OBJECTIVES OF ESTATE REGENERATION

Overarching Principles

1 If these principles are to be a guide to estate regeneration in London, landlords should be compelled to do more than just ‘consider’ them; they need to be the binding conditions of planning permission being granted by the London Mayor.

2 The draft Guide lists the three broad categories into which the aims of an estate regeneration project will typically fall as:

  • Maintaining good quality homes;
  • Supporting the supply of new housing;
  • Improving the social, economic and physical environment in which these homes are located.

If ‘maintaining’ good quality homes is the first aim of estate regeneration, then giving the existing homes the refurbishment they have been deliberately deprived of – sometimes for decades – should be the starting point of any scheme. Instead, councils typically use the state of disrepair they have created – either by withholding maintenance or by poor maintenance – as reasons to demolish the estate. To cite just two examples typically used by councils. Poorly fitted new windows without adequate ventilation installed by the council inevitably result in condensation leading to mould that is presented as signs of the poor quality of the homes. It isn’t – it’s a sign of incompetent maintenance. And brick or stone walkways being cleaned with high-powered water jets result in the grouting being washed away and the bricks coming loose, which is then presented by the council as proof of a poor quality public realm. Again, it isn’t – it’s a result of incompetent maintenance.

Such deliberate mismanagement of estates by councils extends to rain gutters not being repaired leading to water damage to homes and gardens, resident-planted roof gardens being dug up, estate trees and ivy-grown trellises being pulled down without prior consultation, and a general refusal to carry out repairs. All these practices, which are common causes of complaints by residents across a wide range of London estates, are designed to make what are already ‘good quality homes’ conform to the overwhelmingly negative and inaccurate public image of estates as badly designed, poorly built, low quality housing. With some exceptions, council and housing association estates are anything but low quality. What they are is badly maintained, poorly repaired housing suffering from a lack of investment, and whose physical deterioration has been managed by councils and housing associations in anticipation of their demolition and redevelopment. Despite this, there are few results of this managed decline that cannot be remedied with careful refurbishment, continued maintenance and financial investment. This should be the first and uppermost objective of the genuine programme of estate regeneration that London’s council and housing association homes need.

Second, the requirement for ‘new housing’ that has consistently been used to justify the demolition of London’s estates is an argument that has yet to be made with any theoretical rigour or empirical evidence. Instead, the rocketing sale and rental price of homes in London has been reduced to a simple equation of supply and demand, with the building of more homes identified as the solution. While this ignores the numerous other factors determining London’s housing bubble – the main ones being the speculation in London’s property market by international investment and the lack of regulation in the private rental market – it does at least identify that the resulting housing crisis is one of affordability, and not merely supply. What the proposed solution hasn’t done is make the argument that building more high-cost housing for investment and speculation will reduce the cost of London properties, when it is precisely that speculation and investment that has created the housing bubble. Nor does it make the argument why estate demolition is the answer to the shortage of housing Londoners can afford to live in, when those estates contain the only housing in London to have escaped the enormous rise in house prices that continues to fuel speculation in London property.

Unless estate regeneration is exclusively carried out in order to increase the number of homes Londoners can afford to live in – rather than property speculators invest in – then far from being a solution to London’s housing crisis estate regeneration will make it infinitely worse: first by demolishing what council homes and homes for social rent London still has; and second by replacing them with more unaffordable housing. As such, this second objective of estate regeneration is both inadequate and inaccurate. What is needed is not a ‘supply of new housing’, but to maintain and increase the supply of homes Londoners can afford to live in. Overwhelmingly this means increasing the number of homes for social rent, not demolishing them.

Finally, although it might be argued that a ‘physical environment’ can be ‘improved’ – though for whom and by what criteria that ‘improvement’ is judged is anything but clear – improving a ‘social’ and ‘economic’ environment is meaningless as an objective of estate regeneration. Is an environment improved ‘economically’ by moving poorer people out of it and wealthier people in? If so, then this is indeed the overarching objective of London’s existing estate demolition programme; but it hardly conforms to the Guide’s principle that estate demolition should only go ahead when it ‘does not result in a loss of social housing’. Yet if an environment is to be ‘improved economically’ by demolishing the homes lower income residents currently live in and replacing them with homes only wealthier resident can afford, isn’t the social cleansing of the existing community the only possible outcome? Even by the brazen standards of apologists for social cleansing, it’s hard to believe that the economic ‘improvement’ of estate environments by moving the economically poorer residents off the estate has been identified here as an objective of estate regeneration.

By the same token, is this what the Guide means by ‘improving the social environment’ – another meaningless phrase, though one with far darker implications for the residents that make up that social environment? It has for some time been apparent that when councils engage in philanthropic talk of ‘tackling’ poverty on council estates, they mean evicting all the people living in poverty off the estate and in some cases out of the borough altogether. As an example of which, the equality impact assessment produced by Haringey Labour council of the negative effects on the local black community of increased housing costs following the demolition of thousands of council homes on Broadwater Farm, Northumberland Park and Sky City estates, concluded that residents would have to ‘increase their incomes to a sufficient level to afford the new homes on offer’.

Again, even by the arrogant standards of such councils when deciding who can and cannot live in the borough, it’s hard to believe that improving a ‘social environment’ by forcing the existing community from its homes has been identified as an objective of estate regeneration in a ‘guide to good practice’. If there is another meaning to these awkward phrases then it is not clear to us what that may be. In their current form they confirm the accusation that estate regeneration is in practice a tool of social cleansing.

Given which, the Guide’s recommendation that any proposal for estate regeneration should ‘clearly and transparently articulate the rationale, aims and objectives of the project’ is unlikely to meet with support from residents, when those aims and objectives encompass:

  • Their eviction from their homes;
  • The demolition of the only housing in London to have escaped the housing bubble;
  • Its replacement with housing most Londoners are unable to afford;
  • The sale of that housing to investors increasing the price of housing in the capital.

Of course, these aims and objectives will not be ‘clearly and transparently communicated to residents’, but concealed behind the subterfuges and euphemisms in which estate demolition has been cloaked from the beginning, and to which this draft good practice guide is a further addition.

4 Contrary to what the Guide says, we know that residents of estates, far from being ‘engaged early’ in the process, are only informed that their estate is even being considered for regeneration several years after the decision as to what its fate and theirs will be has long ago been decided and set in motion: with real estate firms like Savills having drawn up the criteria by which an estate is selected for demolition; viability assessments having decided what portion of affordable housing the new developments will contain; irreversible financial agreements made with builders; marketing strategies decided with developers; architects and urban planners having been retained to draw up preliminary designs; and a range of consultancies and regeneration ‘experts’ employed to sell the whole things to residents with the line that ‘nothing as yet has been decided’. In truth, everything has been decided. All that remains is to manage whatever resistance the residents put up.

It’s for this reason that councils consistently dismiss anyone other than residents of the estates they want to demolish as not having a stake, and therefore a say, in what happens to them. By drawing the ubiquitous red line around an estate, the resistance of residents to what happens to it can more easily be managed. But though residents may be, as the Guide says, the ‘primary stakeholders’, the homes lived in by tenants – who make up the overwhelming majority of residents on estates – are not only theirs, but the future homes of future residents. As such, the continued existence of those homes as council estates is something every Londoner has a stake in, and should therefore have a say in their future. The red line councils draw around estates on plans for their demolition is a completely artificial one, which deliberately seeks to silence the effects the demolition of that estate will have on the surrounding community and far beyond.

We repeat: council estates, and to a lesser extent housing association estates, are the only housing to have escaped London’s housing bubble, and should therefore be defended by all Londoners. Not the least effect of estate demolition is the increased pressures of evicted council tenants on London’s unregulated private rental market, which although beneficial to the private landlords that sit on the board of every public body determining housing policy in this country, will drive rental prices in the capital still higher.

Even with this caveat, residents and stakeholders must be given far more than ‘sufficient opportunity’ to ‘engage with and shape’ whatever proposals are made for their homes – a suggestion utterly meaningless in a document supposedly seeking to be a guide to good practice. In practice, residents and stakeholders must be given the right of veto over any proposals that will affect their futures, and if they are not given that right they will take that veto into their own hands. Under the title of ‘People’s Plan’, and with the help of organisations such as Architects for Social Housing, many campaigns are already putting forward their own proposals for their estates, and if the Mayor does not accommodate these into his proposed Guide, and compel local authorities to address them ‘clearly and transparently’, the conflict that already exists between residents and local authorities will only escalate.

The fact the Guide sees residents as only one group of stakeholders among others, and attributes an equal stake to the local authorities, housing associations, developers and landowners that are promoting, implementing and benefitting from estate demolition, both fails to clarify and undermines exactly what say residents will have in the final decision about what happens to their own homes. Thus far that say has been silenced and ignored. But without the power to veto any decision – and recognition by councils that the requirement that estate demolition has ‘resident support’ also means that residents can withdraw support – residents ignored by local authorities and housing associations will grow in resistance and militancy to the threat estate demolition presents to their homes and lives.

Approaches to Physical Regeneration

5 In the absence of a statement in the Guide clarifying what power residents have to decide their own futures beyond the expression of their ‘wishes’, what the draft promises will be the ‘clear and transparent’ presentation of the various factors involved in estate regeneration, and how they are ‘weighed up against each other’, is clearly and transparently impossible.

7 When weighing up the benefits and disadvantages of demolishing an estate, in addition to ‘the disruption to existing tenants’, ‘the financial cost of replacing the housing’, and ‘the environmental costs’, the Guide should include the failure of the existing community to return to the estate because of increased housing costs. Although far more than a ‘disadvantage’, this undeclared social cost of estate demolition is entirely absent from this guide; yet it should be the first and primary consideration in the proposal of any scheme, and one that should under no circumstances be permissible.

Case Studies

In the absence of any identification, these anonymous case studies – although they may be based on actual estate regeneration schemes – cannot be substantiated as anything more than the propaganda that councils, housing authorities, builders, developers, consultancies and architectural practices disseminate on their websites and literature in order to justify their plans, and which invariably vary hugely from the accounts given by residents and campaigns resisting those plans and the facts they present to substantiate their accounts. As such, these case studies have little or no value in this Guide except as propaganda, and we’ll confine our comments on them to their more glaring assumptions.

Case Study 2

In a guide that is supposed to bring clarify and transparency, it is more than regrettable to read a repetition of the entirely unsubstantiated claim that there is a causal relationship between the quality of a built environment and anti-social behaviour. This completely spurious claim – which has no basis beyond the prejudices of a class which has no knowledge of council estates outside the pages of the Telegraph – was the basis of David Cameron’s justification for demolishing 100 so-called ‘sink estates’. And although this Tory propaganda has been repeated by London Labour councils about estates they wish to demolish, we condemn its repetition here by a Labour London Mayor, and demand its withdrawal from this Guide.

Having cited the high quality and density of homes on this anonymous estate as a reason to refurbish rather than demolish them, we question why the Mayor has not stopped the proposed demolition of Cressingham Gardens estate by Lambeth Labour council, whose plans to demolish the more than 300 award-winning, high-quality homes has been justified by the council with the promise that the redevelopment will provide a grand total of 27 additional council homes.

In the list of lessons learned from this case study into ‘mixed refurbishment and rebuild’, it is revealing that the Guide identifies the ‘challenge’ of integrating existing and new residents in old and new blocks, which it says raised issues around what the GLA timidly refers to as ‘socio-economic divides in the local community’. Is the GLA admitting that the new flats were only affordable to the wealthier new residents estate redevelopment benefits, while the old blocks remained inhabited by the occupants on the other side of this ‘socio-economic divide’? Does this not imply that the full demolition of an estate would mean replacing low income and poor residents with wealthier residents able to afford the increased rents and sale prices? If not, why, then, did this ‘socio-economic divide’ arise in this case?

Ensuring no Loss of Affordable Housing

10 We have already referred to the sleight of hand involved in substituting affordable for social housing when drawing up conditions of estate demolition; but here the condition under which this substitution is condoned is expanded further. Where the Introduction to the Guide stated that the loss of affordable housing should be resisted ‘unless it is replaced at existing or higher densities’, here the condition is that lost affordable housing should be ‘replaced with better quality homes at existing or higher densities’. Where the Introduction took the space of a few paragraphs to undermine a commitment to retain social housing, it has taken no more than a few pages to erase even that revision, and replace affordable housing with ‘better-quality homes’.

It’s not clear to us whether this is another example of the underhand manner in which estate demolition escapes legal challenges by residents, or just a result of the slip-shod and legally meaningless prose that characterises this extraordinarily poorly written document; but either way this slippage between social, affordable and high-quality housing needs re-defining. But given the amateurish at best – at worst deliberately deceptive – manner in which this draft has been written, it’s laughable (and consequently concerning) to think of it being used as a model for drawing up a ‘residents’ charter’.

Improving the Local Environment

11 The argument that estates need to be ‘re-integrated with the surrounding area’ has been used to justify their demolition by, for example, lawyers employed by Southwark Labour Council at the public inquiry into the compulsory purchase order on the Aylesbury Estate. This myth about housing estates was refuted then by architects, professors of architecture and engineers, who exposed it for what it is – a product of political propaganda one would expect to see in the pages of the Daily Mail rather than a document produced by the GLA. Unless the Mayor wishes to take the judgement of Southwark councillors – whose financial interests in the building industry is a matter of public record – over housing professionals, this baseless claim has no place in a guide to estate demolition.

12 Equally, the claim that buildings on a ‘traditional street pattern’ relate better ‘in appearance and scale’ to their surroundings is the product of a number of private companies also with a financial interest in estate demolition: including Policy Exchange, a Conservative Party think-tank which in January 2013 published a report titled Create Streets; Peabody Housing Association, which commissioned the Independent Public Policy Research think-tank to produce a report published in March 2015 titled City Villages: More Homes, Better Communities; and Savills real estate firm, which in January 2016 delivered a report directly to Cabinet titled Completing London’s Streets: How the regeneration and intensification of housing estates could increase London’s supply of homes and benefit residents. Despite the Guide’s nostalgic reference to ‘tradition’, these companies are anything but nostalgic about the estates they are intent on demolishing – not in order to improve the ‘appearance and scale’ of London’s housing, but to generate the greatest level of profits for their shareholders. These are all private companies, and their recommendations as to what should be done with London’s housing estates should be subject to public scrutiny of the extent to which their recommendations are of benefit to the public or to themselves.

As for the highly subjective criterion of ‘appearance’, all the evidence so far is that the poorly built, generic architecture of London’s ‘new vernacular’ will go down in architectural history as the greatest blight on London’s appearance. Or it would – if most examples wouldn’t have to be torn down and rebuilt within the decade. Not a single new development can stand comparison with the architectural quality of estates like Central Hill, Dawson’s Heights, Cressingham Gardens or Robin Hood Gardens – all of which are under threat of demolition and redevelopment by architects who are not in the same league as the designers of the estates they are set to replace. Like so much about estate demolition, the claim that it is replacing bad design and build quality with good design and build quality is a lie. It is in fact doing exactly the opposite. A comparison between the above-named estates and the disasters built in Oval Quarter, Solomon’s Passage, Loughborough Park or Kidbrooke Village would go a long way to dispelling this myth.

Monitoring and Review

14 Impact assessments of the social, economic, mental health and environmental effects of estate demolition on residents and stakeholders should not be put in place to ‘monitor’ and ‘review’ the outcomes of the process, but produced before that process begins as part of the deliberations on whether such a scheme should go ahead. The purpose of such impact assessments should not be to cover the responsibility of the council, but to inform residents of what effects the council’s plans will have on them. As such, councils should be compelled to fund the production of impact assessments by independent advisors chosen by the residents, and to respond to their findings. At present, even when such assessments are made, they are produced by the council themselves, and – hardly surprisingly, therefore – corroborate the council’s plans. Even when independent assessments are commissioned, as ASH has with Central Hill estate, they have been ignored by the council. As a guide to the duties of councils and housing associations to monitor the ‘satisfaction, health and well-being’ of residents, this is one of the weakest sections in this consistently weak document.

As for the reference to monitoring ‘those residents who are displaced by the scheme and who do not return to the estate once the project is concluded’: why is this anticipation of social cleansing – which is perhaps the only accurate depiction of the effects of estate demolition in this entire draft – considered acceptable as an outcome? Such an outcome doesn’t need ‘monitoring’: it needs stopping in advance by the kind of binding conditions to estate regeneration this Guide so signally fails to provide.

15 What is the point of landlords ‘seeking to understand’ the impact of demolition on ‘households that have moved from an estate and not returned’? Since the demolition of their homes is self-evidently the cause of them moving away, the understanding of this impact should come before the estate is demolished, not produced afterwards through ‘surveys’. And it should start with the understanding that residents don’t ‘move’ from an estate: they are evicted from their homes by councils and housing associations – and sometimes bailiffs and police – and prohibited from returning by the huge increase in the rent or sale price of their replacements.

16 Resident steering groups, as their name indicates, should be there to allow residents to direct the regeneration process towards their needs. They’re not, of course – exactly the opposite. Steering groups are created so residents can be directed according to the wishes of the council and housing associations – which is why we advise residents never to engage in these council-led structures but to create their own. But they certainly aren’t there, as this Guide suggests, to ‘monitor’ the impact on residents of having their homes demolished and their communities destroyed. But the Mayor need not worry unduly: the campaigns of resistance estate residents are forming across London will be certain to keep both local authorities and the GLA informed of how they feel about this process.

Case Study 3

As we have already argued – and as should be obvious to anyone genuinely concerned with the ‘social impact’ of estate demolition on residents – assessments of that impact should be produced in advance of the process, in order to determine whether demolition should be carried out. Residents are not guinea pigs whose ‘feelings and experiences’ are there to be ‘measured’ by councils, housing associations and developers. If the actions of the latter are anticipated as having a negative consequences for the former they should be stopped, not ‘monitored’.

The term ‘social regeneration’ – used, at it is here, as one of the definitions of a successful ‘estate regeneration’ – is perhaps the closest this draft has come so far to admitting that one of the aims of an estate demolition is the social cleansing of its community, with the objective of building high-value housing on the land so cleared. We will hold the Greater London Authority responsible for both this language and its social consequences, and do everything we can to publicise what it means to residents on every estate threatened with ‘social regeneration’ by this Guide.

Despite attempts by both councils and the GLA to deceive them with the empty promise of a ‘Right to Return’, residents facing the demolition of their homes already know what the ‘re-housing process’ means for them. Drawing on the complementary legislation on ‘Pay More to Stay’ in the government’s Housing and Planning Act 2016, a more accurate description of the re-housing process faced by both tenants and leaseholders whose homes have been demolished would be ‘Pay More to Return’.

If councils and housing associations recognise ‘the value that residents place on their connections with friends and neighbours’ and ‘the need to maintain established neighbourhood connections and support structures’, is the GLA and Mayor admitting that demolishing estates destroys these support structures and connections? Again, why is this considered an acceptable consequence of the estate demolition programme this Guide is promoting? And who, exactly, has accorded themselves the right to break these established structures and neighbourhood connections? Public institutions and their administrators are there to serve the public, not dictate the lives of residents or sit in judgement over their communities. If local authorities don’t respect their existence, they must expect their resistance.

Good practice in resisting the aims and objectives of estate demolition:

  • Residents should seek to understand the hidden aims and objectives of estate demolition clearly in order to expose and oppose them better.
  • Without the right to veto proposals residents should refuse to engage with them and develop their own counter proposals.
  • Residents should always demand the refurbishment and continued maintenance of their homes.
  • Residents should refuse any proposal for the demolition of their estates on the understanding that the redevelopments will replace their current homes and tenancies with unaffordable properties and diminished tenant rights.
  • Residents should celebrate and advertise the designs of their estates and criticise the failings in the designs of their proposed replacements.
  • Residents should demand that assessments of the social, economic, mental health and environmental impacts of estate demolition are carried out by independent advisors paid for by the landlord prior to any proposal being produced or considered.

Finally, we take note of the fact that in its appearance both in the Introduction to this Guide and in this final summary of Chapter 1, the condition that estate demolition should only happen ‘where it does not result in a loss of social housing’ is undermined and therefore rendered meaningless by the insertion of the word ‘or’ between what is presented as a further condition but which can in practice be cited as the exceptional condition – that is, ‘where all other options have been exhausted.’ Presented with the clarity and transparency the Guide makes so much of but is completely lacking, this means that if all other options have been ‘exhausted’ then the loss of social housing can be ignored as a barrier to the demolition of an estate.

Leaving aside – as the Guide does – the criteria by which an alternative to demolition can be defined by landlords as having been ‘exhausted’, what is clear from these conditions is that one of the primary aims in the practice of estate demolition is to ‘exhaust’ all other options. Here, at last, we read words that bear some resemblance to the reality of estate demolition in London. It is to exhaust every option other than demolition, and therefore justify the social cleansing of estate communities from their homes, that this document is a ‘good practice guide’.

To clarify and make transparent a document that is both incompetent and deliberately misleading: according to this Chapter on the aims and objectives of estate regeneration, the condition that an estate can only be demolished ‘where it does not result in a loss of social housing’ has three exceptions:

  • Where it is replaced by affordable housing at existing or higher densities;
  • Where it is replaced with better quality housing at existing or higher densities;
  • Where the local authority has exhausted all other alternatives.

CHAPTER 2

CONSULTATION AND ENGAGEMENT WITH RESIDENTS

17 In reading the principles the Mayor wants to see applied in the consultation and engagement with residents, we look for something more binding than the suggestion that local authorities and housing associations ‘should consider’ some of the ‘key issues’. Is this Guide a legal document or friendly advice? There are many issues councils and housing associations ‘should consider’ in pursuing estate regeneration schemes: so far they have ignored them all. With nothing more than the suggestion from the GLA that they ‘should’, they will continue to ignore them.

