Knight’s Walk Redevelopment: Recommendation to Cabinet

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After nearly a year of consultation with the residents of Knight’s Walk, Lambeth Council last week announced the redevelopment plan they will be recommending to Cabinet.

Knight’s Walk is a collection of mostly bungalows, originally built for the elderly and disabled, that are a part of the Cotton Garden Estate in Kennington. Designed by LCC architect George Finch and built between 1969-1972, the estate is currently being put forward for listing by the Twentieth Century Society.

When Lambeth Council first announced their intentions to the residents of Knight’s Walk, total demolition was the only ‘option’ being proposed. As with so many estates facing so-called ‘regeneration’, this made the ensuing consultation process all but meaningless.

Then this March Architects for Social Housing (ASH) joined the ‘Hands off Knight’s Walk’ campaign. Since then we have attended every meeting with Lambeth Council and Mae Architects, the practice that had been brought in to draw up the plans for demolition and then conduct the sham consultations with residents.

In response to the lack of options on the table, ASH, in collaboration with If-Untitled, first proposed then drew up two alternative plans to demolition. Employing the principle that infill and overbuild offer better answers to the housing needs of Londoners than demolishing existing council housing, our proposal not only met the Council’s demands for new homes, but also left the existing homes standing.

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In addition to two mid-rise buildings located, respectively, on an existing garage site and on Kennington Lane, we proposed building two additional floors on top of the existing bungalows. Together these generated an additional 80 homes. Moreover, we estimated that not having to rebuild the 33 existing homes that were slated for demolition, or to recompense the 7 freeholders, would save the Council around £10 million. This equates to the construction of 70 new council homes, effectively paying for the entire project. Despite this, our proposal was not adopted.

The redevelopment Lambeth Council has decided to propose to Cabinet is in fact a new partial demolition titled Scenario 2D, a hybrid of several proposals Mae had previously put on the table. It consists of the demolition of just over half of the existing homes (18 out of 33), which will be replaced, and the total construction of 82, with a net gain of 64 additional homes (16 less than the ASH proposal). Of these, 25 are proposed at council rent, 39 for private rent. However, these figures are only indicative, and subject to what the council calls ‘further detailed analysis’.

MAE_final proposal

At the meeting last week, ASH asked the Cabinet Member for Housing, Matthew Bennett, the following question: ‘When the new Housing Bill is passed, neither property developers nor councils will any longer be obliged to include homes for social rent within their affordable housing quotas, but can confine themselves to building starter homes for up to £450,000. As a Labour council, will Lambeth do more than what Tory policy obliges them to, and formally commit to building 50 per cent homes for council rent on the Knight’s Walk redevelopment scheme? If not, what percentage will Lambeth Council commit to?’

Councillor Bennett’s answer was: ‘We will build as many council rent homes as possible. A minimum of 40 per cent, hopefully more.’ As the figures for Scenario 2D confirm, this is already 10 per cent less than the proposals the council presented at a public consultation a mere two weeks previously, for both partial and full demolition, in all of which 50 per cent of the new homes were for social rent. What will it be by the time they’ve finished?

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Given that, at the beginning of the regeneration consultation process (which is neither a regeneration nor a consultation), the total demolition of Knight’s Walk was the only option being proposed by Lambeth, this is a considerable victory for the 9 council tenants and 6 freeholders whose homes will be saved.

However, for those residents whose homes are to be demolished under this scenario, this is not good news.  By forcing Lambeth to consider other options, ASH has helped to save 15 homes; but will the 17 council tenants and 1 freeholder whose homes will be bulldozed under the present scheme be rehoused on Knight’s Walk? None of the promises Lambeth has made are guaranteed in any way, as they are all subject to the same viability assessments as any other project.

In order to borrow the money to build, Lambeth has announced that it will create a Special Purpose Vehicle called ‘Homes for Lambeth’ in order to attract investors. This means that, since only councils are legally allowed to offer secure tenancies, existing tenants with secure council tenancies will only be offered an enhanced form of assured lifetime tenancy when they move into their replacement homes. New council tenants will be offered the same.

Moreover, the new tenancy will exclude the ‘Right to Manage’, which allows tenants to take over the running of their homes, and the ‘Right to Transfer’, used to trigger the transfer of homes to a housing association. Perhaps most worryingly, under such private financial