Principles for Consultation and Engagement

20 Among the ‘broad range’ of groups the Mayor wants local authorities to engage with, he fails to list groups offering professional skills to residents, whether these are architectural, legal or community based. Councils and housing associations consistently refuse to engage with organisations and structures they have not set up themselves, even when those structures have been set up because of residents’ dissatisfaction with the existing ones. Campaigns to save estate are increasingly turning their back on steering groups, resident engagement panels, regeneration officer surgeries and the like, recognising that they are there to facilitate, not challenge, the demolition of their homes. If the GLA places no obligation on local authorities and housing associations to recognise and respond to resident campaigns, newly-constituted tenant and resident associations, and organisations – such as Architects for Social Housing – developing alternatives to demolition, the Mayor will find those campaigns becoming increasingly militant in their refusal to engage with the consultation processes this chapter is trying to propose.

21 The Mayor’s wish that consultation and engagement should start ‘at the earliest stages of a project’, while welcome, is not current practice in estate demolition. To take just one example, since residents on the Northwold estate in Hackney were informed in July 2016 that their estate is being considered for ‘regeneration’ they have consistently been told that nothing has been decided, no plans have been made, and that the Guinness Partnership is just ‘consulting’ on the possibilities. In reality, a visit to the websites of TM Architects, who began drawing up plans for the partial demolition of the estate in August 2015, of landscape designers Farrer Huxley Associates, of BPP Construction Consultants, and of regeneration consultants Newman Francis – all of which have been employed by Guinness to carry out their plans – shows that the decision to partially demolish Northwold estate was decided by the Guinness Partnership many years ago, and long before it went through the motions of ‘consulting’ with residents. Until such practices, which are the rule not the exception, in making decisions that will affect the lives of thousands of residents are stopped and binding conditions put in place – not by the Mayor’s ‘wishes’ but by GLA policy – this Guide’s talk of consultation being ‘transparent’, ‘extensive’, ‘responsive’ and ‘meaningful’ is meaningless at best, deliberately deceptive at worst.

An even greater stumbling block to consultation is the Guide’s wish to ‘empower’ and ‘motivate’ residents to ‘engage with what is being considered’. Leaving aside this patronising, first-year-student terminology, which seems designed to insult and annoy residents, the GLA’s understanding of the process is the wrong way around. It is up to local authorities and housing associations to ‘engage’ with the needs, wishes and plans of residents. As demonstrated by the campaign that residents have formed on Northwold estate in response to their so-called ‘consultation’, residents are quite capable of choosing their own futures, and have no need or interest in being ‘empowered’ and ‘motivated’ by consultants to chose a decision that has already been considered, selected and decided upon by their employees.

Case Study 4

Like ‘affordable housing’, the ‘right to return’ and every other term used to describe resident consultations (‘robust’, ‘transparent’, ‘clear’, etc.) ‘bottom-up’ has lost all meaning in relation to a process that is dictated from above by financial investors, implemented by local authorities and housing associations, and in which residents are merely the tokens of ‘due process’. If consultation was conducted from the ‘bottom up’ and residents’ wishes determined the final decision about their homes, the demolition and social cleansing of the West Hendon, Aylesbury, Robin Hood Gardens and Broadwater Farm estates wouldn’t be happening. As indicated by the recent revelations about the role of PR firm Terrapin Communications in Lendlease’s appointment as developer on the Haringey Development Vehicle, the only thing moving ‘bottom-up’ in estate demolition are the glasses of champagne downed by Cabinet Members for Housing and Regeneration being wined and dined in London hotels and Cannes real estate markets by consultants employed by developers to get their signature on the development contract.

In reality – which is to say, outside the fantasies of this Guide – residents are consulted only insofar as they agree to the demolition of their homes, and all other views are ignored, silenced and – when they constitute opposition – attacked. But perhaps that’s not entirely accurate. What is moving ‘bottom-up’ is the resistance that is growing and spreading across every estate in London as residents learn what the GLA, their local council, and their housing association have planned for them.

What the Guide calls ‘community-led visions’ for estates already exist – not as ‘visions’ but as architecturally designed and financially viable alternatives to demolition. But on Cressingham Gardens, Central Hill and West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, community-led ‘People’s Plans’, far from being consulted and engaged with, have been ignored and denounced by Labour councils that have no interest in exploring alternatives to demolition.

What assurances can the GLA and Mayor give us that councils and housing associations will be compelled and bound to follow the ‘lead’ of these community plans, and in the failure to do so face censure? The GLA can keep its ‘community-led visions’: it’s ‘council-binding policy’ that this Guide should contain.

If ‘access to independent technical advice’ must be ‘ensured’ in order to assist residents in making informed decisions about the ‘costs and benefits’ of the options for estate regeneration, who is to pay for that advice? At present, while hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money is spent by councils on consultancies and regeneration officers on obscene salaries, nothing is provided for residents to employ their own consultants, whether that is for legal advice, producing impact assessments, or designing alternatives to demolition. If the Mayor is verbally committed to ‘bottom-up’ resident involvement, he needs to make a financial commitment to residents in order to facilitate that involvement.

Estate regeneration is something that has been inflicted and imposed upon estate residents, and if it is not to be viewed by them, as it currently is, as a top-down process dictated from above, residents must be given the financial means to engage with the process on their own terms. That means money for independent legal advice, money for producing impact assessments, money for producing architectural alternatives to demolition, money for engineers, quantity surveyors and other professionals not in the employ of the council or housing association that wants to demolish their homes. If such funds are not forthcoming, the Guide’s verbal commitment to ‘bottom-up’ consultation is, once again, meaningless.

22 Local authorities are already taking what the Guide calls ‘different approaches’ to consultation as ‘alternative options are considered by residents’. Having dismissed the ‘People’s Plan’ put forward by the Save Cressingham Gardens campaign, despite it being supported by 80 per cent of residents, as the work of ‘a small faction of politically motivated people who did not have the backing of the majority of residents’, Lambeth Labour council subsequently announced their intention to by-pass Cressingham’s existing, democratically elected Tenants and Residents Association and address themselves only to a Resident Engagement Panel composed exclusively of residents who are willing to engage with the plans to demolish and redevelop their homes.

As another example, having failed to attend ASH’s presentations of the architectural alternative to the demolition of Central Hill estate last year – first to a hall of over 100 residents, then to the Resident Engagement Panel, neither of which was attended by a single councillor, including the Cabinet Member for Housing – Lambeth Labour council went on to dismiss our plans based on fabricated financial figures, withheld freedom of information requests, inaccurate assessments, false claims and deliberate misunderstandings – all supplied by PRP Architects, the practice responsible for designing Orchard Village, which residents are currently demanding be demolished because of its numerous failings.

Given these practices, which have been repeated by other councils – Labour and Tory alike – across London, it is hard to understand what the GLA means by their statement that local authorities and housing associations ‘should always be open to suggestions from residents’. And if, like Lambeth Labour council, they are not – what then?

23 If rental income is ‘insufficient’ to fund improvements to estates, the ‘therefore’ that should follow is not that ‘market housing is required’, but that the local authorities and housing associations that have pocketed that income should provide an account of where that money has gone. The question overwhelmingly asked by residents told that there is no money for the refurbishment of their homes is: ‘Where have our rents and service charges gone?’ Until councils and housing associations are compelled to answer this question and give a public account of where residents’ money has gone, any consultation with those residents is rendered suspect and open to accusations of corruption.

Of course, a quick look at the salaries being paid to the CEOs of housing associations and councils and the regeneration officers in their employ will provide the only answer residents need. To take just a few examples, Catriona Simons, the CEO of the Guinness Partnership, has a basic salary of £273,242; Mike Cooke, the CEO of Camden Labour Council, has a salary of £163,350; and Sue Foster, Executive Director of Housing and Regeneration for Lambeth Labour Council, is on £178,147. The revelation of such salaries being paid to the administrators of social housing is hardly likely to convince residents of the necessity of demolishing their homes and replacing them with ‘market housing’ – quite the opposite. It is not the consultation of estate residents that needs to be made ‘transparent and clear’; it is the financial practices of the local authorities and housing associations that are intent on demolishing their homes.

It is, nonetheless, the rest of this paragraph that is the most dangerous and badly thought through statement in this chapter so far, which we therefore quote here in full:

‘Local authorities and housing associations should not waste their time, or more importantly that of estate residents, by consulting on options which are not viable or deliverable. Initial engagement should clearly state any non-viable or undeliverable options which have been discounted and why, and these decisions should be open to scrutiny.’

It is nice of the GLA to be concerned about wasting the time of residents whose lives are being turned upside down by London’s estate demolition programme; just as it is instructive to read that the ‘engagement’ with residents, contrary to what paragraph 21 says, does not begin ‘at the earliest stages of a project’, but only after certain options for the future of their homes have been ‘discounted’ as ‘non-viable’ or ‘undeliverable’.

The obvious question, though, is how these options have been so judged if residents have not been consulted on them? Or is the GLA saying that by ‘non-viable’ and ‘undeliverable’ they mean not for the profit of the builders, developers and investors? If they are, this means that the financial viability assessments produced by builders, developers and – in the case of most Labour councils in London – the real estate firm Savills, is the single overriding factor in what is offered as an ‘option’ to residents.

As anyone who follows London’s housing market will know, such financial viability assessments have been responsible for the worst examples of social cleansing through estate demolition. It was Savills that produced the assessment that allowed Southwark Labour council to require a mere 82 of the 1,200 council homes demolished on the Heygate estate to be available for social rent out of the 2,535 luxury apartments that are replacing them. Such figures are not the exception. Out of the remaining 3,524 luxury apartments being built in the Elephant & Castle ‘regeneration’ project, none – not one – will be for social rent. One would hope to see a GLA guide to good practice address and revise the place of viability assessments in estate regeneration, not enshrine them further as the ultimate determinant in what options residents are presented with.

Residents are not obliged to accept any redevelopment of their estate, and if councils and developers cannot come up with financial models that don’t necessitate the demolition of residents’ homes, they should go away and think again. It is putting the cart before the horse to argue that a) since developers can only afford to rebuild residents’ homes b) if they build more homes in their place they c) therefore have to demolish those homes. We have seen this inverted logic used again and again to justify land grabs disguised as estate ‘regeneration’, and residents will refuse to be convinced by or consulted on such arguments.

As to these viability assessments being ‘open to scrutiny’, since June 2016, when Lambeth Labour council publicly announced that the deliverability of our design proposal for Central Hill was ‘financially unviable’, ASH has sent freedom of information requests to the council requesting the figures on which this assessment was made. Far from being open to scrutiny, Lambeth council informed us that ‘the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information until the scheduled publication date’ – which is to say, when the council announces the decision to demolish.

Finally, having requested an independent review of this decision by the Information Commissioner’s Office, we were told that since Homes for Lambeth, the special purpose vehicle set up by Savills and Lambeth council in order to carry out their estate demolition programme, is a ‘commercial enterprise’, the information we requested is classified as ‘commercially sensitive’ and therefore that ‘confidentiality would be adversely affected by disclosure’. While this clarifies whether or not such SPVs are council owned (as we are constantly told) or private companies (as this refusal confirms) it hardly conforms to the Mayor’s desire that such viability assessments are ‘open to scrutiny’.

24 The ‘cost of doing nothing’, as the Guide describes it here, is what residents are paying now on estates left to fall into disrepair through lack of investment. Refurbishing and maintaining estates is not ‘doing nothing’; it’s what local authorities are paid to do by residents’ rents and service charges. If ‘doing something’, by contrast, means demolishing homes for social and council rent and replacing them with poorly-designed, badly made unaffordable housing, the ‘social costs’ and ‘cost to residents’ health’ – as the examples of Orchard Village, Solomon’s Passage and Oval Quarter are showing – will be far higher than the ‘cost of doing nothing’.

Rather than worry about the future ‘cost to the landlord of maintenance’ (which is paid for by residents’ rent and service charges), the Guide should concern itself with the cost of what happens to residents that are evicted from their demolished estate and unable to afford to exercise their ‘right to return’, forced from their neighbourhoods and support networks, forced into housing poverty and benefit dependency on the private rental market, their communities destroyed, their former homes lost forever for future tenants. Refurbishment of existing homes and infill development alleviates the cost of overcrowding, poor quality housing and a shortage of new homes for new residents without any of the consequences of demolition. What is the cost of refurbishment and infill against such a human cost?

25 The assertion that demolition is ‘more cost effective’ than refurbishment over a longer term is based on the completely fallacious argument that council and housing association estates built with concrete and steel are coming to the end of their life-spans or are no longer fit for habitation. If either assertion were true, the brick-built Victorian terraces and Georgian Squares in which most of London lives would have been torn down decades ago, rather than refurbished as they have been.

And if either central government or local authority decent homes standards require the demolition of the homes in which hundreds of thousands of Londoners currently live and their replacement with properties in which they cannot afford to live, then it is those standards, and not the homes, that require demolishing and revising. There is nothing ‘decent’ about socially cleansing entire communities in order to give them wider entrances and a balcony. With a few exceptions, estate residents do not complain about the standards of their homes, but about their lack of maintenance by the council or housing association.

26 The overriding criterion in establishing the benefits of what the Guide calls ‘more and better housing’ is whether residents whose homes are being demolished to make way for such housing can afford to live in them. If they can’t – and it’s very clear that they can’t – the replacement housing is not ‘better’ for them. As we have argued, the assumption that this proposed new housing will be of better quality is not borne out by the evidence. The increasing incidences of new builds so badly designed and built that they have to be demolished are only the most apparent examples of the dubious quality of so-called ‘more and better housing’. The ‘glorified rabbit-hutches’ – to use the phrase of a tenant to describe his new home on the redeveloped Loughborough Park estate in Brixton – we are being asked to embrace fall far short of the size and design and quality of the homes that hundreds of thousands of London’s housing estate residents currently call home.

As for the Guide’s promotion of ‘environmentally sustainable housing’, the environmental cost of demolishing estates is enormous, and offsets any false economy of building more sustainable replacements. In a report commissioned by ASH in 2016, Model Environment concluded: ‘A conservative estimate for the embodied carbon of Central Hill estate would be around 7,000 tonnes of CO2e, similar emissions to those from heating 600 detached homes for a year using electric heating, or the emissions savings made by the London Mayor’s RE:NEW retrofitting scheme in a year and a quarter. Annual domestic emissions per capita in Lambeth are 1.8 tonnes. The emissions associated with the demolition of Central Hill Estate, therefore, equate to the annual emissions of over 4,000 Lambeth residents.’

And at a London Assembly investigation in July 2014 into the respective benefits of refurbishment versus demolition, Chris Jofeh, Director of the engineering company Arup, said: ‘Demolition and rebuild emits a super amount of carbon dioxide, and even if you build super-efficient new homes it could take 30 years before you redress the balance. If we do take carbon targets seriously then refurbishment is an option which is much more likely to achieve those targets’.

Finally, we ask the GLA how the ‘public realm’ will be ‘improved’ by selling public land into private hands and further privatising London’s council housing? As shown by the wastelands of Kidbrooke Village, a housing project built on the demolished Ferrier estate in Greenwich, local infrastructure is being demolished by estate demolition schemes and not rebuilt. All across London, businesses, shops, libraries, schools, parks, public houses, playgrounds, green spaces and public rights of way are being lost, shut down, closed, sold and demolished to make way for nothing more than property investments for international finance that do nothing to meet the housing needs of Londoners.

When Should Consultation Start?

27 The mechanisms and structures local authorities and housing associations already have in place are primarily Tenants and Residents Associations, which are one of the biggest obstacles to resident consultation. TRAs are often headed by figures placed there and supported by the council, loyal to their demands, and acting as a buffer between the wishes of the residents and the lack of response by the council. In some cases TRAs, far from representing residents faced with the demolition of their estates, actively oppose resident campaigns, while acting as the official representation of the handful of residents who still turn up to their meetings. In Labour-run boroughs, in particular, TRAs are nearly always run by members of the Labour Party, and what should be an independent role becomes politicised and controlled by the Labour council.

The GLA is right, though, to say that the threat of demolishing their homes is a catalyst for more intense engagement and interest from estate residents. On Cressingham Gardens, for example, the resident campaign de-selected the incumbent leadership of the TRA, which was nothing more than a mouthpiece for Lambeth Labour council, and elected their own members to its Chair and Secretary. And on the Aylesbury estate residents, in order to defend Thurlow Lodge community hall from privatisation, have recently reformed a TRA previously disbanded by Southwark Labour council.

On Northwold estate, by contrast, where the threat of demolition – although supported by Hackney Labour council – comes from the Guinness Partnership rather than the local authority, the TRA is supporting the resident campaign. What the Guide should ensure is that the TRA always represent the wishes of residents, not those of the council. This means that the leadership of the TRA should always be composed of residents who do not belong to the same political party as the council, as being so means they can be controlled as easily as Labour councillors who step out of line. We have seen this to be the case on Central Hill estate, where the leaders of both the TRA and the resident campaign joined the Labour Party, at which point the campaign became little more than an exercise in doing as it was told by Lambeth Labour council.

28 In considering when the consultation process should begin, the Guide’s statement that ‘in some cases’ it may be appropriate for councils and housing associations to gather information ‘before talking with residents’ undermines the previously stated principle, in paragraph 21, that consultation and engagement ‘should start at the earliest stages of a project’. Which is it? At the start of the process, before any decisions have been made? Or after pre-selecting which options will be ‘offered’ to residents? Residents consistently complain that options for refurbishment and infill that were initially presented are silently removed by councils and housing associations without consultation.

As an example of this, when ASH was invited into the campaign to save Knight’s Walk estate in Kennington, the six options residents were initially shown had been reduced by the council to three – all of which were for full demolition of the estate. Through proposing architectural alternatives to demolition ASH was able to convince Lambeth council to reconsider; and eventually, even though it did not adopt our designs, the local authority decided on a partial demolition option. This is an example from which landlords must learn, rather than entering into the process of estate regeneration with their eyes fixed exclusively and blindly on demolition. Contrary to what the Guide says, there are ‘no cases’ in which options should be dismissed in advance by local authorities and housing associations.

Who Should be Consulted?

29 It’s unclear what the Guide means by consulting ‘those living in temporary accommodation on the estate’. Since practically every estate whose residents are being consulted is being considered for demolition, everyone on that estate is living in temporary accommodation, whether tenants, leaseholders or freeholders. However, special mention should be made of how estate demolition affects residents kept on assured shorthold tenancies – sometimes for over a decade. As we saw with Loughborough Park estate in Brixton, when it came time to demolish the homes of the 100 tenants on assured shorthold tenancies, the Guinness Partnership only re-housed 11 of them, and even those had their social rents converted to affordable rents, which meant increasing them by up to 240 per cent. These were the lucky ones. The remaining 89 were simply forced into the private rental market and effectively forced out of Lambeth.

This common practice is part and parcel of the process of social cleansing. Whatever percentage of flats on an estate is being let out on assured shorthold tenancies when residents are told their estate is being considered for regeneration, the process of consultation – in which tenants are offered re-housing off-site and sometimes out of the borough altogether, and leaseholders offered increased financial compensation for their homes if they leave early – assures that those vacated flats become available for new tenants. These are either boarded up and left empty, or, more often, filled with tenants on assured shorthold tenancies who, when the time comes, can be evicted easily and quickly. More importantly, when the time comes for the final count of how many tenants on secure tenancies have to be re-housed in the new development – although not on secure tenancies: these no longer exist on new developments – that number has been considerably reduced.

Another category of temporary tenant affected by estate demolition that this Guide fails to take account of is property guardians. Installed with no rights, and more easily evicted even than assured shorthold tenants, property guardians are increasingly employed – as they were on the Loughborough Park estate by the Guinness Partnership – to protect empty flats from being squatted, while at the same time saving the housing association or council from re-housing tenants on their housing waiting list on the secure tenancies they deserve. Once again, this ensures that when the time comes to replacing those secure tenancies – even with the new so-called ‘assured lifetime tenancies’ with drastically reduced rights and hugely increased rents – the number of flats being let by tenants with the ‘right to return’ has been systematically reduced.

But the use of property guardians doesn’t end there. On Thamesmead estate in Greenwich, currently under threat of demolition by Peabody housing association, property guardians who helped form the campaign of resistance with other residents were threatened with immediate eviction. The Guide, as it is on so many issues, says nothing about putting in place barriers or punishments to these practices or the responsibility of local authorities and housing associations for the fate of these ‘temporary tenants’.

30 It’s nice to read the Guide expressing concern about the ‘tailoring’ of different approaches to consultation to different residents – particularly elderly residents, those residents for whom English is a foreign or second language, and residents with disabilities. It would be nicer still, therefore, if the GLA introduced policy stopping local authorities from closing or privatising estate community centres, which hugely disadvantages such residents. This practice is almost universal on estates facing demolition, and is designed, first, to make it difficult for residents to attend meetings with the landlord that are often held offsite and at a considerable distance from their homes. As an example of this practice, the meeting by Lambeth Cabinet to announce the decision to demolish Central Hill estate is being held at 5pm on a weekday in a community centre an hour’s journey on public transport from the estate. And second, prohibiting residents’ access to the estate’s community centre – either by making it off-limits to tenants, as Lambeth council have on Central Hill, or by charging prohibitively high fees for tenants to book it, as Hackney council gave tried to on Northwold – is a deliberate barrier to the estate community organising resistance to the demolition of their homes.

This, however, is only the most cynical and active way in which local authorities and housing association do their best to prevent residents from attending consultations. Another is the sheer incompetence in the way the meetings are advertised. A crumpled sheet of A5 paper, stuck to the outside of a single notice board, was all the notice residents of three blocks on the Northwold estate received for their ‘consultation’ with the firm of Newman Francis. But this is only one example of the myriad ways in which landlords actively discourage residents coming together and making their voices heard, which is always a threat to the plans to demolish their homes. Instead, councils, housing associations and consultancies encourage small, one-on-one surgeries designed to pit tenant against leaseholder with false promises of re-housing in new flats to the former and take-it-or-leave-it offers to the latter.

31 As for the Guide’s concern that owners of businesses be consulted, the Brixton Arches is a better example of how consultation is conducted in reality. Despite receiving a petition signed by over 30,000 residents of Brixton, including all the stall and shop owners, and over 1,000 official objections to the Cabinet, Lambeth Labour council has gone ahead with Network Rail’s plans to evict traders, increase their rents, and socially cleanse them from the area. This is only one example, repeated across the street markets of London, of how local authorities consult the local community – their total disregard for which this Guide, once again, does nothing to stop, reverse or punish. The GLA can make long lists of who ‘should’ be consulted, and repeat over and over what landlords ‘should’ do, but until it introduces policy that prohibits the kinds of practices we’ve listed here, this Guide is – in this matter as in all others for which it has similarly failed to legislate – meaningless.

32 The Greater London Authority is right to say that the impact of estate regeneration will last ‘for many decades’. If residents’ homes are demolished, all the evidence indicates that few will ever return to the new developments, and if they do it will be for increased rents, diminished tenants rights, and in the case of leaseholders no longer as home-owners but as renters on mortgages increased on average by 400 per cent, which place their entire deposit in jeopardy should they default, and which can be increased at the discretion of the new owners of what were once leaseholders’ homes.

This will indeed have an impact, as the Guide says, ‘well beyond the length of most tenancies’, and an overwhelmingly negative one. This may be in keeping with London’s rapid transformation into an investment opportunity for international finance that is remodeling the capital into a Parisian image of the city – with a centre for the international rich surrounded by a suburban ring of service industry workers drawn from a largely migrant population with little or no rights – but it is hardly a desirable one for tenants either of council housing or on the private rental market. Over the past year and more we’ve seen how this social contract – geographically and economically mapped onto the Paris Metropolitan Region – is working out, and it would be foolish of the Mayor to think London will be immune from the same social consequences.

Alternatively, if we genuinely ‘take account of the interests of future residents’, as the Guide suggests, it is clear that London’s housing estates must be refurbished and maintained as publicly-owned housing for council or social rent, with all the security of tenancy residents need to form communities that are part of the fabric of London’s diverse and socially mixed population. It is this diversity and mix of classes that the short-term, blinkered thinking about estate demolition contained in this Guide is threatening to destroy, not only for this generation, but forever.

What Form Should Consultation Take?

33 Describing consultation as having ‘many options’ each with their ‘own merits’, and involving ‘a number of different means’, sounds very nice and liberal; but is this Guide a meditation on the joys of consultation or guidance on what local authorities and housing associations must do when consulting residents? Instead of listing the various ways consultation may be conducted, the Guide should address the even more numerous ways in which consultations are being conducted, and failing to represent the wishes of residents. As residents of Northwold estate found during their brief consultation with Newman Francis, consultants aren’t there to answer residents’ questions, but to direct them towards accepting what the local authority or housing association – in this case the Guinness Partnership – has already decided.

Given that these consultations are supposedly being conducted in order to find out what residents think of their homes, the glaring omission from this list of the means landlords should use to communicate with residents is visiting those homes. Such an invite was extended by residents on Northwold estate not only to the representative of the Guinness Partnership on the estate, but to the architectural practice which – without having seen the insides of residents’ homes – had already drawn up plans for their replacements based on their assumed failings. Neither the Guinness Partnership nor TM Architects accepted the invitation – and for good reason. If consultants actually entered residents’ homes they would find they bear little relation to the failed, structurally unsafe, unfit for purpose, un-refurbishable homes for anti-social behavior, drug-dealing and broken families they are so fond of describing, but are in fact in excellent condition, well designed, spacious and much loved by the residents who call them ‘home’, and who are rightly insulted and angry about the slurs and slanders made about their families, communities and homes by consultants who have never had the courtesy to get to know them.

34 Despite the Guide’s welcome reference to regeneration options that are ‘not binary’ – that is to say, either demolition or nothing – in practice everything residents say that can be used to justify the demolition of their homes is used by local authorities and housing associations, and what can’t be used to that end is discarded. On the masterplan drawn up by Kensington and Chelsea Conservative council for the Silchester Estate, the proposed demolition and redevelopment of the estate is justified at every point by reference to resident feedback. Thus the reduced size and changed orientation of the central square, the proposed increase in communal facilities, a different road layout and additional access to the tube station – all of which are have been suggested supposedly in response to residents’ wishes, and all of which could be achieved without demolishing a single home – have in every case been used to justify the demolition of the entire estate. The weak point in the Guide’s concern to ‘retest opinions over time’ is the ability of local authorities and housing associations to pick and choose the feedback they receive from residents to fit their own plans.

35 In the same way, surveys repeated in order to enable a ‘real time’ assessment of residents’ views are open to the abuse they are already accommodating. To take just one example among many, in 2008 Tower Hamlets Labour council claimed their survey showed 75 per cent support from residents of Robin Hood Gardens estate for the demolition of their homes. The following year, a resident of that estate revealed not only that the council’s survey had only asked 94 residents from the estate’s 214 homes, but that his own survey of 140 residents recorded that 80 per cent were in favour of refurbishment. Now, one of these surveys, conducted a year apart, is wrong. Is it that of the council in support of its own plans, or is it that of the residents? In other words, are the residents lying about their own wishes for their homes, or is Tower Hamlets Labour council?

Similarly, a 2001 survey responded to by 76 per cent of residents on the Aylesbury estate in Camberwell recorded that 73 per cent voted against the demolition of the estate and for its refurbishment. Yet just as at Robin Hood Gardens, this has been completely ignored by Southwark Labour council, which claims there is resident support for demolition. Again, who is lying here? And for the purpose of this Guide, what use are surveys when they are open to such manipulation or, when they don’t return the desired response, denial by the local authority? In the absence of any policy from the Mayor, why should residents be expected to participate in such council surveys? Or is it residents’ non-participation that is one of the ‘aims and objectives’ of this Guide?

We suspect that the GLA’s advised caution against turning what it calls ‘a complex set of issues’ into a ‘simple yes or no decision’ has no other end than to reduce the legitimacy of surveys and ballots conducted by residents for whom estate regeneration is a ‘simple yes or no decision’ about whether they want to continue to live on their estate or let their homes be demolished to make way for unaffordable replacements. It is not, as the Guide arrogantly implies, residents’ lack of appreciation of the complexity of the issues facing them, but rather the consequences of the choices they are presented with, that makes this choice so clear cut. As such, we condemn the underhand insinuation that the former is the case, which is already being used by councils to dismiss residents’ decisions, and demand its removal from this Guide.

36 The ‘accessibility’ to residents of regeneration teams based on estates, in this context, means the ability of such teams to manage residents’ resistance to the plans of the local authority or housing association employing that team. As such, we advise residents not to engage with these so-called regeneration teams – which are composed of professionals who move from borough to borough, overseeing the demolition of estates. Sue Foster, who heads up the demolition team for Lambeth Labour Council, was only moved there after she oversaw the demolition of numerous estates in Hackney. A similar exchange of personnel is going on between Newham and Croydon, and across London’s Labour councils.

These regeneration teams are professional experts in demolishing estates, brought in and paid huge salaries by the council or housing association in order to manage residents’ campaigns of resistance and push their employers’ plans through against their wishes. They are not elected public servants, and as such have no rights over residents, who have no obligation, therefore, to consult with them.

Case Study 5

Estate regeneration will succeed only if it succeeds for the residents of the estate. Gaining their ‘support’ depends on what constitutes ‘support’. As we have seen, local authorities have become adept at ignoring and dismissing residents’ ‘priorities’ while producing tokens of ‘support’ from Tenants and Residents Associations installed by them and backed by residents fed false and misleading information, very much as this Guide is doing. The equation of ‘success’ with ‘support’ suggests that the Greater London Authority sees consultation in terms of a public relations exercise rather than what the regeneration it gathers support for does for residents.

Unfortunately, since this ‘case study’, like all the others in the Guide, is anonymous, we cannot challenge either whether this estate regeneration – or more accurately demolition, for it is clear that at least some, if not all, of the council homes were demolished – had resident ‘support’ or was judged by them as a ‘success’. The Greater London Authority can paint what rosy picture it likes of estate demolition, but in the absence of their identification these case studies are nothing more than advertisements.

We note, however, that as with all the other examples of anonymous ‘successful’ estate demolitions, nothing is said about the cost to residents of living in the redevelopments. The replacement homes may have been larger, had separate kitchens, and double aspect views, but what are the new rents, what are the service charges, how many of the former residents returned to the estate, who lives in the new flats now, what are their tenant rights, and who owns the redevelopment? Local authorities refuse to put this information on their website pages on ‘estate regeneration’, and we suspect it’s for the same reason that it isn’t provided in this Guide: because this case study, like all the others, was anything but a ‘success’ for the residents of the demolished estate, who, if they knew what was going to happened to them, would never have given the ‘support’ the consultation process wheedled out of them.

The determining factors in ‘changing perceptions’ about an estate – which is regularly cited by local authorities as a reason for demolishing it – are not whether the new flats are larger, but whether the new development has been privatised – either by selling the land to a property developer for redevelopment or by transferring the ‘council’s stock’ to a housing association – and the income levels of the new residents. And the motivations for doing so are not to provide, as the Guide ridiculously suggests, ‘more space for children to learn’, but to increase the value of the housing stock for investors, force low-income tenants that use council services out, and bring in higher income residents paying a higher level of council tax on the new, larger, more expensive homes.

Given this reality, the idea of a ‘resident-led social regeneration team’ being set up to consider ‘ways to tackle social and economic deprivation’ is a fantasy at best, at worst an insult. It is becoming increasingly apparent to residents threatened with social cleansing from their homes under the guise of ‘changing perceptions’ about their estate and giving their children ‘more space to learn’ that the best way to ‘tackle social and economic deprivation’ is to resist the plans to demolish their council homes, which is fast becoming the greatest cause of housing poverty in London.

Residents should always be extremely sceptical of any ‘broader offer’ made to them by local authorities and housing associations, as such offers are always subject to future viability assessments. As an example of which, on Knight’s Walk in Kennington, a mere two weeks after a public consultation that presented residents with a partial demolition ‘offer’ to make 50 per cent of the new builds council rent, that ‘offer’, when presented to Lambeth Cabinet for approval, had been reduced to 40 per cent. And as the small print clarified for those who read it, even those figures were ‘indicative’ and subject to ‘further detailed analysis’. Such analysis will be undertaken by Savills real estate firm, who are working with most, if not all, of the Labour councils in London, and have shown themselves to be specialists in producing viability assessments that show exactly and precisely why the initial ‘offer’ of so many homes for social rent will have to be reduced to a hugely reduced number of homes for affordable rent.

37 If the Mayor is interested in ‘empowering’ residents, ensuring they have a ‘meaningful’ input into decisions about their own homes, he should stop authorising the meaningless and insulting rubbish written in this report, and instead give them the veto over any proposal that affects their homes, their families and their lives. Residents do indeed need ‘help and support’, but not from professional regeneration teams being paid huge sums to manipulate their ‘support’ for the demolition of their own homes, and not from real estate firms that stand to gain enormously from massaging viability assessments to support a programme of redeveloping demolished estates as homes for private sale. What residents need are the funds to develop their own plans from independent advisors and professionals, not chose what’s on ‘offer’ from a developer or housing association whose bottom line is their profit margin.

Fortunately, residents are not as ignorant and gullible about the financial motivations of London’s property market as this Guide seems to think, and will not be taken in by its obsequious tone and disingenuous declarations of concern for their welfare.

Case Study 6

The question that immediately springs to mind when considering the example of an Independent Tenant and Leaseholder Advisor is how such an advisor can be independent if they are being funded by the local authority. Will that funding, for instance, be withdrawn if the advisor advises against what the local authority is proposing? This Guide understands consultation exclusively as a means of talking residents into accepting the demolition of their estate with the least resistance, not listening to what residents want, which is overwhelmingly the maintenance and refurbishment of their homes. The concern that residents ‘interact fully’ sounds more like an exercise in ticking boxes to satisfy the requirements of ‘due process’ so that local authorities avoid the costly and time-consuming process of being taken to judicial reviews by residents they have ignored.

In the case of residents from Cressingham Gardens estate, Lambeth Labour council has been taken to such a judicial review twice, considerably delaying the demolition of residents’ homes, and costing the council considerable sums in order to show that the same residents who have taken them to court have somehow magically changed their minds and are now in favour of demolition. ASH advises residents to refuse to work with these so-called Independent Tenant and Leaseholder Advisors, who are anything but independent, and are employed by local authorities with the express purpose of circumventing residents’ access to judicial reviews as a means of challenging their demolition plans.

It is not ‘trust’ the local authority wants to gain from residents, it is acquiescence, and the last thing steering groups are set up to do is ‘answer questions’. In the case of Central Hill estate, residents who were first subjected to the consultation process in February 2015 were surprised to be told, at the end of 2016, that Lambeth Labour council would shortly be beginning the consultation process. Nobody is certain for sure how many times the date for the Cabinet meeting to announce the demolition of Central Hill estate has been put back, but it’s somewhere around 15 times. And throughout the 2-year process of ‘consultation’, the so-called independent advisors to the Resident Engagement Panel have done nothing to help the campaign. But then, as employees of Lambeth council that’s hardly surprising.

Far from helping residents in the ‘procurement of architects teams’, those teams were chosen by Lambeth Labour council – with the practice they chose being none other than PRP Architects, designers of the Orchard Village development on the land the Mardyke estate once stood on in Rainham. It is unclear whether Clarion Housing Group, which built the development with £31 million of public money – £18.8 million of which came from the Greater London Authority – will buy back the homes or demolish them, so badly were they built and designed by the same architects appointed by Lambeth Labour council for Central Hill. If the Independent Tenants and Residents Advisors recommended PRP Architects, residents would be entitled to wonder about their judgement or their independency – or both.

The architectural practice the residents in the Save Central Hill Community did appoint – Architects for Social Housing – was ignored by Lambeth Labour council, who refused to provide us with a brief, a housing needs survey, a measured survey of the existing estate, a consultant team, a criteria for deliverables, or any funds to design our alternatives to the demolition of the estate. 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; nor again when we presented to the Residents Engagement Panel. Instead, with the help of PRP Architects, Lambeth Council publicly 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 8 months after it was issued.

Information on Central Hill estate has never been shared with the steering group or resident engagement panel, members of which have consistently been shown hard copies of the council’s plans that are subsequently retained by regeneration officers, without being given the means to share these electronically or in reproduction with other residents on the estate. Indeed, members of the steering group, far from acting as a conduit to the residents they are supposedly there to represent, have been compelled to sign non-disclosure agreements, with the implied threat of being dropped down the re-housing hierarchy hanging over their heads.

As for the laughable idea that advisors paid by the local authority are there to support ‘residents resistant to the proposed changes’, at Lambeth Labour Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting into the Cabinet’s decision to demolish Cressingham Gardens estate, the ward councilor – in an extraordinary statement for which she produced no proof beyond her own accusations but which the Committee accepted without question – declared that there was a ‘climate of fear’ on the estate, that the Save Cressingham Gardens campaign is ‘intimidating’, and that tenants on the estate are ‘scared to get involved’. This was a strange and slanderous description of the families, single mothers, children and pensioners who have fought to save their homes for over seven years now, but it does give an indication of the kind of people they are up against.

If advisors, as the Guide suggests, can be ‘helpful during the compulsory purchase process’, it is indicative that, in the Guide’s estimation, they are there ‘to prove that all residents had been engaged’. If all residents were engaged, why was there the need for the compulsory purchase of leaseholders’ homes? This is the clearest indication yet that the role of advisors in estate demolition is to ensure a legal requirement is met, not to listen to residents that this Guide arrogantly goes on to describe as ‘hard to reach’. In this context, the description of these advisors as ‘extra pairs of eyes and ears on the ground’ should be sufficient to convince residents of just how ‘independent’ they are. They are spies for the council – nothing more or less – and residents should treat them as such.

The ‘willing resident participants’ the Guide identifies as the key to ‘the procurement processes’ are already familiar to us: middle class leaseholders with the finances to buy the more expensive replace flats, and members of the Labour Party placed at the head of Tenants and Residents Associations by council-funded campaigns. On Central Hill estate, the former Chair of the TRA actually recommended the estate for demolition, for which betrayal she was voted out by the other residents. Undeterred, at the recent bi-election for ward councillor she was vocal in supporting Lambeth Labour council’s chosen candidate, who was, of course, in favour of demolishing the estate. And on Marion Court in Hackney, an estate condemned for demolition has miraculously acquired a new middle-class resident who has been elected to the Chair of the newly constituted TRA, speaks the jargon of a Labour councillor, supports the demolition of the estate by the Labour council, and has quite clearly been installed to manage whatever resistance the other residents present to being socially cleansed from the borough.

If this sounds unlikely and conspiratorial, residents should remind themselves of the vast financial rewards to be had from gaining planning rights over large tracts of London’s land, which is some of the most valuable in the world, and of the revolving door that exists between the building industry and councillors, many of whom work in or are lobbyists for private companies in that industry.

If the Greater London Authority genuinely wanted to ‘empower’ residents – a word it uses with the frequency of a 1990s girl band – it would give residents the power to veto the plans to demolish their homes, require local authorities and housing associations to be bound by that veto, and provide estate campaigns with the funds to develop their own alternatives to demolition. The last thing residents need or want is more so-called ‘independent’ advisors engaging them in more consultations in more council-led structures designed to exhaust, frustrate, distract from and co-opt whatever resistance they put up. This, presumably, is why the Guide has gone into such detail about how these advisors can be used by councils. Reading this section of the Greater London Authority’s Good Practice Guide to Estate Demolition, it’s clear that its real target is not the residents it is ostensibly consulting, but the local authorities and housing associations it is advising.

38 As one of the ‘independent third parties’ that offers residents ‘advice on their rights’ and supports them in ‘negotiating with landlords’, Architects for Social Housing is pleased to read that the Mayor wishes to see residents ‘supported to the fullest possible extent’, and that ‘all options for achieving this are explored’. ASH has already designed options for infill and refurbishment on Knight’s Walk, Central Hill, West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, and is currently beginning similar alternatives to demolition for the Northwold and Patmore estates. We invite the Mayor to ‘explore’ these options at his earliest possible convenience, and we look forward to the ‘fullest possible support’ from the Greater London Authority in developing these options, which are part of the respective estates’ campaigns, not only with the funds required to bring them up to the development stage, but by ensuring the councils of Lambeth, Hackney, Wandsworth and Hammersmith and Fulham, as well as the Guinness housing association, give these options their full consideration.

Given the Mayor’s stated commitment to supporting residents, we hope these considerations are overseen by genuinely independent third parties of the kind ASH has commissioned on, for instance, Central Hill estate to produce an impact assessment of the environmental cost of demolition against the benefits of refurbishing residents’ homes and increasing the estate’s housing capacity through infill development.

Interim Offers

Despite the Guide’s description of ‘interim offers’ as one of the ‘benefits of estate regeneration’ that should be delivered to residents throughout the ‘long process’, we know from previous and ongoing estate demolitions that such offers have two functions, which are anything but beneficial to residents. First, leaseholders are offered compensation for their demolished homes at a level conditional upon their early departure from the estate, ensuring the financial burden and uncertainty of compulsory purchase orders are avoided by the local authority or housing association. And second, tenants are offered preferential access to re-housing off-site, and sometime out of the borough altogether, if they take the early offers made by the landlord, and which they are assured will not be repeated at a later date. If such lures don’t work, the experience of living on a building site for the ten-year plus duration of the demolition process, not to mention the stress of living with the threat of eviction for years on end, goes a long way to encouraging tenants and leaseholders alike to accept such ‘interim offers’.

Their purpose, however, is not to ‘deliver the benefits of regeneration’ to residents, but to ensure that when the time comes to add up how many leaseholders or secure tenants the redevelopment is compelled to offer at least the ‘right to return’ to homes costing twice as much in rent and service charges and up to four times as much to buy, that number has been drastically reduced from the number of leaseholders and secure tenants resident on the estate at the start of the process. Far from benefiting residents, ‘interim offers’ are one of the means by which the ‘long process’ of estate demolition becomes a tool for social cleansing, by encouraging residents to leave their homes years before they are demolished.

As we are seeing on the Aylesbury estate, however, while re-housed tenants have been moved out of the neighbourhood and in some cases the borough, and leaseholders accepting compensation have been forced out of Inner London and in some cases the capital, the leaseholders who refused the inadequate compensation offered to them by Southwark Labour council have managed not only to stop the compulsory purchase order of their homes on the first redevelopment site, but to force the developer, Notting Hill Housing, to increase their offers to the point where the entire demolition scheme may yet be halted. Despite being a registered social landlord enjoying charity tax status, Notting Hill Housing is not involved in the Aylesbury redevelopment in order to build new and better homes for current residents but to turn a profit on the new development, and the best way for residents to defend their homes is to threaten their profit margins.

In her introduction to a Centre for Social Justice report written in 2008, Chief Executive of Notting Hill Housing Trust, Kate Davies, who last year had a salary of £226,138, wrote that ‘council estates are ghettos of needy people’ and that ‘council homes are subsidised by the taxpayer’. She neglected to add that the housing association she heads receives millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to build so-called ‘affordable’ homes. She went on to write that council tenants ‘often pay little or no rent, and get their home maintained in good order for free’; that ‘living on an estate can affect your health, your ability to work, the type of education your children will get and your life chances’; that ‘social housing is not a desirable destination’ and that ‘private ownership is preferable to state provided solutions’. Residents should bear these comments in mind, which are typical of the kind of lies, myths, misinformation and slander used by housing associations and local authorities alike to justify their profit margins, when considering the actual motivations of estate demolition.

ASH strongly advises that both tenants and leaseholders resist these ‘interim offers’ as the bribes they are. Past demolitions have shown that, once residents leave their homes, they lose all the bargaining power they once had through occupation of the premises and the collective resistance of a community. A look at what the Labour councils of Newham and Waltham Forest do to individual tenants – who are shipped out to hostels in Welwyn Garden City and left in single rooms with their children for years on end – or what Southwark Labour council did to the former residents of the Heygate and Aylesbury estates – who have been scattered across South-East London and, in the case of leaseholders, as far as Peterborough, Birmingham, Bristol and Wales – should convince resident communities of the vital importance of remaining in their homes and part of the estate community if they want to resist being socially cleansed not only from their neighbourhood, but from London itself.

Good practice in consultation and engagement with landlords:

  • Residents should collectively refuse to participate in steering groups, residents engagement panels, surgeries, consultations, workshops, surveys and every other means of managing them proposed by professional teams of consultants or regeneration officers;
  • Residents should resist all attempts to divide them into tenants and leaseholders, and instead set up their own structures of community consultation, representation, organisation and action for all residents;
  • Residents should conduct their own consultation of the wishes not only of estate residents but of the surrounding community, based not on this misleading Guide but on the facts of estate demolition we have presented in this commentary;
  • With the help of independent advisors and professionals, residents should develop their own plans for the refurbishment and maintenance of their estate, including, where possible and with the support of the community, infill development that will provide more homes;
  • Residents should organise themselves in support of these plans, produce their own survey backing its implementation, raise funds through crowd-funding, donations from local businesses and grant applications, and build a campaign to save the estate from demolition or managed decline;
  • Residents should refuse to engage with the local authority or housing association until it recognises their campaign, their plans and their ballot as the wishes of the majority of the residents on the estate.
  • Residents should refuse all interim offers from the landlord – whether compensation for leaseholders or re-housing for tenants – remain in occupation of their homes, remain united in their resistance, and remain strong.

CHAPTER 3

A FAIR DEAL FOR TENANTS AND LEASEHOLDERS

40 In considering the effects of estate regeneration on tenants and leaseholders, it’s suggestive that this chapter begins with two issues – ‘re-housing’ and ‘compensation’, both of which are only applicable to estate demolition. What about offers to refurbish and maintain residents’ homes, neither of which requires their re-housing or compensation? Or has the Greater London Authority already abandoned the pretence that ‘regeneration’ means anything other than ‘demolition’?

41 When considering the housing needs of residents, the ‘expectations’ of the Mayor and the ‘sensitivity’ of social landlords are completely inadequate as guidelines to the decisions of local authorities and housing associations and the effects they will have on the homes of hundred of thousands of Londoners living on housing estates. Given the conduct of estate demolition schemes and the lack of principles in this Guide, to speak of local authorities being ‘sensitive’ is at best a bad joke, at worst an insult to the residents whose homes are threatened by this document’s lack of guidance.

42 It is revealing that the options the Guide believes residents on estates ‘being considered for regeneration’ should be aware of include ‘alternative housing’ and the duties of local authorities under ‘homelessness legislation’. This clearly implies that leaseholders forced off their demolished estate will be unable to afford to exercise their ‘right to return’, and that tenants will be evicted.

43 If the Guide expects residents to be ‘more likely to move willingly’ if they feel that ‘every reasonable effort’ has been made to re-house them, does the GLA anticipate residents being moved unwillingly, either through compulsory purchase orders on leaseholders’ homes or by eviction of tenants by bailiffs and police? If estate demolition, as this chapter claims to ensure, is a ‘fair deal’, why should this be the case?

As for ‘reasonable compensation’, we know that leaseholders on demolished estates are offered as low as 25 per cent of the market value of the new builds. On West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, for example, where 80 percent of residents have consistently voted against demolition, property developers Capco have promised that an ‘independent evaluator’ will decide the market value of leaseholders’ homes. What that market value will be on an estate condemned for demolition is indicated by the fact that leaseholders will only be required to provide 25 per cent equity on the new developments, which are already being advertised at £800,000 for a 1-bedroom apartment, £1,200,000 for a 2-bedroom, and £1,700,000 for a 3-bedroom.

Of course, the London Mayor will know all about this disparity between compensation for demolished homes and the cost of buying their replacements, since as part of his mayoral campaign he promised to review Capco’s scheme, about which he expressed ‘serious reservations’. Unfortunately, like so much in his housing manifesto, this was a promise that, once elected to office, the Mayor has failed to keep.

44 It is inaccurate and misleading for the Guide to speak of ‘building social housing’ through estate demolition, either to re-house tenants ‘whose homes are being demolished’ or for additional tenants. Nothing in the government’s Housing and Planning Act, the Mayor’s own Affordable Housing and Viability Supplementary Planning Guidance, or in this Guide itself, requires or provides for the building of social housing on new developments, and to pretend otherwise is deliberately to mislead tenants in social housing whose demolition – we remind those residents – this Guide permits:

  • Where it is replaced by affordable housing at existing or higher densities;
  • Where it is replaced with better quality housing at existing or higher densities;
  • Where the local authority has exhausted all other alternatives.

45 Support and assistance to ‘vulnerable households’ living on estates ‘regardless of their tenure’ is the very last thing that is offered by local authorities and housing associations. On the Loughborough Park estate in Brixton only 11 of the 100 tenants kept by the Guinness Partnership on assured shorthold tenancies were offered re-housing, and that on so-called ‘affordable’ rents increased, in one case, from £109 per week to £265 per week, and whose tenant, a single mother with two young children, Guinness is seeking a re-possession order against for falling into arrears on a rent they themselves set at the highest rate they could. Even in the double-speak of estate demolition this can hardly be described as ‘support and assistance’ – although that hasn’t stopped the Guinness Partnership from claiming this was ‘the correct thing to do’. In reality, their only motivation in re-housing this tenant was the housing benefit she was required to claim in order to pay her rent, and which Guinness have pocketed in full.

It’s in this context that we should understand the Guide’s statement that ‘in some cases’ tenants may ‘want to move out of London’ or ‘into specialist accommodation’. Tenants who have lived their entire lives in their London neighbourhood, whose jobs depends on them living in the borough, who – because they are elderly or have disabilities or are single mothers – often rely on a support network of friends on the estate and in the local community, do not ‘want to move out of London’: they are forced out through the process of estate demolition. And the ‘special accommodation’ they are forced into is increasingly that provided by homeless hostels, which are, like so much consequent upon estate demolition, an increasingly profitable business opportunity in London.

To take just one example, Ivy House, a private hostel for homeless families in Hackney, stands directly opposite the former Woodberry Down Estate, where 1,980 council homes were demolished in the name of ‘estate regeneration’. The mostly women tenants in Ivy House live in single bedsits with their children, and although the hostel is categorised as temporary accommodation some families have been there for more than two years. They are allowed no visitors at any time, day or night, are not permitted to eat in their room, cannot smoke anywhere on the premises, and are prohibited from using their own bed sheets. CCTV is fitted throughout, and there are regular room inspections by staff. Their entire housing benefit goes to the hostel, which is privately owned and run by Rooms & Studios London.

Hackney Labour Council currently houses 793 homeless families in hostels like Ivy House, the highest number of any London borough, where a total of 2,733 households, around 8,000 people, live in temporary accommodation. £35 million per year in housing benefit is being paid to private landlords like Rooms & Studios London in order to house homeless families in temporary accommodation in the borough. But Hackney Council isn’t alone. London Labour Councils, which are leading London’s estate demolition programme, also lead the way in the number of homeless households they place in temporary accommodation, making up 10 of the 13 worst councils and accounting for 37,661 households out of a total of 53,343. That’s upwards of 150,000 people, including 90,000 children, living in temporary housing, bed and breakfasts, hostels and other private accommodation across London. Behind its fake concern for ‘vulnerable households’, this is what the Draft Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration means by moving tenants made homeless by estate demolition into ‘special accommodation’.

Even then the Guide says local authorities and housing associations should only try to meet tenants housing needs ‘as much as possible’. Does this mean if they can be bothered to, or – as is increasingly the case – Savills tells them they can afford to? It beggars belief, even in a document as cavalier as this Guide, that ‘special accommodation’ and the encouragement to ‘move out of London’ is the sum total of the Greater London Authority’s response to what it clearly and accurately anticipates will be the huge numbers of residents being made homeless by the estate demolition programme it supports.

Social Tenants

46 If landlords are under ‘statutory requirements’ to meet tenants’ ‘legal rights’, what does the Guide’s recommendation that they ‘should’ see these as a ‘minimum’ add to these requirements? If the Greater London Authority is as concerned as it wishes to be seen to be about how tenants are ‘affected’ by having their homes demolished, they should write policies that prohibit this from happening, rather than indulging in an endless list of what it thinks ‘should’ be done. As demonstrated by Lambeth Labour council’s recourse to High Court bailiffs in order to evict elderly and disabled tenants from the co-operative homes they had lived in for more than thirty years in order to demolish and redevelop the site, their statutory requirements towards tenants are the ‘maximum’ that local authorities ever follow, and nothing more.

47 The ‘reasonableness’ of alternative accommodation for tenants evicted from estates is not determined by its size and ‘individual requirements’, but by its cost and location, which should be back on the new development, on the same tenancy, with the same tenancy rights, on the same rent, and with the same service charges. Anything else is social cleansing through estate demolition. It is indicative that none of this is stated here, in what is supposedly this Guide’s ‘fair deal’ for tenants.

If tenants do not have to be re-housed back on the new development, does this mean that their ‘alternative accommodation’ has to be in the same neighbourhood? If not, does it have to be in the same borough? If not, does it have to be in Inner London? If not, does it have to be in Greater London? Or does this lack of policy mean, as we have seen from the displacement maps for the Aylesbury and Heygate estates, that tenants can be offered ‘alternative accommodation’ anywhere in England and Wales? Why does the Guide not mention that, following the Localism Act 2011, this accommodation does not have to be social housing, but can be in the private rental market? And why does it not clarify that, under the same legislation, if the tenant refuses this ‘alternative accommodation’, local authorities will deem them to be ‘intentionally homeless’ and their duty of care to them discharged?

Between October 2013 and January 2015, 2,128 families were forced into accommodation in the private rental sector under the Localism Act, over 1000 of them moved out of their borough, and nearly 500 out of London altogether. Part of the reason for this large number – which came to 133 families per month, and which has only increased in severity since then – is that mothers who are deemed to have made themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ by refusing this ‘alternative accommodation’ are threatened by social services with having their children taken away from them. Even in a Guide as duplicitous as this one, in what way can this possibly be described as a ‘fair deal’ for tenants?

Rights to Return

49 The best way to ensure that the disruption of estate regeneration is ‘kept to a minimum’, and the one overwhelmingly favoured by tenants, is to refurbish their homes. In contrast, the best way to ensure that households move ‘no more than once’, and the one favoured by local authorities, is to decant tenants off the estate, demolish their homes, then leave them in their new ‘alternative accommodation’. Phasing, whereby secure tenants move once into newly built homes, leaving their former ones to be demolished and redeveloped, only works when they can afford to live in the new homes and on the same tenancies. In practice, this never happens. Rather, as happened at Balfron Tower, tenants told by Poplar Housing and Regeneration Community Association that they were being decanted, and who left with an unclear right to return, were subsequently informed that their refurbished homes were now being sold.

50 We have already exposed the meaningless of the ‘right to return’ when that right is dependent upon the hugely increased cost of exercising that right. A right that is dependent on income is no right at all. In the case of Haringey Labour council, not even that right has been guaranteed to tenants; and as we have seen in the impact assessment of the effects this will have on tenants in the demolished estates of Broadwater Farm, Northumberland Park and Sky City, the council concluded that residents would have to ‘increase their incomes to a sufficient level to afford the new homes on offer’. Given which, what does it matter what the Mayor ‘believes’ local authorities should do if he continues to allow them to use estate demolition as a means of social cleansing?

As for the observation – if that is what it is – that tenants ‘should’ be offered a flat ‘at the same or similar rent’ and ‘the same level of security’, not only is this quite clearly not offered, but there are no requirements to do so. As the Guide itself points out in footnote no. 6 to this paragraph (which instead of being in small print should be highlighted in red), under Schedules 4 and 5 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016:

  • Local authorities will only grant secure tenancies for between 2 and 5 years to new social housing tenants, after which they will have to reapply;
  • Children or dependants of tenants who have died, and are currently living in existing secure tenancies, will not automatically succeed to the tenancy but will be required to reapply to live in their own homes.

The question this legislation raises is whether tenants ‘decanted’ from homes that have been demolished will continue the terms of their secure tenancy when (or rather if) they are re-housed on the new developments; or whether, as seems more likely, their new tenancy will be subject to the same limitations of 2-5 years. As the Guide’s brief footnote admits, the government has ‘not confirmed that tenants moving due to estate regeneration (sic) will be protected’. If they aren’t, then estate demolition can add the elimination of secure tenancies to its already long list of sins.

In the case of housing associations, although tenants can be on secure tenancies if these began before 15 January 1989, after that date housing associations will only offer new tenants assured tenancies. So when the Guinness Partnership, for example, tells secure tenants on the Northwold estate in Hackney that they will be re-housed on the same tenancies in the new development, that depends on whether, having demolished their homes, Guinness will consider their tenancies to have been transferred, or whether, as they did with tenants on Loughborough Park estate, they tell them they are starting a new tenancy, and that it is now an assured shorthold tenancy. Given that the Guinness Partnership, according to its own Annual Review and Financial Statements of 2016, increased its income from ‘affordable’ rents from £14.6 million to £21.1 million through converting 559 homes for social rent to ‘affordable’ rent, and through the letting of new homes for ‘affordable’ rent on developments built on the site of demolished estates, we suspect it may be the latter.

Finally, the worst part of this factually inaccurate, dissembling and misleading paragraph is its reference to the ‘criteria’ to which even these empty promises to tenants of a ‘right to return’ are subject, which the Guide, one again, tries to hide in a footnote, and which we therefore quote here in red:

‘Landlords may decide to exclude some tenants from eligibility for the right of return for some reasons, for example where there is a history of rent arrears or anti-social behaviour.’

It is unclear, and it is not cited, what the legislation is to which this ‘exclusion’ refers, or whether this is a suggestion of the Greater London Authority; but it is clear what can constitute ‘anti-social behavior’. Under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, anti-social behaviour is defined as:

  • Conduct that has caused, or is likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress to any person;
  • Conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to a person in relation to that person’s occupation of residential premises;
  • Conduct capable of causing housing-related nuisance or annoyance to any person.

Since this legal definition of anti-social behaviour embraces pretty much anything any human being is likely to do at any time to anyone, its citation in this Guide as a reason for denying tenants the ‘right to return’ to their estate means it can be used to bully, silence and intimidate residents who resist the demolition of their homes. This has already been the case on Cressingham Gardens estate, where resident campaigners have been accused by Lambeth Labour council of ‘creating a climate of fear’ and ‘intimidating other residents’.

ASH is familiar with the kind of bullying and intimidation employed by local authorities and housing associations to silence and frighten tenants into compliance, and the accusation of ‘anti-social behaviour’ is one regularly leveled at estate communities to justify the demolition of their homes for profit; but this footnote is, perhaps, the most disgusting line in this Guide, to which we draw the attention of all residents involved in building campaigns to save their homes and communities from social cleansing. We encourage them not to be daunted by its threat or dissuaded from standing up to those who try to employ it against them; and we hope you will join us in demanding its removal from the Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration.

51 The issue of overcrowded or under-occupied housing is often used as an argument to justify its demolition, but it is based on an inadequate understanding of the possibilities of infill development. On West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, for example, ASH has shown that, with an accurate survey of housing needs, the provision of some smaller homes for those households that are currently in under-occupied homes will free up some of the larger homes. Our infill proposals, accordingly, provide a large range of new homes, from bungalows for the elderly and disabled – potentially freeing up some of the larger homes that may be under-occupied – to new townhouses for growing families needing more space. As demonstrated by the number of people being forced to pay the government’s punitive bedroom tax, there is a shortage of one-bedroom homes on London’s housing estates; and combined with the infill addition of some larger homes for overcrowded households, the housing needs of all the residents can be satisfied without the need to demolish any of the existing homes on the estate.

52 If ‘not all tenants’ take up the offer of a right to return, it isn’t because they ‘prefer’ to stay in the homes they have moved to – often under the threat of not being re-housed – before their former homes have been demolished, but because they cannot afford to return to their replacements. It is disingenuous of the Guide to suggest that tenants’ preferences have anything to do with them accepting early re-housing, often outside the borough or even outside London altogether, as a way of escaping the mental stress and damage to their health of living on an estate condemned for demolition; and we condemn the GLA for advising local authorities and housing associations on how to use the threat of demolition as a way to socially cleanse residents from their estates.

53 With regard to landlords changing the mix of flats in the new developments, it is true that the young, middle-class, professional, double-income households that are able to afford to rent the replacement flats off the real estate investors that purchase them will have less need for multiple bedrooms than the multi-generational, working-class, single income families whose homes have been demolished to make way for them. But if this Guide is a model of the ‘sensitive discussion’ in which tenants are offered ‘alternative accommodation’, landlords will have their work cut out for them. We advise tenants to refuse either to engage in these discussions or to accept these offers, but to stay and fight for their homes and their rights.

Case Study 8

If 80 per cent of tenants moved off this estate rather than returning to the replacement flats, and none of the leaseholders bought the new builds in place of their demolished homes, it was not because they ‘chose’ to, but because tenants could not afford the increased rents and service charges on the new development, and leaseholders offered insufficient compensation for their demolished homes could not afford the cost of the new builds, and did not want to enter into shared equity or shared ownership schemes that would reduce their rights to the level of assured tenants. And if new residents did not take up tenancies on the new flats, it was because the cost of doing so was prohibitive; or because their design and build, as the case study suggests, were of poor quality; or because they did not want to move onto a building site. The question this case study raises is not only why such a demolition was permitted to go ahead but, more to the point, why the GLA’s Guide to Good Practice in Estate Demolition contains nothing to stop such a case being repeated across London, as it already has been and undoubtedly will be again and again.

It is indicative of the real aims and objectives of estate demolition that the Guide lists the ‘disproportionate’ number of flats on the new development going to ‘homeless households’ as a negative outcome of the redevelopment, as if homes for the homeless were a failure of policy – which of course it is when that policy is homes for profit. Just as it is indicative of this profit motive that, rather than reducing the cost of renting or buying the new homes, the Guide’s solution to this perceived negative outcome is ‘better marketing’. It’s instructive to read that the Greater London Authority’s guide to delivering a ‘fair deal’ for tenants and leaseholders subscribes to the time-honoured rule of the used-car salesman, that if you can’t improve the product, get a bigger sale sign. But then what else would one expect from what we were promised would be ‘London’s most business-friendly Mayor ever’? Nevertheless, we still find it incredible that this case study, the only one included in Chapter 3, should be presented as a lesson from which local authorities and housing associations should learn in coming up with a ‘fair deal’ for the residents whose homes they have demolished.

Short Term/Temporary Tenancies

54 Though it may not be ‘reasonable’ to grant new tenants ‘long-term’ tenancies for empty flats on estate’s condemned to be demolished, there is absolutely no reason why new tenants should not be granted secure tenancies on empty flats that can be transferred to the replacement flats when the estate is demolished. The fact the Guide does not even consider this is another indication that tenants on existing secure tenancies will not be re-housed on the same secure tenancies – as they are constantly told they will be by local authorities and housing associations – but offered assured tenancies on reduced rights and increased rents and service charges by a private landlord – whether the developer, the housing association or the special purpose vehicles being created for this purpose by London’s Labour councils.

55 Despite this option, even when empty homes are not left empty, temporary tenants are only ever offered assured shorthold tenancies at best, property guardianships at worst, both of which not only make those tenants easier to evict when the time comes to demolish their homes, but absolves the landlord of having to re-house them. This is not ‘reasonable’: this is the cynical manipulation of the threat of estate demolition to reduce the responsibility of registered social landlords to house their tenants.

In the case of the Carpenter’s estate in Newham, around 600 flats in mint condition have stood empty for over 7 years in anticipation of the demolition of the estate while Newham Labour council tried to find a developer to buy the land. Following a long campaign by the Focus E15 Mothers that drew attention to this fact while they and other households were being accommodated for years in homeless hostels or forcibly evicted from the borough by the threat of being deemed to have made themselves intentionally homeless, the council reluctantly agreed to fill some of the flats. However, despite the fact that Newham has 24,000 households on its housing waiting list, the council filled about 100 of the vacant flats with residents from outside the borough and even from outside London, many of whom had mental health and drug problems. This cynical manipulation of the situation, which had the expected negative impact on existing residents on the Carpenters estate, effectively corroborated everything the Labour council had been saying about council estates being breeding grounds for drug dealing and anti-social behavior in order to justify their plans to demolish the estate, as well as driving a wedge between the Focus E15 Campaign and the original residents.

Needless to say, Architects for Social Housing condemns the advocacy of such underhand practices, and the corresponding failure to offer tenants secure, transferable and long-term tenancies in empty council flats, in a Guide to good practice in estate regeneration.

Leaseholders

56 Since there is in every case a large discrepancy between the market value of a property on an estate condemned to be demolished and the purchase price of the property built to replace it but not necessarily for the previous resident, the legislation on compensation under the Land Compensation Act 1961 (as amended 1973) is completely inadequate and unfair to leaseholders. Worse, since under the banner of ‘high quality’ the replacement properties are being built for buyers with a far higher purchasing power – and which in many cases are only within the reach of property speculators – landlords are manipulating the inadequacy of the offered compensation to prevent leaseholders from exercising their ‘right to return’.

On the Heygate estate, for example, owners of a 4-bedroom council flat were offered £190,000 in compensation for their demolished home, while on Trafalgar Place, the first phase of the redevelopment which contains 235 ‘high-quality’ homes, a 2-bedroom flat is on sale for £725,000. As a consequence, the displacement map of former leaseholders on the Heygate estate shows that the majority have been forced to relocate to the outer boroughs of South-East London, with some now living as far away as Snodland, Grays, Romford, Cheshunt, St. Albans, Wembley and Slough. This isn’t compensation: this is the social cleansing from Inner London of residents who haven’t a hope of buying back anything equivalent to their former homes on the new development.

It isn’t surprising, therefore, that Trafalgar Place is being advertised on Asian real estate markets. This is the rule, not the exception, in London estate redevelopment. From an assessment of 14 new London residential developments, Transparency International has revealed that less than a quarter of the properties have been bought by buyers based in the UK, and that 4 in 10 of these properties have been sold to investors from high corruption risk countries or those hiding behind anonymous companies. The abnormally low level of electricity use in these properties suggests that many are rarely used as homes. Such investment, which is being facilitated by estate demolition and the land it frees up for ‘high quality’ housing developments, is only driving up the prices of London property, and with it the profits of the estate agents, developers and builders getting rich from the demolition of London’s council and social housing.

For the Guide to endorse and accommodate these practices in the name of a ‘fair deal’ for leaseholders shows to what extent the Greater London Authority and the London Mayor are in the pockets of London’s enormously lucrative building industry.

57 Contrary to what the Mayor ‘believes’, Architects for Social Housing believes that if you destroy a person’s property, you pay them back the price of its replacement, not what it cost them to buy it. To call the market price of a property condemned for demolition on an estate that will be a building site for the next ten years an offer ‘in good faith’ is a cynical definition of the term – and leaseholders know it. Rather than except such inadequate compensation from the demolishers of their homes and extorters of their life’s savings, we advise leaseholders to take heart from and follow the example of leaseholders on the Aylesbury estate, refuse the offered compensation or any other ‘incentives’, and challenge the compulsory purchase order on their homes in the courts. Not only will this potentially compel the local authority to offer a greater sum, but the delay in the process and the higher compensation that may have to be awarded may convince the relevant developer that they will not, after all, be able to turn a quick profit, and therefore to reconsider their financial backing for the entire scheme.

58 As for what the Mayor considers to be ‘good practice’ to offer to leaseholders, whatever ‘independence’ the evaluator of the market value of a leaseholder’s home may have, homes are valued based on their insurance evaluation, and this is determined by its rebuild cost in the event of – for instance – fire or flood damage, not by its sale price or market value.

With regard to the various means leaseholders are offered in order to exercise their right to return to properties they cannot otherwise afford, as a result of legislation introduced by the Consumer Credit Act 2006 and which came into force in April 2008, shared equity is now defined as a financial product, like a mortgage or a loan, which only financial service organisations are able to offer. Local authorities, therefore, or the special propose vehicles they are creating in order to allow them to turn council estates into housing association estates, cannot offer such services, and to do so is an offence.

It is unclear, moreover, what percentage of the total cost of the new development the leaseholder will have to pay in order to qualify for this arrangement, and it is misleading of the Guide to suggest that the value of the leaseholder’s demolished property – which varies hugely from home to home, estate to estate, and independent evaluator to council-paid evaluator – will be sufficient to meet the even more variable costs of the flats built in their place. Such an arrangement, which would lie entirely at the discretion of the developer or builder, and which fails to clarify where the outstanding balance on the new property will come from, has neither legal nor financial basis, and it’s inclusion in the Guide can only deceive leaseholders about their ability to exercise their right to return to the new development.

Finally, even if leaseholders have sufficient equity to own a portion of the new property, they would still be wholly responsible for servicing and maintenance on the whole property, for which – although they would still benefit from its increase in value if they sold it – they would only recoup the proportion they own. In effect, they pay for the servicing and maintenance of the landlord’s home.

The other option, shared ownership – which for the above reasons is the deal more widely offered by housing associations to leaseholders – is little more than a scam. Until the leaseholder has purchased 100 per cent of the shares in the property, they don’t own anything, and their lease amounts only to an assured tenancy. This means they can face possession proceedings for rent arrears, anti-social behavior or subletting, and any possession order could result in the loss of the property. There is, moreover, no obligation for the housing association, which remains the owner of the property, to repay the purchase price.

Just as with shared equity, leaseholders – who more accurately are tenants – will be liable for 100 per cent of the service charges for the maintenance of the building, which can be raised at the discretion of the landlord. And unless the housing association owns the entire block – which if it is leasing a number of flats from a developer is unlikely – they are not responsible for carrying out maintenance and repairs.

Finally, as the value of the property increases, so too will the cost of increasing shares in it, and each time more shares are purchased the property will have to be re-valued, with all the corresponding costs of doing so being paid by the leaseholder. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that the cases of leaseholders with shared ownership acquiring full ownership of their property are rare. Effectively, the offer of shared ownership means leaseholders who once owned their own homes will become tenants who pay a very expensive down-payment to their new landlords for an option to buy the whole property at a later date.

In the 2007 case of Richardson v. Midland Heart, the leaseholder had purchased a 50 per cent share in the ownership of a property with Midland Heart housing association in 1995 for £29,950, paying rent on the remaining 50 per cent. When she fell into arrears on the rent, Midland Heart brought possession proceedings against her under the Housing Act 1988. The court found that for the 99 years of her lease Richardson effectively had an assured tenancy, but ruled that since she did not own the whole of the property it could not be protected, and therefore that she had no right to the return of the £29,950 she had paid – all of which she lost.

For the Mayor to describe either shared equity or shared ownership as an example of ‘good practice’ is a warning of just how suspicious leaseholders should be of the Guide to which he has put his name.

59 The Greater London Authority’s ‘encouragement’ of ‘innovative ways’ to ‘enhance the speed’ of the ‘regeneration process’ and move leaseholders into ‘alternative accommodation’ is beneath contempt and unworthy of comment, except as an indicator of the true ‘aims and objectives’ of estate demolition.

60 Since the majority of non-resident leaseholders are drawn from the private landlords who own 40 per cent of the former council flats sold under the Right to Buy and who are now renting them out for a profit on the private market – in many cases back to local authorities struggling to accommodate the tenants that should have been housed in the council flats they sold – we’ll leave it to the Greater London Authority to sort out adequate compensation for this disgraceful abuse of legislation designed to invite and reward that abuse.

Good Practice in refusing deals and incentives offered by landlords in exchange for residents’ homes and rights:

  • We remind all residents that, although its larger political motivations are accommodated by legislation from Central Government and the Greater London Authority and implemented by London’s local authorities, estate demolition is driven by the profit margins of the housing associations, developers and building companies that build ‘high value’ properties on the cleared land; so while the political motivations and social consequences of estate demolition must be exposed and challenged, the most effective means of resisting estate demolition is to place those profit margins in jeopardy.
  • Every judicial inquiry, every High Court hearing, every challenged compulsory purchase order, every new legal fee for the council, every architectural masterplan sent back to the drawing board, every consultation process that has to be repeated, every alternative to demolition put forward by residents, every People’s Plan for refurbishment and infill, every delayed cabinet decision, every re-evaluated contract with the developer, every drop in the market for luxury housing in London, costs the companies hoping to profit from the demolition of residents’ homes and estates money.
  • It is because of this that so much of the Greater London Authority Guide is concerned with how local authorities and housing associations can circumvent these delaying tactics, which have been pioneered by past and current estate campaigns resisting the demolition of their homes; in pursuing these tactics, therefore, and in inventing new ones unanticipated by the GLA’s Guide, leaseholders and freeholders, because of their property rights, have a crucial role to play in defending not just their homes but the whole estate.
  • It is because of the difficulty of circumventing these property rights that landlords begin consultations with residents by trying to separate leaseholders from tenants; we strongly advise, therefore, that residents stay united, and that leaseholders and tenants support each other in fighting for their rights to stay in their homes.
  • Under Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, leaseholders are ‘entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of their possessions’; and in considering the compulsory purchase order on the first development site of the Aylesbury estate, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government found that the demolition of a leaseholder’s home that would force them out of the area is in violation of this right. It is vital, therefore, that leaseholders use this ruling to challenge compulsory purchase orders on their own homes.
  • Under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, all residents – both leaseholders and tenants – have ‘the right to respect for their private and family life, their home’; and again, the Secretary of State found that the interference with these rights is neither necessary nor proportionate if it ‘forces many of those concerned out of the area’. It is up to tenants to make the argument that, even though they do not own the property, a tenant’s council flat is their home, and therefore that being forced out of the area by its demolition is an infringement of these rights.
  • Under Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, the Secretary of State also found that estate demolition has a negative impact on protected groups 1) if elderly residents are forced out of the area because they are unable to get a new or sufficient mortgage to remain in the area; 2) if children are forced out of the area and their schooling and upbringing is consequently negatively impacted; and 3) if residents from black and ethnic minority groups unable to afford to return to the area are forced away from their cultural and ethnic communities. If residents can show that they are disproportionately negatively affected by estate demolition 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 – the local authorities and housing associations demolishing their homes are in abrogation of their Public Sector Equality Duty, and this should be used to challenge, delay, increase the cost of, and reduce the profits being made from, the demolition of London’s housing estates.

In addition to building a barrier to the rising profit margins of those getting rich from demolishing London’s housing estates, residents should use the time this wins them to shine an illuminating light on the Plato’s cave of illusions in which the public is imprisoned by the media and its deliberately inaccurate representation of what is happening to council and social housing in this country. If every resident on every estate in London challenges the lies they are presented with in documents such as this Guide, then the Conservative Government, Greater London Authority, local authorities, housing associations, estate agents, building companies, property developers and real estate investors feeding at the London housing table might start to think again about whether estate demolition and redevelopment really is the easiest route to a quick profit and high returns. Residents should never forget that there is no housing crisis except the one being driven by the boom in the London property market, and they need to make it both financially and politically unviable for the businessmen and politicians running London to realise their plans to build investment opportunities for international capital on the land our homes stand on.

Residents should also not forget that when the gestures of consultation contained in this Guide have been enacted and the offers it makes to leave peacefully have been rejected, local authorities and housing associations, with the backing of the Greater London Authority, the Labour Mayor and the Conservative Government, will seek possession orders from the High Court and instruct bailiffs to evict them from their homes. As we have seen from the footage of the thousands of evictions in London over the past few years, the Metropolitan police will arrest and charge anyone who resists eviction from their home, and councils and housing associations will try to isolate, slander and punish residents forming campaigns of resistance. But we need to test their political will to evict entire communities in which the general public, despite the blanket denigration of working class lives in our national media and entertainment industry, can still recognise themselves and their own struggle for housing, security and dignity. To this end we need to build a community of resistance to the attack on council and social housing that links every estate in London threatened with demolition. Only then can we think about how to set in motion a wider political movement to start reclaiming the public realm that is being sold from under our feet, and whose privatisation will leave our children wage slaves to private landlords.

APPENDIX

EXISTING PLANNING POLICY

The appendix to the Guide is concerned with policy in the London Plan and Housing Supplementary Planning Guidance drawn up under the previous (Conservative) London Mayor, and the extent to which the Greater London Authority and current Mayor are bound by its application to estate regeneration. However, residents should not be deceived by this concern into thinking that the GLA Guide contradicts, in any way, the government’s Estate Regeneration National Strategy, which was published last December, or the GLA’s own Affordable Housing and Viability Supplementary Planning Guidance, on which consultation has just closed. On the contrary, all the policy documents relevant to estate demolition, including the government’s Housing and Planning Act 2016, and the recently published white paper ‘Fixing our broken housing market’, are complementary to the Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration and directed to the same end: demolishing London’s council and housing association estates. That’s not surprising, since the same CEOs of the same building companies and housing associations, the same researchers for the same real estate firms, the same directors of the same public policy research think-tanks, wrote all these documents; just as the same council leaders and mayors implementing London’s estate demolition programme are sitting on the Mayor’s Homes for Londoners board that will respond to the consultation on this Guide. This is not just a cross-Party assault on council and social housing; estate demolition has the financial backing and interest of some of the most powerful private institutions in the City of London.

That said, the single greatest barrier to building a community of resistance to the programme of estate demolition in London is undoubtedly the Labour Party. As this Guide issued by the Labour Mayor of London demonstrates; as the hundreds of communities being socially cleansed from their homes by Labour councils in Hackney, Southwark, Lambeth, Croydon, Lewisham, Greenwich, Newham, Waltham Forest, Haringey, Islington, Camden and Hammersmith & Fulham will testify; and as the support of the Leader of the Labour Party and its Members of Parliament for these schemes confirms – the London estate demolition programme is led and implemented by the Labour Party. Undoubtedly richer bank accounts and sharper minds than any Labour politician possesses have devised this programme, but London’s councils are overwhelmingly run by Labour administrations with the support of a Labour Mayor. That this programme should be targeted against its own voting base in the overwhelmingly Labour-voting population that lives on London’s council estates is not the least of this Party’s betrayals of the working class of Britain.

We have lived in a two-party state for so long that residents told by Labour councils that estate demolition is a Tory policy to which cuts to their budgets force them to comply instinctively believe them. Unlike Conservative councils, which account for a fraction of the schemes being pursued in London, Labour councils depend on this residual allegiance to their Party to push its programme of privatisation through. Hopefully our commentary on the GLA Guide will convince residents that this narrative of ‘austerity’, which Labour councils have eagerly adopted from the Conservative government, is not the reason for London’s estate demolition programme; and if it doesn’t, we hope that residents will refer to the numerous other articles we have published on estate demolition demonstrating that this economic justification is a political choice. The cynicism of Labour councils in presenting themselves as opposed to the Conservative government’s attack on council and social housing in the Housing and Planning Act while simultaneously demolishing the estates those homes are built on shows them to be worthy allies of the Tories in the class war that is being waged through housing in this city. Residents who place their hopes in the Labour Party place their futures in jeopardy.

Architects for Social Housing

Illustration by Clifford Harper

Entente Cordiale: An anal probe into London’s housing crisis

Anal Probe

London’s a cesspit. Wherever you stick your probe, it comes out stinking of corruption.

Last Tuesday, 21 February, over two weeks after a possession order was granted on the land (but not the property) at 18 Grosvenor Gardens, the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians moved to new premises, their third in Belgravia in recent weeks.

Their new address is 19 Buckingham Gate, SW1E 6LB, a property that sits opposite Wellington Barracks, home of the Foot Guards battalions on service at Buckingham Palace. It’s a commercial property that has served as an office for the Communications Group, a PR consultancy. Their lease expires this June, but it seems they’ve got out early.

In June 2015 Westminster Council granted planning permission for the demolition of the properties at both 18 and 19 Buckingham Gate and their redevelopment as 14 residential flats, all with car-parking access in a proposed newly-dug basements car park. The redevelopment is being funded by GSP Real Estate, which their website describes as specialising in ‘entrepreneurial property investments with high growth potential’.

In considering the planning application, Westminster Council decided that 18 Buckingham Gate, a 1960s office building, makes a negative contribution to the conservation of the area, while no. 19, which was rebuilt in 1953 following war damage, is neutral at best because it was re-modelled in the 1980s.

Westminster Council also came to the convenient decision that affordable housing would not be appropriate on site, so accepted payment in lieu of £600,000, an increase on the original offer of £430,000, which GSP originally claimed was all they could afford. The Tory council acknowledged this sum was lower than would normally be required by policy, but bowed to the greater knowledge of the assessor, PNP Paribas, one of the largest banks in the world, and what they call its ‘rigorous independent viability assessment’.

To put this in context, the average price of a flat on Buckingham Gate is currently £1,787,012, meaning the Section 106 agreement, which requires 25 per cent of residential floor space to be provided as affordable housing, has generated the equivalent of about one third of a flat.

Despite this, Westminster Council concluded that since 5 of the 14 proposed new luxury apartments were for 3-bedroom units and 1 for a 4-bedroom unit, the plans met with Policy H5 of the Unitary Development Plan to provide more homes for families in the borough.

State Visit

Last Friday, 24 February, despite a petition signed by (at last count) 1,861,457 people protesting that it would be an insult to Her Majesty the Queen, Architects for Social Housing paid a state visit to the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians at their new Embassy on Buckingham Gate. We’re pleased to relate that ASH’s work is known to ANAL, and we were greeted by diplomats of many nations, including the Kingdom of Bohemia, the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the future Republic of Scotland.

As part of our itinerary ASH was shown footage of the discovery by ANAL, in the offices of their new premises, documents signed by Mikhail Gorbachev, the former General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, relating to the ‘The Global Millenium Project’. Although apparently too sensitive to be published by the press outlets to which this information has been leaked, ASH (in a world exclusive) can reveal that among the companies enlisted for this project were Exxon Mobil.

As a memento of our visit ASH was presented with the court papers relating to the ANAL eviction hearing that had taken place that day in the High Court of Justice. As part of our commitment to the London Mayors call for greater clarity and transparency in the capitals housing market, ASH can reveal that the self-titled squatting collective known as ANAL were identified as constituting a substantial risk of public disturbance. The reason given was that ANALs occupation of 19 Buckingham Gate gave them access to the roof of no. 18, and from there to no. 17, from which, apparently, they could overlook the Queens private gardens in Buckingham Palace.

Indeed, in his witness statement Archibald Riby-Williams, the director of 18-19 Buckingham Gate Ltd – the company that purchased no. 19 in December 2015 for £13,796,000 – argued that this access to the Queens more private moments was, in fact, the defendants objective in occupying the premises. As proof of this, Mr. Riby-Williams – who in his statement estimated there were ‘at least 120 squatters in possession’ – cited the announcement on ANALs website that they wanted to relocate AS CLOSE TO THE QUEENS BEDROOM AS POSSIBLE.

Because of this, throughout their occupation of 19 Buckingham Gate, snipers were stationed on the roof of Wellington Barracks opposite and armed police were positioned in the basement of no. 17 Buckingham Gate. As a result, we are unable to confirm the rumour that a secret passage led from no. 17 directly to the Queens privy chamber. But we trust Her Majestys security forces and judiciary apply the same level of risk of public disturbance to the future residents of 18-19 Buckingham Gate, who will presumably have the same view of the Queen as she strolls through her private gardens, performing who knows what acts incompatible with her position as Head of State, Church and Commonwealth, and unsuitable to be seen by our commoners eyes.

However, it was not only for the privacy of Her Majesty the Queen that witnesses in the High Court were concerned. Marc Peter Mooney, Head of Enforcement at County Enforcement Group in Kent, who had been called in by Mr. Riby-Williams to assess the situation, testified that the squatters – one of whom he accused of having assaulted him in April 2015 with a large piece of wood – were, in his expert opinion, a direct risk to public safety and to the safety of the squatters themselves.

Following the presentation of these witness statement to the High Court that morning, we are happy to report that, from this day forth till the end of time, the name of Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor (née Saxe-Coburg and Gotha) shall forever be linked with that of ANAL.

We regret to report, however, that at 4.30 the following morning the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians was evicted from its Embassy by High Court bailiffs working on behalf of the leaseholder of 18-19 Buckingham Gate, Mr. Abdul Rahman Mohammed Al Jami, Managing Director of Global Banking Corporation and Chairman of the Board of Global Real Estate Development Company.

Despite this unprovoked act of aggression by Her Majestys security forces on behalf of a foreign national of the Kingdom of Bahrain against representatives of nations still welcome in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, we hope that our state visit will foster further cordial relations between ASH and ANAL.

In token of which, we are proud to publish their manifesto – commissioned and then rejected by the Guardian newspaper – here.

Anal Manifesto

Tongue in cheek, crow bar in hand, we wave our magic wand and teleport ourselves into the next new plush gaff.

Currently at 4 Grosvenor Gardens, tomorrow at 4 Grosvenor Gardens, probably until next week as the overlords will evict us again. Thereafter, to the Palace! Perhaps. But why?

According to the elite, buildings are for drafts and cobwebs, whereas freezing cold pavements, laced with spikes, are for people. Small, damp, lightless boxes are for babies, children, mothers, fathers, grandmothers and their lesbian lovers, and five-hundred-room castles are for a single old-age pensioner, that is cleaned by slaves, and paid for by slaves.

However, the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians (ANAL), see things a little differently.

ANAL was founded by Foxy Mr Fox’s pitbull, Zeus, and Thomas Palmer, A.K.A Jenny Rimjob. Tom, our brother, has been described as a sex-god visionary, an anarcho-gonzo journalist, a rock star, a counter-surveillance activist and, modestly, as a genius poet-philosopher.

Riding on dog-back, Tom reckoned that the wretched of the earth (capitalist cunts) should be evicted and die; they are, as Orwell thought, parasitic. Zeus agreed.

Conversely, those who have been left to rot in the gutter should be compensated for all their toil and turmoil, with big, warm buildings, preferably with free booze inside. As devout anarchists, we bow to their superior wisdom. And who wouldn’t, given the injustice?

The rising homeless and starving population is a direct, deliberate result of the ever-expanding wealth and waistline of the elite.

We say fuck that!

There is no justification for the stark concentrated accumulation of wealth in the manicured hands of the few.

It is not that the overlords have worked hard for their fat pockets and fatter bellies – the beasts – it’s that they, with the help of the security industry, have bent the waves of space and time to such a degree that the assets have rolled into their banks. Those without such powers are left, deformed, diagnosed and drugged up.

People, do you not yet realise? It doesn’t matter how hard you work!

Stop!

Those white men are not rich because they worked hard. And you are not dying in destitution and isolation because you didn’t or because your soul committed some felony in a past life.

It’s a con.

You have been tricked.

Strike! Squat!

We have enough homes: we just need to shuffle people around a bit.

We have enough goods: we just need to share.

We need food: grow it by all means.

But all this other business – fashion, make-up, job-center, doctors, blah-blah. It’s not worth a life in servitude.

We need to take it back. We don’t have time to try to traverse through the stressful paperwork to try get a council shack. Nor do we want one.

It’s not worth speaking to the civil servants who sound like they have had their souls sucked out of their eyeballs in some sick, sick illuminati ritual.

We want our souls, and our benefits.

We can no longer destroy ourselves trying to enter into some plea bargain where we work our way ‘up’ and try and change the system from within. There are no jobs for angels in hell. Look around you. You’re all dying, inside and outside, literally. Come back to life. They have already killed so many . . . They killed Tom Palmer. Rise up. Join hands that are moderately dirty. Get out your crowbars and teleport yourselves into palaces. Open the doors and let yourselves in. For it is cold outside. No man or woman deserves to live more then you. Do not be compliant in the destruction of humanity. Eat the rich and feed the poor, God damn it! What is wrong with you all?

ASH regrets to report that at 8am this morning, Tuesday 28 February, the squatters and members of ANAL still in occupation at 4 Grosvenor Gardens were evicted and, under the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014, issued with a dispersal order banning them from returning to Belgravia for 48 hours, the breach of which is a criminal offence.

Architects for Social Housing

The Consultation Game: TM Architects on Northwold Estate

Last October, on the invitation of the residents of Northwold Estate in Hackney, ASH visited an exhibition held in the estate’s community hall by TM Architects, the purpose of which was to help the architects ‘consult’ with residents about the options they had been commissioned to draw up for the future of the estate by the Guinness Partnership. We had been asked to attend by members of Love Northwold  – a campaign which had recently been set up by residents worried about their homes – in order to give them architectural feedback on what they were being offered. ASH had met with the campaign a few times previously; and to judge by the reception we received from them it appeared that TM Architects had also heard of us. Architects may be able to endure the demolition of working-class homes to clear the ground for their designs with equanimity; but smelling a threat to their commission TM Architects turned into small yelping dogs who accompanied us around the room, answering all our rather difficult questions with frantic declarations about their good faith mixed with protestations as to just how beneficial all this will be for residents – if only they would open their eyes . . .

On entering the room the first thing we saw was a large plan of the estate on which every block was covered in stickers indicating where residents lived, places they liked, places they didn’t like, and places residents thought could be ‘redeveloped’ – this last category marked by a blue sticker. When I pointed out that every single block had a blue sticker on it, that this map could, therefore, be used as proof that residents were in favour of an option of full demolition, and that perhaps residents should be given some indication of what redevelopment would mean for them before they consigned their homes to demolition, TM Architects responded – as if this were some sort of excuse: ‘Oh, I think some kids got hold of the stickers . . .’

The exhibition began with an ‘Introduction and Update’ board filled with misinformation, half-truths and outright lies about what will happened to tenants and leaseholders in the event of their homes being demolished – all of which seemed a little premature given that residents were supposedly being consulted on what they wanted to happen to their homes. This was followed by what TM Architects – no doubt under the direction of the Guinness Partnership – had already decided were the criteria by which the different levels of development should be judged; but not once, in any of the material displayed, was the argument made why any development on the Northwold Estate at all should take place. Instead the exhibition pushed ahead with the presentation of the three available options: infill development, partial redevelopment and full redevelopment – which is where things really began to take off between ASH and TM Architects.

Having looked at the notice boards plastered with sticker-notes from residents asking for repairs and maintenance of their homes and the long-neglected upkeep of the estate’s communal spaces, the first thing we asked the architects was why there was no refurbishment option. They had no answer to this – quite simply because it wasn’t in their client brief, beyond which they saw no reason to look.

The second thing we asked TM Architects was why their infill option, which had come up with an additional 40-60 homes in an estate of ten times that number, had ignored the largest area of brownfield land available for redevelopment – a disused depot on Rossington Street owned by Hackney Labour Council on which they could easily have found room for a further 40-60 flats. They said the council were only willing to free up the land for regeneration if it involved demolishing the existing homes on the estate. We’ve subsequently been told that the council did in fact offer the land, but that the Guinness Partnership declined it except in the eventuality that they partially or fully demolish the estate. Whatever the truth, either the council or the housing association were interested in drastically reducing the number of homes that could be built through an infill option that would leave the existing homes and community intact.

Perhaps a better indication of how TM Architects infill option might have been arrived at was conveyed to us recently by an architectural assistant from Architectural Workers, a recently-formed group of junior architects unhappy at having to work for large practices on estate demolition schemes. The assistant we spoke to had only graduated the previous year, and yet the practice for which they worked – which to protect the worker’s identity we will not reveal – gave this graduate the responsibility, alone, for drawing up the infill option for an entire estate redevelopment project. And the time the practice gave this recently-graduated junior architect to complete the task? A single day. With such practices endemic in architectural studios given the remit of ruling out infill options in advance, is it any wonder TM Architects could only find space for 40-60 new flats, whereas ASH has consistently found an increase of 40-45 per cent housing on the estate’s we’ve worked with?

Finally, we asked TM Architects – who were really beginning to take a dislike to us – whether they had produced assessments of the social, mental health, financial and environmental impacts – on both residents and the surrounding community – of the partial and full demolition options they were proposing. They hadn’t, of course. So we suggested that doing so should be preparatory to any consultation with residents on these options. To propose these options without them would amount to deliberately deceiving residents into signing up to something whose consequences for them and their families were unknown – either to them or to the architects who, despite the complete absence of these assessments, for some reason presumed to know what was best for this Hackney community.

At this point TM architects were practically in tears, and I had to ask them not to shout at us. Like most architects whose practices we’ve confronted, they seemed to take our questions as personal attacks, rather than as a defence of the residents they threaten. Unused to being cross-examined on their own unexamined convictions, perhaps now TM Architects might know a little more what it’s like for residents who are forced to justify their right to continue to live in their own homes by so-called ‘consultations’ such as this. Except, of course, that residents have their homes to lose, while architects merely have a commission. Still, we have to start somewhere if we’re to cross the yawning gap between the professionals whose claims to know what’s best for residents is founded on their class arrogance and blindness, and the largely working-class residents whose homes their professional opinion threatens. I only wish architects showed such passion for the people whose lives their designs will have such an impact on as they do for their own offended professional sensibilities. With a final spurt of indignation the TM Architects shouted at us: ‘Well, if you think you can do better, why don’t you design an option?’

So we are. This week ASH met with the Love Northwold campaign, and on their instructions we are beginning the process of designing an alternative to the demolition of their estate, one that will increase its housing capacity far more than the ridiculous 40-60 homes TM Architects came up with, leave the existing community intact, and generate the funds to refurbish their homes – as the rents, mortgages and service charges they paid to the Guinness Partnership should have done. We shall be calling on Hackney Labour Council, and in particular its elected Mayor, Philip Glanville, to make the land on which the disused depot sits available for redevelopment. Presumably this is entered on the land registry of brownfield land councils are now compelled to draw up, and therefore, under the Housing and Planning Act, should receive planning permission in principle for any new housing development. And as the only reason the Guinness Partnership has given for consulting on the redevelopment of the Northwold Estate is their declared desire to build more homes to address London’s housing crisis, residents will be approaching the housing association about funding our design work.

Since the Guinness Partnership is a private company and not a local authority, and therefore under no public obligation to solve the housing crisis, it’s unclear from where this civic-minded duty springs – other than the huge profits to be made from manipulating this crisis to their benefit. But we’ll take them at their word – for the moment, and remind them that the housing crisis in London is one of affordability, not supply. Given the rank inadequacy of the infill option put forward by TM Architects, Love Northwold will be asking for the full financial backing of the Guinness Partnership for a design option that does not demolish a single home for social rent in a borough in which such homes are everywhere being demolished by Hackney Council’s estate demolition programme. If the Guinness Partnership’s plans to demolish the Northwold Estate spring from a desire to solve the housing crisis, it should be clear to them that this will best be achieved by refurbishing what few homes for social rent the borough still contains, not demolishing them, while increasing the number of homes in Hackney in which residents can actually afford to live.

There is one final indication of the kind of practice TM Architects is. Since residents were informed last July that their estate is up for ‘regeneration’ they have consistently been told that nothing has been decided, no plans have been made, and that the Guinness Partnership is just ‘consulting’ on the possibilities. While I was taking the photographs in this article, TM Architects must have told me half a dozen times that there was no need to as the display boards would ‘all soon be up on our website’. I thanked them for offering to save me the bother, but told them I’d take the photographs anyway – just in case. Of course they were lying, and the display boards never were put up, either on their website or that of the Guinness Partnership. What they did put up on the TM Architects website, however, is a timeline of their projects, and one entry indicates work starting on an ‘urban design strategy for redevelopment of a large North London estate’. It’s clear from the anonymous ground plan that’s included that it’s the Northwold Estate. And the date the work started? August 2015 – a full year before residents were told their estate was even being considered for regeneration.

Of course, the Guinness Partnership might have their eyes on quite another prize. It’s clear from the urban design strategy of TM Architects in conjunction with Farrer Huxley Associates and BPP Construction Consultants – not to mention the failed attempts by regeneration consultants Newman Francis to lead residents to this option during their own farcical ‘consultations’ – that the partial redevelopment option has been the one the Guinness Partnership has intended to pursue from the start – long before it went through the motions of ‘consulting’ with residents. At first we thought this was a case of them grabbing a little handful now and then filling their boots later, and that living on a building site for the next ten years would encourage tenants and leaseholders not already decanted to take what re-housing offers and compensations packages the Guinness Partnership offered them before the rest of the estate was demolished. But now we’re not so sure.

The Love Northwold campaign has suggested that the real target of the Guinness Partnership is not, in fact, the 7 blocks already identified for demolition on the main estate, but the land that stands to the south-east, on the large square between Northwold and Clapton Roads, and therefore adjacent to the busy and commercially valuable high street. Currently occupied by three blocks, Hendale, Scardale and Whitwell, the phasing strategy of the partial demolition option put forward by TM Architects indicates that these will be the last to be demolished (years 5-8 on the timetable of the redevelopment) and redeveloped (years 8-10), and as such will be emptied of their previous residents. Under the guise of being decanted, those tenants and leaseholders that can afford to will be moved to their new homes on the main estate during demolition, but they won’t return – leaving the no-doubt high-quality, luxury apartments the Guinness Partnership will build on the corner of Northwold and Clapton Roads free for private sale at whatever exorbitant market price they command by then. Judging from the number of estate agents, artisanal bakeries and ethically-sourced coffee shops springing up on Clapton Road, that’s likely to be very high indeed.

We don’t doubt that the Guinness Partnership isn’t above turning a tidy profit on converting homes for social rent into ‘affordable’ housing in the 7 blocks identified for demolition north of Northwold Road. After all, according to their own Financial Statements (on page 25), they increased profits on ‘affordable’ rent from £14.6 to £21.1 million last year alone through converting 559 such homes and letting new homes at ‘affordable’ rent. But perhaps it’s here, on the corner of Northwold and Clapton Roads, away from the rest of the estate, that they intend to cash in on Hackney’s rocketing property prices – the highest rising in London. The average house price in Hackney has increased by a barely believable 702 per cent in the past 20 years, from £75,569 in 1996 to £606,269 in 2016. It’s anyone’s guess what it’ll be in 10 years’ time when the luxury apartments the Guinness Partnership wants to build here are put on the market in the newly gentrified neighbourhood of Clapton-on-Lea. Is it any wonder that the infill development produced by TM Architects was so inadequate in finding space for new flats, when such an option would fail to decant the residents of Hendale, Scardale and Whitwell houses from their coveted land?

And with such a golden fleece dangling before their eyes – no matter how high the Guinness Partnership propose building on this block of land, no matter how dense they pack the housing – Hackney Labour Council’s easily-lobbied planning department will have the ready-made excuse that only through selling luxury homes at the highest possible market value can Guinness afford to pay for all that ‘affordable’ housing on the rest of Northwold Estate. Under this new catch-all phrase – which doesn’t bother trying to distinguish between 30 and 80 per cent of market rate, homes for rent, homes for private sale, mixed equity, the scam of shared ownership or the even bigger scam of Starter Homes – no mention of the number of homes for social rent lost is ever made in the viability assessments of property developers. And despite describing itself as a ‘not for profit’ organisation, that is exactly what the Guinness Partnership is.

If this is, indeed, the case, and the real profit motive for the Guinness Partnership’s interest in Northwold Estate, then the blocks they have already proposed for demolition are nothing more than a means for redeveloping the far more commercially valuable land on Clapton Road; and the households whose homes will be demolished and whose lives will be thrown into chaos over the next ten years as they are decanted, relocated and evicted from Northwold Estate are being manipulated and moved around like pawns on a chessboard. And like all pawns, they will be sacrificed when the real prize comes into play. But though the board is laid against us and the game fixed in advance, it’s still our move.

Architects for Social Housing

Campaign for Beti: Equality Duties of the Guinness Partnership and the Human Rights of their Tenants

Betiel Mahari was a resident of the Loughborough Park Estate in Brixton who paid social rent on her flat. Despite living there for 10 years, Beti was kept on an assured shorthold tenancy by the housing association, who never gave her security of tenure. So when the Guinness Partnership demolished her home in 2015 and moved her into another of their properties in Kennington, they were able to change her tenancy from ‘social’ to ‘affordable’, and raise her rent from £109 per week to £265 per week for a two-bedroom flat – a 240 per cent increase.

As a result of this enforced eviction and relocation of her family, Beti lost her full-time employment as the manager of Brixton’s Art Nouveau restaurant. Although she subsequently found work as a waitress on a zero-hours contract, Beti is now reliant on benefits to pay her increased rent and support herself and her two children on a salary far less than she earned before. To make matters worse, while the Department of Work and Pensions worked out how much of her part-time salary she can keep while claiming benefits, they suspended all their payments to her for three months. Not only that, but because her employment hours change every week, her benefits have to be re-assessed every three months. As a result, Beti has fallen into arrears with her rent, and the Guinness Partnership is now trying to evict her from her home for the second time. Beti is on an agreed instalment plan for the rent arrears, but the Guinness Partnership wants to increase her payments still further. Her court hearing is on 7 March, 2017.

Last September Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, based on the report by the government inspector, Lesley Coffey, refused Southwark Labour Council’s compulsory purchase order (CPO) on the homes of leaseholders on the first development site of the Aylesbury Estate demolition. Some of that decision was based on the leaseholders not being offered enough compensation by the council to buy a new home in the same area, so that doesn’t apply to Beti as a tenant. However, two key reasons for his decision were based on residents’ rights, whether or not they own their home or not, and these rulings by the Secretary of State are applicable to Beti’s situation, and therefore her appeal against the eviction of her family from their home by the Guinness Partnership.

Human Right to Respect for Family Life and Home

The first of these rulings was based on the European Convention on Human Rights, according to which everyone has ‘the right to respect for her private and family life, her home’ (Article 8). This is distinct from Protocol 1, which Sajid Javid also cited, which says that everyone ‘is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of her possessions’, and which is only applicable to leaseholders. A home, however, is a home, whether the resident owns it or not, and Beti’s was taken away from her when Guinness demolished her flat on Loughborough Park Estate and then failed to replace it with one she could afford to live in. It’s quite clear that they failed to do so, as she has fallen into arrears and is now facing eviction by the housing association that raised her rent by 240 per cent.

If Beti had refused this new tenancy, she would have been deemed by Lambeth Labour Council to have made herself ‘intentionally homeless’, at which point, under the 2011 Localism Act, their duty of care to re-house her would have been discharged. The Guinness Partnership, however, would still have a duty to re-house her children, and they have already threatened Beti that under such circumstances, Social Services will take her children from her.

By effectively forcing Beti into this unaffordable tenancy, therefore, the Guinness Partnership has clearly violated Beti’s human right, under British Law, ‘to respect for her private and family life, her home.’ The Guinness Partnership may not be legally obliged to re-house her – as they failed to re-house so many other Loughborough Park Estate tenants whose homes they demolished – but that does not mean they have the right to violate her human rights. In Beti’s case, this means:

1) Respect for her private and family life – which, given that her family is now facing eviction for the second time at their hands, the Guinness Partnership has clearly shown a complete lack of respect for; and

2) Respect for her home – which they first demolished, and are now seeking to evict her from for the second time.

It is the Guinness Partnership, not Beti, that has pushed her family into their present situation: first by demolishing the home in which they lived a financially independent life for ten years; and second by replacing it with an unaffordable home whose increased rent has driven them into benefit dependency and – if the eviction hearing goes against them – homelessness. It is the Guinness Partnership, therefore, that is guilty of violating their human rights.

Public Sector Equality Duty

The second aspect of the Secretary of State’s decision relates to Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, from which a ‘Public Sector Equality Duty’ arises. In quoting this duty as a reason for refusing the compulsory purchase order on the Aylesbury Estate, the Secretary of State made particular reference to the ethnicity of the leaseholders and the disproportionately negative effects the CPO would have on residents unable to afford to remain in the area. He found that, under the Equality Act, this discriminated against two protected groups: 1) children forced to move to new schools and the damage this would have on their schooling; and 2) residents from black and ethnic minorities separated from their communities. These considerations made up by far the largest section of the Secretary of State’s letter explaining the grounds for his refusal, and they have the greatest potential application to all residents’ rights, including those of Beti.

By forcing Beti away from her former place of employment – which together with the stress and upheaval of being evicted led to her losing her job – and by re-housing her in a tenancy whose rent she cannot afford to pay, the Guinness Partnership has already discriminated against Beti economically. This will only be compounded if she is evicted from her replacement home and forced into London’s private rental market. However, economic discrimination – strange as this may seem – is not covered under the Equality Act. But it does legislate against discrimination based on age and race.

1) In paragraph 28 of the Secretary of State’s refusal of the CPO on the homes of Aylesbury Estate residents, it says:

‘The impact on children’s schooling may result in adverse impact on the child’s exam performance and their school reports. This is in turn likely to result in a lower level of achievement than otherwise might have been the case, which is likely to result in a lower level of opportunity for the affected child in terms of their ability to apply successfully for jobs (thus adversely affecting equality of opportunity) and – in terms of uprooting them at a vulnerable stage in their development – a negative impact on the affected child’s good relations with their family and extended social contacts (they are likely to go through a period of isolation as a result of being uprooted from the social networks they had established at their previous home).’

Whatever damage and interruption to her children’s education the Guinness Partnership has already caused by demolishing their home of 10 years and forcing their family away from Brixton, that education will undoubtedly be further and far worse disrupted by evicting them a second time from their current premises. If the Guinness Partnership is successful in their eviction, whatever duty they had to re-house Beti will be discharged, and she will be forced into the private rental sector. In order to afford London’s rocketing rents, Beti’s family will have to move many miles away from where they live now, even further away from their Brixton community, to the outer suburbs of London or outside the capital altogether. This will certainly mean her children having to enroll in another school, not to mention the further disruption and mental stress that comes with being evicted for the second time in two years. The very worst scenario is that Beti is unable to find accommodation and the Guinness Partnership is obliged to re-house her children, which will mean them being taken away by Social Services. It’s hard to imagine the devastating and lasting effects this will have on their lives.

2) In paragraph 32 of the same letter it says:

‘If, in practice, the cultural and/or ethnic make-up of those resident at the Estate, who are unlikely to be able to remain there, is pre-dominantly those of one or more particular ethnic/cultural origins, then their cultural life is likely to be disproportionately affected by a decision to confirm the [compulsory purchase] Order. There is also likely to be a negative impact on their ability to retain their cultural ties, undermining their equality of opportunity with other ethnic groups (such as white British) who may not be so disproportionately affected. This is particularly so, in that white British culture is more widely-established across the UK, including at housing sites to which residents may be moved, whereas minority cultural centres are often less widespread, which is likely to make cultural integration harder for those of BME origin who are forced to move than those of a white British origin.’

Forcing Beti and her two children away from their ethnic and cultural community – already partially inflicted when they were moved out of Brixton – will have further negative effects on their already disrupted lives. Beti has already lost her job when she was forced out of her neighbourhood, especially since her running of the café was founded on being a part of the Brixton community. If she is forced into private rental accommodation on the edge of Greater London, Beti will lose all of the support network from friends and family that is so necessary to the survival of a single mother struggling to raise her two children. That will undoubtedly have serious and perhaps irreversible consequences for the likelihood of her finding further employment in the field in which she has worked all her life. All of this, it needs keeping in mind, is because the Guinness Partnership wants its pound of flesh.

In summary, an Equality Impact Assessment of the actions of the Guinness Partnership would find that by making it financially impossible for Beti to remain in the area in which she worked and lived, in interrupting her children’s schooling and development, and in separating her family from their ethnic and cultural community, the Guinness Partnership is guilty of discriminating against them according to the protected groups of age and race, and contrary to the Equalities Act. Although they are not a local authority, as a housing association and registered social landlord responsible for the housing of tenants, the Guinness Partnership have neglected their Public Sector Equality Duty to Beti under Section 149 of this Act.

Appeal to the Guinness Partnership

Beti is not alone. There were 100 assured shorthold tenancies on the demolished Loughborough Park Estate, and the Guinness Partnership has announced its intention to demolish the Northwold Estate in Hackney. What is happening to Beti now will happen to every one of their tenants – even those lucky enough to be re-housed. Between 2010 and 2015, housing associations in Britain made an extra £2.6 billion from tenants claiming housing benefit, which now make up 63 per cent of their 2.86 million households. And in the three years leading up to 2015, the number of housing association properties for ‘affordable’ rent increased from 7,350 to 123,260, with 76,259 of these being converted from homes for social rent. The Guinness Partnership is making millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money from charging tenants like Beti these so-called ‘affordable’ rents – which means anything up to 80 percent of market price.

According to their own Financial Review of 2016, the Guinness Partnership increased their income from ‘affordable’ rents from £14.6 million to £21.1 million through converting 559 homes for social rent to ‘affordable’ rent. Beti’s current rent of £1,149 per month is the maximum she can claim in Housing Benefit for a single mother with two children living in a 2-bedroom flat in Southwark. But every last penny of that money is going straight into the pockets of the Guinness Partnership. In contrast, another tenant from the demolished Loughborough Estate, re-housed in the same block as Beti, is paying £175 per week for the same size flat – the reason being that, although she is allowed to work in the UK, she cannot claim benefits. What this shows is that Beti’s unaffordable rent has nothing to do with the cost of housing her family, but is purely set by how much the Guinness Partnership can take from the public’s pocket.

We call on the Guinness Partnership to cease legal proceedings to have Betiel Mahari and her family evicted from their home, and to give her a secure tenancy for social rent, so that she and her two boys can begin to rebuild the lives their actions have torn apart.

We call on the Guinness Partnership, a housing association with charity status, to stop, immediately, this callous and inhumane persecution of a single mother and her two young boys – which, if pursued further, will have potentially catastrophic consequences for their futures.

We call on the Guinness Partnership to recognise Betiel Mahari’s human right to respect for a family life and home, and to treat her and her children with the justice and equality they deserve under British law.

Campaign for Beti

Beti is a much-loved figure in the Brixton community, and under her management the Art Nouveau restaurant became one of the area’s meeting points. She was one of the main figures in the resident campaign fighting the demolition of the Loughborough Park Estate by the Guinness Partnership. She is also part of the campaign to save the Dexter Road and other adventure playgrounds from closure by Lambeth Labour Council. And even now, when faced with homelessness, she is supporting the campaign by residents to save the Northwold Estate in Hackney from demolition by the Guinness Partnership. Now she needs our help.

What can we do?

1) Please sign Beti’s petition, and share it and this blog post on your Facebook page, Twitter account and other social networks.

2) Support our campaign to stop Beti being made homeless by helping us to publicise what the Guinness Partnership are doing to her and thousands like her.

3) Write to the London Mayor and tell him why his Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration, which will turn council and social housing into ‘affordable’ housing, will lead to millions of tenants like Beti being threatened with homelessness.

4) Turn up to our demonstration at Beti’s court hearing at 9.30am on Tuesday, 7 March in Lambeth County Court, Cleaver Street, London, SE11 4DZ.

5) If anyone can give Beti legal advice on how to defend herself, or can legally represent Beti in court, please get in contact with us on the ASH Facebook page.

An injury to one is an injury to all.

Architects for Social Housing

Squat Belgravia: The Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians

First Occupation

On Wednesday, 25 January, the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians (a squat crew that go by the acronym of ANAL) occupied 102 Belgrave Place, SW1X 8BU, a Grade II listed building on Eaton Square, and invited London’s homeless to find a safe place to sleep under its expansive roof. The £15 million mansion, which faces onto Eaton Square, stands on the UK’s most expensive street, with homes costing on average £17 million. Owned by Russian billionaire Andrey Goncharenko, Chief Executive Officer of Gazprom Invest Yug – a subsidiary of Russia’s third largest gas and oil company – the Belgravia property is one of four the oligarch has purchased in London over the past three years, spending £41 million on a mansion on Lyndhurst Road in Hampstead, £70 million on 50 St. James’s Street in Mayfair, and £120 million on Hanover Lodge in Regent’s Park – the highest amount ever paid for a residential property in the UK.

The Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians announced their intention to turn 102 Belgrave Place into a homeless shelter, and between 30 and 40 people were housed there during the occupation. The building’s numerous small rooms make it an ideal layout for a hostel, giving rough sleepers somewhere safe and warm to stay – something that can mean the difference between life and death during the winter months. The three large reception rooms were turned into a kitchen and dining room, community hall and workshop space. Another room was transformed into a film room, and Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake was one of the films listed for screening. The central location of the new hostel made it easy for people to donate food, clothes and bedding, and visitors were generous in donating all three. Given Westminster Tory Council’s stated practice of forcibly sending its homeless out of London, the squat was also a shelter from the Westminster Police.

The following Saturday the occupation, which had announced itself as an ‘anti-fascist’ squat, was attacked by a group of about 20 fascists who smashed three windows and tried to force entry into the building. An English Defence League march was taking place in Westminster that afternoon, and it’s likely that the attackers, who included the Nazi-saluting Ian MacTaggot, was a breakaway group. There were about 50 squatters and visitors in the building at the time, and once the children were taken upstairs away from the stones, the attackers were fought off with fire-extinguishers. The police, who had sat in squad cars outside the squat all day, conveniently drove off half an hour before the fascists arrived, and returned shortly afterwards. The Metropolitan Police Force still hasn’t come up with an explanation of how a gang of 20 masked-up fascists were able to inflict such damage in broad daylight to a building on the most expensive street in London surrounded by CCTV at a squat that had been reported around the world and was being watched by private security guards – and still walk away without being stopped.

Hearing and Eviction

In response to the occupation of 102 Belgrave Place, the owner’s representative, MCA Shipping Ltd, sought a possession order, and with an alacrity that only a billionaire’s displeasure can command a hearing was scheduled for the following Tuesday. At 10am on 31 January, the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians appeared in the County Court at Central London on a charge of trespass. On the one side were the claims of homeless squatters in a city in which over 8,000 people slept rough last year; on the other the possession rights of a Russian billionaire to a building that has stood empty since he purchased it in 2014. District Judge Lightman took until precisely 10.03am to find in favour of Goncharenko, and granted a possession order on 102 Belgrave Place. A costs order for £8,735.86 was made against the two squatters named in the action. ANAL subsequently announced their intention to resist the eviction.

Early the following morning, Wednesday 1 February, High Court bailiffs – assisted by the Metropolitan Police in what is a purely civil matter – turned up at 102 Belgrave Place. After several hours of resistance by the squatters, bailiffs broke through the barricades and the building, which had been occupied for a week, was emptied again – one of more than 20,000 empty properties in London with a total market value of over £12 billion. The 40 or so squatters who had been living there since the previous Wednesday were physically ejected by the bailiffs onto the street. During the eviction, WPS 163 explained to squatters that bailiffs from the Sheriff’s Office, following the High Court sanctioning of the eviction, ‘are legally allowed to remove people in whatever fashion they chose’. Whether this is true or not, it clearly established that for the Metropolitan Police Force property rights come before human rights. In what appears to be Westminster Council’s official housing policy for its homeless, the sergeant asked if any of the now homeless squatters ‘needed a lift to the police station’. The squatters declined the offer.

World Capital of Dirty Deals

From 2008 foreign nationals investing £2 million in the UK were offered a ‘golden visa’, and after 5 years qualified for permanent residency. Out of the 3,048 visas granted under the scheme, 60 per cent were awarded to Chinese and Russian nationals. London has since become home to 77 billionaires, the most of any city in the world, with 120 billionaires in total living in the UK with a combined wealth of £344 billion. Much of that wealth is invested in UK – and particularly London – property purchased through offshore companies. More than 100,000 UK land titles are registered to anonymous companies in British oversees territories like the Virgin Islands, or other secrecy havens like Lichtenstein. Transparency International and Thomson Reuters have been unable to identify the real owners of more than half of the 44,022 land titles registered to oversees companies, but 9 out of 10 of the properties were bought through tax havens. Almost 1,000 of the titles were owned by ‘politically exposed persons’ – powerful individuals identified as having political influence and constituting the greatest risk of corruption.

The International Monetary Fund has assessed that the value of illicit wealth laundered globally per year is between 2 and 5 per cent of Gross Domestic Product, which indicates the total laundered through the UK is around £90 billion annually. Given the UK’s tax laws and lack of transparency and the scale of investment in property, it’s likely to be far more. Following the privatisation of national assets in the former Soviet Union in the 1990s, billions of pounds were illegally transferred into the UK from the corrupt sale of mining rights, telecommunications contracts and gas and oil concessions. More recently, following the Arab Spring, deposed dictators have siphoned off hundreds of millions of pounds of their countries’ assets, much of it recycled through the UK property market. The City of London is now the world centre for illicit finance and dirty deals. Nearly half the companies named in the Panama Papers were registered in the British Virgin Islands, and 3,500 of the individuals and companies named are probable matches for suspected criminals, including terrorists, cyber-criminals and smugglers.

One of the companies named in the Panama Papers is the Redmount Group, an offshore specialist based in the tax haven of Gibraltar that shares the same address and director as MCA Shipping Ltd. This listed director, Tim Lewis, testified at the London County Court hearing into the occupation of 102 Belgrave Place, whose owner, Andrey Goncharenko, is a shareholder in MCA Shipping.

Second Occupation

On Wednesday 1 February, the day they were evicted from Belgrave Place, the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians moved into new premises at 4 Grosvenor Gardens, SW1 0DH. Once again they invited London’s homeless to find shelter and safety there, and squatting and other campaign groups to use it as a meeting place. The huge reception on the ground floor was turned into a film screening room, and the room above, which opens out onto the balcony and views of the private garden, was used for music performances and art workshops in T-shirt printing and banner making.

For the past 35 years 4 Grosvenor Gardens has been the London address of Frost & Sullivan, an international market research, growth strategy and corporate training consultancy with offices in over 40 countries. But since the company moved to Chiswick last August the place has sat empty. The property was last purchased in June 1977 on a 93-year leasehold by Rowhurst Ltd, a real estate firm buying, selling and renting property. No financial information on the sale or market value of the property is available from the Land Registry, but with property values in SW1 increasing exponentially through the investment of international finance in London’s property market, Rowhurst Ltd may be content to let this Victorian building sit empty and unused for a further 6 months or even years. Then again, commercial space in Grosvenor Gardens is currently for rent at between £70-90 per square foot per annum; and despite the building being entirely empty, unit 4, 8 Grosvenor Gardens is currently listed as the box office address of Grosvenor Entertainments, a corporate hospitality and entertainment business selling tickets to concert, theatre, sports and corporate events.

What we do know about the finances of 4 Grosvenor Gardens is that the freehold was inherited last year by Hugh Richard Louis Grosvenor, the 7th Duke of Grosvenor, who avoided 40 percent inheritance tax on his £9 billion fortune because the estate is held in trust. The Grosvenor Estate began in 1677 with the marriage of Sir Thomas Grosvenor, the 3rd Baronet, to the 12 year-old heiress Mary Davies, who had inherited the manor of Ebury, 500 acres of marshy land north of the Thames and to the west of the City of London. This remained largely untouched by the Grosvenor family until the 1720s when they developed the northern part, now known as Mayfair; and a few generations later, in the 1820s, they drained the land to the south and built what is now Belgravia, named after one of the Duke’s subsidiary titles, Viscount Belgrave. It’s here that this Victorian town house in Grosvenor Gardens was built in 1868. Lieutenant General Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt Rivers, a nineteenth-century army officer, anthropologist, archaeologist and aristocrat lived here between 1880 – when he inherited 32,000 acres in Cranbourne Chase and a fortune founded on the slave trade – and his death in 1900, a fact commemorated on a blue plaque at the front of the building.

Besides its extensive London property, much of the Grosvenor Estate’s investment and development portfolio is based in Britain and Ireland, with 133,100 acres in the UK, 0.22 per cent of its total land, and considerably more than the Queen – whose London address, Buckingham Palace, can be seen from the upper stories of 4 Grosvenor Gardens. Following international expansion in the 1950s the Grosvenor Group, a property corporation operated on behalf of the Duke of Westminster and his family, now has offices in 18 cities across the world, including in the USA, Canada, Australia, Sweden, France, Japan, China and Hong Kong. Despite current total assets of £47.6 billion, the Grosvenor Group paid only £58 million in tax on profits of £527 million in 2015. The father of the current Duke, whose family motto is Virtus Non Stemma (Virtue Not Ancestry), was once asked what advice he’d give to young entrepreneurs keen to emulate his success – to which he replied: ‘Make sure they have an ancestor who was a very close friend of William the Conqueror.’

Homes for Weapons

Shortly after moving into 4 Grosvenor Gardens, the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians announced their plans to open the property next door, which also sits empty, as a community centre. Listed for sale on 16 January 2016 with a £24,000,000 guide price, this 18-bedroom freehold terraced house was advertised in Rightmove by marketing agents My Online Estate Agent (which saved the seller around £300,000 in estate agency fees) as follows:

‘We are delighted to offer for sale this superbly appointed property maintained to the highest possible standard. This Grade II Listed building, part of terrace constructed circa 1868, arranged over 7 floors. The property boasts many outstanding features including parquet flooring, original wood panelling, ornately decorated ceilings. The three highly appointed reception rooms all featuring wood panelling and parquet floors. Spacious reception room and dining room situated on the first floor, balcony to the front and terrace to the rear. Fully fitted bespoke kitchen with central island housing oven and hob, all fitted appliances, marble work surfaces, large windows leading to terrace. Laundry room located on the lower ground floor. 18 bedrooms some with en suite, and fitted robes all with parquet flooring. Master bedroom with superbly appointed en suite. 11 bathrooms. Staircases to all floors are of marble construction. The property overlooks beautiful gardens to the front of the property with Buckingham Palace in view. Access to the private Belgrave Square Gardens is available by annual fee charge to Grosvenor Estates for the key access. The property has a flat roof which could easily be converted to a roof top terrace. Private, secure residential parking.’

This property – which although empty is registered as residential and therefore cannot be squatted legally – sold for £322,800 in February 1999, then for £6,150,000 in December 2013 (an increase of 1,805 per cent), and most recently on 22 June 2016 for £16.9 million (a 174 per cent increase). Purchased the day before the European Union Referendum at two-thirds the asking price, the money was paid in full by His Excellency Major General Hamad bin Ali Al Attiyah, since June 2013 Qatar’s State Minister for Defense. In July 2014, His Excellency signed a $11 billion arms deal with US Defense Minister Chuck Hagel just months before the latter was removed from office. And in February 2016 it was revealed that Qatar politicians, among them the General, had showered the UK’s then Defence Procurement Minister, Philip Dunne, with gifts worth more than £33,000 over the past four years, including a £5,000 Concord watch, Chanel perfume, a Montblanc wallet, and an Yves Saint Laurent tie and cufflinks. Since Dunne was appointed Minister in 2012, Britain and Qatar agreed arms deals worth £173 million. In September 2014 Minister Dunne was photographed with General Hamad bin Ali Al Attiyah just days after Qatar was accused of supplying weapons to extreme Islamist groups, including Syrian terrorists linked to Isis.

Since its sale last June, 6 Grosvenor Gardens has subsequently been estimated by Zoopla to have a current value of between £30,539,000 and £35,993,000. Obscene as these escalating figures are, it should be noted that this residential property is single-fronted, with three windows looking onto the private gardens (which Westminster Council sold to property developer Oakvest in 2012); while the commercial property at no. 4 being squatted by the Anarchist Nation of Anarchist Libertarians is double-fronted and nearly twice the size.

Homes for People

ASH visited both squats, and it was clear neither property had been occupied for some time. Indeed, under the criteria being applied by London councils to decide the future of housing estates, 102 Belgrave Place should be demolished. Its peeling paint and blackened exterior has regularly been used by politicians as evidence of a ‘sink estate’; and the signs of water damage to the interior ceilings, according to our Cabinet Members for Housing, are a sign of anti-social behaviour. Commissioned studies have concluded that first-floor balconies like the one looking out onto Eaton Square, without adequate lighting and not overlooked by neighbours, are a breeding ground for crime and drug dealing. And rust, like that seen on the cast-iron veranda, has been interpreted as the external sign of structural failings that justify full demolition. In fact, the building, which used to house a Spanish cultural centre, hasn’t been used since it was purchased by Goncharenko in 2014, and as such – according to legislation in the government’s Housing and Planning Act 2016 – now qualifies as ‘brownfield land’.

Although unoccupied for only 6 months, 4 Grosvenor Square was, if anything, in an even worse state of disrepair. In one room the ceiling has fallen in, probably due to a leaking boiler, but the pile of rubble on the carpet below – if we are to believe our expert Regeneration Officers – is indicative of a failed experiment in this architectural form. By the same token, its damp and worn carpets betray a broken community living forced to live in an unloved property; while large cracks across the walls and ceilings are signs that the building is in danger of imminent collapse. The property has numerous broken windows – doubtless from gang warfare, as it is well known that SW1 is a battleground for rival Russian factions. And the strip lights appear unchanged since the property was last purchased in the 1970s, with electrical fittings and alarm systems a couple of decades out of date – proof, according to some recent academic studies, that the entire building has come to the end of its natural lifespan.

However, while such lack of maintenance – and the spurious interpretations of their causes – are cited by councillors as reasons for demolishing the homes of tens of thousands of council residents, any honest architect or builder will tell you that all these properties need is refurbishment. With the current housing shortage in London, and the rising numbers of homeless and households living in temporary accommodation, leaving either building standing empty for years on end to do nothing more than accumulate capital for their owners is morally and socially unacceptable.

That they have been, however, means that – under the Housing and Panning Act – planning permission in principle must now be granted by Westminster Council to any application for the building’s redevelopment as housing – including social housing – in a borough in which the need for homes for social rent has never been higher. When Westminster council granted Andrey Goncharenko planning permission for changes to 102 Belgrave Place – which included, unsurprisingly, installing a swimming pool in the basement – they concluded that the property was not suitable to include social housing, and agreed to accept a payment in lieu from Goncharenko of £816,000. ASH disagrees with both this conclusion and agreement. With current average waiting times for social housing in Westminster ranging from 10 years for a 2-bedroom flat to up to 25 years for a 4-bedroom house, and with 6 per cent of its accepted homeless being the result of evictions from private rented homes, Westminster Council have an obligation to requisition both disused properties and approve plans to renovate them either as hostels for the homeless or as social housing for the 2,484 households living in temporary accommodation in the borough and 4,500 priority households on the council’s housing waiting list.

If they refuse, the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians are showing to the London public that there are plenty of squatting crews in London ready to bring these deposit boxes for offshore investment back into practical use as homes for the people who need them. With the number of people forced to sleep in doorways having doubled since 2010, there is no shortage of homeless people casing London’s thousands of empty properties for potential squats.

Direct Action

This Thursday, 9 February, the County Court will once again order bailiffs from the Sheriff’s Office – once again with the support of the Metropolitan Police Force in what is still a purely civil case – to evict the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians from 4 Grosvenor Gardens, a property which until the previous week has sat empty and unused for the last 6 months. ANAL have already said they will move to another property in a borough in which Westminster Conservative Council consistently refuses to provide figures on how many homes stand empty.

Last Monday, 30 January, on the orders of Sheffield City Council and following a ruling by Sheffield County Court, South Yorkshire Police evicted Tent City from Park Hill, an estate which was sold in 2004 to property developer Urban Splash for £1, and on which 600 homes have stood empty for 14 years. That evening Sheffield Tent City, which had provided shelter and community for around 40 rough-sleepers for 4 months, moved to its new home – a grass island a few hundred yards away in the middle of the Park Square Roundabout.

On Wednesday 25 January, the compulsory purchase order on the football ground, businesses and homes of the working-class community of Millwall, under threat of eviction by Lewisham Labour Council, was withdrawn. The Association of Millwall Supporters subsequently announced its plans to expose the corruption of the council and its links to offshore property developers Renewal, whose directors include the Mayor of Lewisham, Sir Steve Bullock, and the Leader of Southwark Labour Council, Peter John OBE.

On Saturday 7 January, Harrods waiters and chefs, following union representation by United Voices of the World, protested the theft of up to 75 per cent of their tips by the owners, the Qatari Investment Vehicle, which bought the Harrods Group in 2010 for £2 billion. Despite the arrest of eight protesters by the Metropolitan Police Force, including the General Secretary of the union, the following week Harrods conceded to UVW’s demands that workers will receive 100 per cent of their tips.

More and more people across Britain are resisting the arms of our political state, whether government, council, law court or police. More and more they are exposing them as nothing more than instruments of capitalist exploitation, acquisition, inequality and violence. More and more people are taking the direction of their lives into their own hands rather than spending them in the service of their wage-masters, deciding themselves on the rightness of their actions whatever their legality, building communities outside the ideological structures of the state, and opposing the forces of our economic, political and legal subjugation – not with appeals to our corrupt and increasingly repressive state apparatus – but with direct action.

Architects for Social Housing

Embodied Carbon Estimation for Central Hill Estate: Report by Model Environments

‘A conservative estimate for the embodied carbon of Central Hill Estate would be around 7,000 tonnes of CO2e, similar emissions to those from heating 600 detached homes for a year using electric heating, or the emissions savings made by the London Mayor’s RE:NEW retrofitting scheme in a year and a quarter. Annual domestic emissions per capita in Lambeth are 1.8 tonnes. The emissions associated with the demolition of Central Hill Estate, therefore, equate to the annual emissions of over 4,000 Lambeth residents.’

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Report by Model Environments on behalf of Architects for Social Housing

Sheffield Tent City and the Social Cleansing of Park Hill Estate

In the new year ASH visited Park Hill Estate in Sheffield. We went to look around the estate and see the renovations. Park Hill has often been compared to London’s Robin Hood Gardens, which unlike Park Hill was refused listing by English Heritage, and we wanted to see why one building had been saved for renovation and the other is to be demolished. We also wanted to see what the consequences of that renovation were for residents, both past and present. Above all, though, we wanted to visit Tent City, the homeless camp that had been set up there in October 2016. The first thing we saw, on the site where the tents had originally been pitched, was a Notice to Leave from Sheffield City Council, stapled to a stake in the ground. The deadline was dated a few days previous, but the camp hadn’t gone, just moved around the corner to one of the courtyard lawns between the west and south blocks of the estate. There we met Anthony Cunningham, the organiser of Tent City.

He told us he wants to draw attention to the poor condition of the various homeless shelters in the city. The reason so many people were living in Tent City, he said, is because the hostels were full of drugs and violence, and they felt safer here, in tents on an empty housing estate, than they did either in the shelters or on the streets of Sheffield. Homeless people had walked from as far away as Manchester and Newcastle to come here. He told us even the council’s housing officers were sending people they couldn’t house to Tent City. Anthony also wants to draw attention to the amount of money the homeless charities are receiving from the council and various other grants, and question how it’s being used. ‘If they’re doing the job they’re being paid to do’, he asked, ‘why does Tent City exist?’ It’s a reasonable question, which neither Sheffield City Council nor the homeless charities have yet answered.

While we were talking to Anthony a woman arrived with some hot soup she’d made for the camp. The previous night she’d brought some hot chocolate. She was responding to the videos Anthony releases on social media every day asking for food, water, clothing, blankets, cardboard to stand on, wood for the fire, camping equipment, and everything else you need to survive outdoors through a Sheffield winter. Beside a metal brazier the camp’s Christmas tree was still up, decorated with strands of tinsel. At the entrance to the camp, hung across one of the tents, a bed sheet carried the message: ‘Don’t make our homeless homeless’. On the floor of the food tent a cardboard sign said simply: ‘No more Death.’ 

We spent the next three hours walking around the estate, photographing the buildings and talking to the people we met. When we got back to London we made contact with Anthony, and over the past month we’ve done our best to publicise his campaign through our networks. This is what we saw and have learned since about what’s happening on Sheffield’s Park Hill Estate.

West Block

Park Hill Estate was completed in 1961, providing 995 council homes, 74 garages, 31 shops, 4 pubs, a laundrette, community centre, social club, doctor’s and dental clinic, chemist, infant and primary school, butcher’s, baker’s, newsagent, fish & chips shop and 12 caretakers for a community of around 3,000 estate residents. The four blocks, built on a slope falling northwards, rise from 4-storeys in the south to 13 in the north, maintaining an even roof level across the whole complex. The brick cladding infilling the concrete frame passes through four shades from dark brown at the bottom to pale ochre at the top, reflecting the surrounding architecture on Park Hill. The young architects were Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith, under the supervision of John Lewis Womersley, Sheffield Council’s City Architect. Construction began in 1957, and was completed in four years at a total cost of £2.2 million.

One of Park Hill’s innovations, revolutionary for the time, were the ‘streets in the sky’ that run alongside the flats every three floors, beginning at the first, and facing into the interior courtyards. Designed to imitate the streets of the terraced housing that was demolished to make way for the estate, and even given the old street names for familiarity, they were wide enough for milk floats to deliver their bottles to residents’ front doors, as well as collect their rubbish. And because all but the highest of the three ‘streets’ connected at some point to the ground as they went up the hill, residents were not dependent on lifts to get in and out of their homes. Another, even more important decision, was that neighbours on the old terraces were given flats next door to each other on the new estate, allowing the familial networks that bind a community together to continue. That community was working class, largely employed in Sheffield’s thriving steel industry.

South Block

However, under Margaret Thatcher’s government, British Steel lost £1 billion on a £3 billion turnover in 1980-81, and a sixth of Sheffield’s workforce, around 40,000 people, lost their jobs. Unemployment in the city as a whole reached 15 per cent in 1984. The 1977 Housing Act, which provided the first statutory definition of homelessness, meant local councils now had the duty to house the city’s most vulnerable people, and many of them ended up on the Park Hill Estate. From being home to a working-class community, Park Hill Estate became a dumping ground for the victims of Thatcher’s brave new world.

Near the estate’s south block we were approached by a homeless man living in Tent City. He told us openly he was a junkie, but insisted that he always disposed of his needles after use, and helped make the area safe for other users. He was trying to get allocated housing from the council’s rapidly diminishing stock, but they wanted to split him up from his girlfriend and two kids, and wouldn’t give him a home they could live in together. He told us that, after many years of struggle, he was in the mental frame to kick his addiction, but needed a home, and that this was the biggest obstacle to him getting his life and family back together. He didn’t ask us for money.

East Block

In 1998 Park Hill was given Grade II listing by English Heritage. The last remaining residents were evicted in 2003, and the following year Sheffield City Council, under Bob Kerslake, transferred the entire estate to property developer Urban Splash for the nominal sum of £1. Following his knighthood two years later, Sir Bob Kerslake went on to become Chief Executive of the government’s Homes and Community Agency in 2008, and Permanent Secretary of the Department of Communities and Local Government in 2010. In 2015, as the newly ennobled Baron Kerslake of Endcliffe in the City of Sheffield, Lord Kerslake became Chair of Peabody housing association, which this month merged with Family Mosaic, and now manages a combined portfolio of 55,000 homes.

North Block

In 2006 Sheffield City Council granted planning permission on the land for 634 new homes for private sale, 40 available under a shared ownership scheme, and 200 for rent through Great Places Housing Group, one of the UK’s largest landlords, which owns or manages 18,465 homes. In 2007 the estate’s schools, shops and housing office were demolished, and in 2008 Urban Splash began Phase 1 of the renovation of the north block on a proposal for 257 apartments for private sale, 56 flats for rent, and 12 units for shared ownership, plus 30,000 square feet of commercial space. At the insistence of Urban Splash, the development agreement between them and Sheffield City Council has been withheld from public scrutiny.

Having incurred pre-tax losses of £15.4 million for the year ending 31 March 2012, Urban Splash announced in August 2013 that it had formed a joint venture with property developer Places for People to complete the renovation of the north block. The deal, which followed Urban Splash selling its new partner 654 of its other properties for £77 million, also meant that Places for People, which has assets in excess of £3 billion and manages more than 150,000 homes, is now the purchaser of last resort on Park Hill’s new flats in the event of market failure. The following month Sheffield City Council was accused of having spent £2.8 million of council funds since 2005 to keep the project afloat.

Renovation

Renovation of the north block of Park Hill Estate was undertaken by architects Hawkins\Brown, with Studio Egret West as urban designer. Despite its listing, the building was gutted, with only the concrete frame remaining. The bricks from the original walls have been removed and replaced with aluminium sheets painted in bright colours, and the interiors of the flats have been stripped back to the raw concrete frame – which was not exposed in the original structure – reflecting the contemporary fetish for Brutalist architecture.

Part of the mechanism by which Brutalist estates are emptied of their social content as housing for the working class is this fetishisation of form and material. But this sensory fetish, appealing to both sight and touch, is only preserved and revealed for middle-class appreciation at the cost of a fundamental change in the function of the building, whose ‘essence’ the raw concrete is now, supposedly, revealed to be: no longer as the material structure of mass-produced social housing for the working class, but as the object of middle-class aesthetic pleasure for those few who have eyes to see (and can afford to live in the renovated estate). The fetish is always formed as compensation for a lack (in the fetishist) and absence (in the fetishised): for the foot fetishist it’s the woman he daren’t see whole; for the collector of ‘primitive art’ it’s the colonisation of the people it was stolen from; and for the contemporary aesthete of Brutalism it’s the working class community whose eviction from the renovated housing he refuses to see.

Phase 1 of the renovation of 78 flats in the north block at Park Hill Estate was completed in 2012. 26 of these flats were offered to social tenants, with the other 52 going on sale for between £90,000 and £150,000. The entire lower three floors of the block have been rented as commercial space. In 2013 the renovated block was nominated for the Stirling Prize, which is the apotheosis of this fetishism. It’s for this reason that the middle classes have so much invested in such prizes, not only financially but psychically. Social cleansing is conducted through an ideological mechanism that allows the beneficiary not to see what is right in front of their nose, a moral myopia that turns its gaze from the poverty and violence on which those previously denigrated, now suddenly beautiful concrete beams are exposed to their dazzled eyes.

Sales Office

The sales office was closed when we were there, but outside we began talking with a middle-class man, originally from London, who was eager to discuss the estate. He was visiting his daughter, who had recently bought one of the new apartments. We chatted amiably about the renovations, the recasting of the concrete balustrades, and other formal aspects of the block. We asked him if he knew about the tenancy range on the refurbishment, and he said ‘mixed’. Then we asked him whether he was aware of the Tent City for the homeless at the other end of the estate. He was, and said he had ‘every sympathy with their plight’. He was a nice bloke, but saw no correlation between his daughter’s purchase of her new home and the people living in tents surrounded by 600 empty council flats a couple of hundred yards away.

The total number of flats on Park Hill Estate will be reduced from 995 to 874, of which 300 have been earmarked as ‘affordable’. Transform South Yorkshire, the Government’s former Housing Market Renewal Agency (with £13.5 million), the Government’s Homes and Community Agency (£24.8 million) and English Heritage (£0.5 million) have so far committed a total of £38.8 million of public money to the £130-135 million of private money invested in the renovation. In response to a Freedom of Information request, Sheffield City Council have revealed that, as of February 2013, 26 homes for social rent were made available in the renovated north block, with a further 30 homes for social rent promised in the future.

These 56 flats comprise the entire rental component of the block, and raise the question of how many are actually for ‘affordable’ rent. With government subsidies now only available for the latter, housing associations are systematically converting social rents into affordable rents, with 76,259 converted across the UK in the three years between 2012 and 2015. Under the Homes and Communities Agency’s Affordable Homes Guarantee Programme 2013–17, Great Places Housing Group, in their end of year report 2015, boast of bringing 900 homes to start on site over this period. They make no mention of homes for social rent. But whether for social or affordable prices, of the 670 remaining households that were ‘decanted’ from Park Hill Estate, by February 2013 only 18 former residents had returned.

In November 2015 architects Mikhail Riches were awarded the contract for Phase 2 of the renovation, to the northern half of the west block. This will see 200 more homes and 27,000 square feet of commercial space made available to buy and rent. In March 2016, following the award of £1 million of government funding, Artspace announced that it will relocate to a new art complex made up of galleries, studios and workshops, to be housed in the estate’s east block. And in October 2016 a revised contract between council and developer agreed – however unlikely this may be – that the renovation of the estate will finally be completed in 2022, with the remaining three blocks earmarked for 330 housing units for students from Sheffield’s Hallam University, a further 210 private apartments, plus more commercial space.

Marketing Tragedy

As part of what property developers call ‘place-making’, a working-class tragedy has been re-branded as middle-class marketing strategy for Park Hill Estate. Against a backdrop of Sheffield’s industrial past, Urban Splash has transformed a line of estate graffiti (first editing out the name of the addressee, Clare Middleton) into a Tracey Eminesque neon sign which they use to promote the regeneration of Park Hill Estate for their middle-class clients. The words ‘Will you marry me?’, written on one of the bridges between the renovated north block and the old west block, becomes an invitation to join the shiny new vision of Sheffield the transformation of Park Hill represents – no longer as the heartland of steel production in the North of England, but as a call centre for foreign-owned companies.

The writer of the graffiti, Jason, who was abandoned by his dad, sexually abused in homes as a child, and whose girlfriend was warned off by social services from marrying him and subsequently died from cancer, now out of work and broke, contacted Urban Splash about their use of his message to his dead girlfriend. ‘You’re making all this money out of my graffiti and I’m homeless. Can you give me a flat?’ Urban Splash didn’t bother to respond. Instead it has been left to an activist from Sheffield, Alice Carder, to start a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to house Jason. On her Just Giving page she writes: ’This could be another sad story of profit over people. Or it could be one of human kindness, love and people power.’ Urban Splash, which last year reported total returns of £14.6 million on a £25.1 million turnover, has not donated to the fund.

Tent City

In October 2016 Sheffield’s homeless set up Tent City on land at the south end of the estate’s west block. The camp, which initially gave shelter to around 20 people, has received widespread support from the people of Sheffield in response to its social media campaign. Shops and cafes have donated food, drinks and wooden pallets to keep people off the muddy ground, and one company even installed portable toilets in the camp – until Sheffield City Council threatened to fine them if they weren’t removed. They subsequently issued Tent City a ‘Notice to Leave’ the land by 1 January, 2017. According to figures released that month by the Department of Communities and Local Government, the council has 737 local authority-owned homes sitting empty this winter. Since Park Hill Estate technically belongs to Urban Splash, it isn’t clear whether this includes the more than 600 homes on the estate that have sat empty for the past 14 years. Sheffield City Council additionally threatened the as-yet-unidentified defendant with up to £2,000 in legal fees if they did not vacate the land on which the west, south and east blocks of Park Hill Estate have stood empty since 2003.

In response to these threats the camp moved from its original site to a lawn on the courtyard between the west and south blocks, providing better shelter from the icy winds on Park Hill. There are currently around 30 homeless people living on the site. On 13 January the defendant, now identified as Anthony Cunningham, was issued with a ‘Notice of Trespass Hearing’, for which he was fined with a £355 issue fee, and instructed to appear at Sheffield County Court on 25 January, 2017.

Anthony Cunningham

The organiser of Tent City, Anthony Cunningham grew up on Park Hill Estate, and has served in the British Armed Forces. He worked for a year doing outreach for the homeless and vulnerable in Sheffield, during which he experienced how ineffectual the city’s hostels were, and now wants to open a night shelter in the city centre. He has started a petition that has so far collected 1,700 signatures out of a target of 2,500, which when reached he will present to the other project leaders at a scheme called L.I.F.E (a new beginning). He’s also spoken of raising funds for a derelict building on Duke Street, which runs along the east boundary of the estate, refurbishing it through the offers of voluntary work he’s received from builders, and turning it into a shelter.

When we met Anthony on Park Hill Estate and listened to him tell us about Tent City and what he hopes to achieve, we noticed how clean and ordered the camp was, with no rubbish in sight. About three hours later, as we were taking some final photos, we ran into him again, walking around the estate on his own as night fell picking up rubbish. He said he didn’t want the press turning up and accusing the homeless of creating a hazard, but he also wanted to make it safe for any users by cleaning up used needles. At ASH we don’t usually focus on individuals in campaigns, but we thought Anthony was a bit special and took this photograph of him.

Cathedral Archer Project

At the other end of our estimation, Tim Renshaw, the CEO of homeless charity Cathedral Archer Project, testified at the hearing in Sheffield County Court on 25 January. In his statement he condemned Sheffield Tent City on the grounds that, while it may be a ‘human response’ to homelessness, ‘human behaviour’, he said, means it isn’t the answer. By this he implied that homelessness isn’t caused by poverty, unemployment, the decimation of Sheffield’s industries, cuts to benefits and public services, or the demolition of housing people can afford to live in, but by the behaviour of the homeless. It didn’t surprise us to learn that Tim Renshaw is a former priest and curate: God being both perfect and omnipotent, the religious have to see suffering as an individual’s moral failing, which is why the government pays them so much to keep telling us homelessness is our own fault. According to Father Renshaw, however, the human behaviour at fault is not that of the government cutting funds for social housing, councils handing public land over to private developers, builders making a fortune on huge profit margins, or investors getting rich selling luxury apartments – it’s ours.

Nor were we surprised to discover that, in addition to its numerous other sources of income, the Cathedral Archer Project, which in 2016 registered a turnover of £661,530 (up £216,440 from the previous year) and declared assets of £327,540, receives a £30,000 grant from Sheffield City Council. As a Christian, Father Renshaw will forgive us for believing that his testimony in condemnation of Tent City was the quid pro quo for his 30 pieces of silver. Follow the money and you’ll find the corruption, and it inevitably leads all the way up to God’s pearly gates.

Helped by the reverend’s testimony, Sheffield County Court has granted Sheffield City Council an interim possession order for ‘Tent City’, giving them power to evict the camp within 24 hours. This means the more than 30 homeless people living there will be asked to leave at the end of a police baton and the camp demolished. This, apparently, is because the Labour council, according to Jayne Dunn, the Cabinet Member for Housing, ‘doesn’t think it is a safe place to stay’. More specifically and to the point, she wants homeless people to ‘get support and accommodation from established services’ – which is to say, from charities like the Cathedral Archer Project, which without the patronage of the homeless wouldn’t be making the large sums of money they do.

In addition to the £30,000 grant from the council, the charity received £388,842 from the Big Lottery Fund in 2010, £30,000 from Lloyds Bank in 2010, a further £60,000 in 2015, £15,000 from the South Yorkshire Police in 2014, and £75,000 from the Henry Smith Charity in 2015. Just as with the evicted residents whose homes Labour councils are demolishing up and down England, the homeless of Tent City are a lucrative source of income for the charities that claim these considerable sums in their name; and their eviction from Tent City not only makes them homeless again, but allows property developers Urban Splash to continue to keep over 600 council homes empty, as they have done for the past 14 years, while they work out how to make the greatest returns on its renovation. Council, developer, charity, law court, police: every link in the chain of social cleansing doing its job – including, of course, the architects.

Visions and Revisions

One of the most intractable problems ASH faces is convincing residents facing the regeneration of their estate – whether through renovation or demolition – that the new homes promised by the council are not being built for their benefit but for an entirely new clientelle of mostly private buyers and renters. We know the council is lying; the council know they’re lying; but persuading residents that local authorities – and Labour councils no less – are deliberately trying to make them homeless means challenging everything they’ve ever believed about the public sector and, for many of them, the Labour Party.

What makes Park Hill Estate so important as a case study is that we can follow its history from its beginning in the great council housing schemes of the 1960s; see the reasons for its decline in the 1980s – not, as we are constantly told by politicians, because of its architecture, but because of lack of maintenance and the changes to its use and resident demographic; look at the economic and political forces behind the decision to transfer its housing stock to a private developer; reveal the role of both housing association and central government in converting what is left of its social housing into affordable rents; place its renovation and re-branding for a middle-class clientelle in the context of the wider regeneration of Sheffield from an industrial into a service economy; expose the collusion of council, law court and charity in keeping its hundreds of empty homes free of the city’s homeless for over a decade; all the way through – if not to its end – then to a pretty accurate idea of what’s coming next. As supporting cast in this history, the role of architects in dressing up the social cleansing of a community of 3,000 residents as a purely formal exercise in building renovation has nevertheless been key to its acceptance by the public. It’s not for nothing that architects have been called ‘the funeral directors of the working class’. If you want to know about the visions and revisions of estate regeneration, look at Park Hill.

And where ASH has so far designed alternative proposals for estates threatened with demolition, Park Hill also demonstrates that listing estates is no solution for the communities that live on them. On the contrary, while residents threatened with the demolition of their homes are more likely to put up resistance, the renovation of their homes up to the high standards required of a listed estate is an effective means of decanting them. So while London’s Robin Hood Gardens, designed by Jack Lynn’s former colleagues Alison and Peter Smithson, was not listed, and is to be demolished and replaced with another generic example of the new London vernacular designed by architects Haworth Tompkins, its neighbour, Balfron Tower, was listed by Historic England, and is now being renovated by Poplar HARCA housing association to standards that no former resident can afford to pay – either as leaseholders unable to afford the cost of renovation (estimated at £137,000 per flat), or as tenants unable to afford the hugely increased rents, with no social housing provided. As both Balfron Tower and Park Hill show, listing an estate is merely another means of socially cleansing the resident community and freeing up the renovated building for a new, middle-class clientele of buyers and renters.

These lyrics by Morrissey, scribbled on a wall of the estate, were originally about a cemetery, but they serve just as well as an epitaph for the evicted community of Park Hill, whose history and memory the renovated and fetishised Brutalism of the new luxury apartments serves to erase.

Justice for Tent City

Architects for Social Housing calls for justice for Tent City in Sheffield County Court on Friday, 3 February on the charge of trespass for giving the city’s homeless a safe place to sleep in the middle of a Sheffield winter. The hearing, in which the council will seek a permanent possession order, is being held in The Law Courts, 50 West Bar, Sheffield, S3 8PH. If you live in Sheffield, please go down and show your solidarity with Anthony Cunningham, protest against the eviction of Tent City, and demand that Sheffield City Council opens the more than 600 homes sitting empty on Park Hill Estate to the homeless of Sheffield, and then refurbished – not for those who can afford to buy homes, as the billboards say, ‘from £100,000’ – but for the 29,444 households that are currently on the city’s housing waiting list.

How much rental revenue has Sheffield City Council lost from allowing more than 600 council flats to stand empty for 14 years? How much from the 995 flats on the original estate? Since Park Hill was handed over to Urban Splash in 2003, the council, which claimed it didn’t have the funds to refurbish the buildings, has lost over 724,000 weekly rents on 1, 2 and 3 bedroom homes. Current rents on the few remaining flats for social rent on the north block are £73.27 per week for a 1-bedroom flat, £89.66 for a 2-bedroom flat, and £103.00 for a 3-bedroom flat. Taking an average weekly rent of £89 per week (based on 1 x 1-bedroom flat, 2 x 2-bedroom flats and 1 x 3-bedroom flat in each 3-storey module) that’s around £65 million of lost revenue. With the £39 million of public money that’s been given to the private development, the council could have had £104 million, around £104,000 per flat – enough to refurbish the estate, and keep Park Hill as council housing. These figures are, of course, rough estimates and have many variables like changing rents, servicing and what little maintenance the council carried out between 1980 and 2003, plus the cost of decanting tenants during refurbishment; but they point to the revenues lost when Sheffield City Council put public housing into private hands, and the financial viability of refurbishing estates when the political will to do so is there. The social cleansing of Park Hill estate is not a financial necessity but a political choice.

tent-city-banner

Conclusions

It’s impossible to know exactly how much has been spent on the renovation of the north block of Park Hill Estate. The total cost of £40 million listed in the project data in 2010 only covered making the external envelope watertight, with the construction and interior fittings of flats dependent on market sales. And that’s before Places for People were cut into a new financial deal in 2013. As the ‘commercially sensitive’ information of private companies, none of this is available for public scrutiny, even on the renovation of formerly public housing. When the council gave Urban Splash the keys to Park Hill they also gave away their right to scrutinise the financial arrangements that would determine how many of the new homes would be available for private sale, shared ownership, joint equity, affordable or social rent – what Mark Latham, the development manager at Urban Splash, has called ‘remixing the tenures’.

However, taking the figures provided by Sheffield City Council in February 2013 – before Places for People came on board that August – £170 million of private and public money had been allocated to the renovation of the entire estate. With planning permission for 874 units divided between residential and commercial space, that comes to £194,500 per unit. According to the latest prices, the homes are selling for between £100,000 for a 1-bedroom and £150,000 for a 3-bedroom flat – considerably less, in other words, than the cost of refurbishing them. So whatever profit Urban Splash is making out of the project must be coming from the £39 million of public money invested by the various government bodies. It’s not surprising that the thirteen-year project has constantly stalled for lack of funds, or that it has been forced into partnership with a wealthier developer.

The motivations for the renovation of Park Hill Estate are different in degree, therefore, if not in kind, to what’s happening in London, where council estates – whether demolished like Robin Hood Gardens or renovated like Balfron Tower – are being replaced with flats only the very wealthy can afford to purchase. The cost of materials and labour does not increase five times between Sheffield and London, yet the flats on Park Hill Estate, at this level of renovation, would be on sale for between £500,000 and £750,000 in the capital. It’s this mark-up, and not the burden of so-called ‘affordable’ housing quotas, that accounts for the unprecedented profit margins being made by developers and builders. How many homes for social rent could be built with such sums is a question that can only be answered if there is the political will to ask it, but that will is entirely lacking in British politics today.

Ultimately, the blame for what’s happening at Park Hill Estate lies with the withdrawal of funds for council housing by successive governments, both Tory and Labour. But Sheffield City Council’s decision to offload the estate to a private developer, rather than refurbish it for existing residents, can only be explained by an account of where the revenue from the estate’s rents in the 42 years between 1961 and 2003 went. Contrary to the widely-peddled lie that council housing is subsidised by the tax-payer, the £2.2 million cost of building Park Hill Estate, which was low even for 1961, would have been paid off decades ago. But whether because of mismanagement or corruption, the council’s decision has directly resulted in the social cleansing of 3,000 residents from their former homes, the transferal of 1,000 council homes into private hands, and the expenditure of nearly £40 million pounds of public money on private investments. Indirectly, but no less consequently, it has resulted in the obscene sight of a camp of 30 homeless people sleeping in tents through the winter of 2016-17 against a backdrop of 600 empty council homes.

As we publish this article, news has come that at 11am this morning, Monday 30 January – four days before the time agreed at the hearing in Sheffield County Court – South Yorkshire Police, acting on the orders of Sheffield City Council, evicted Tent City from Park Hill Estate. It’s roughly 30 occupants are now homeless again.

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing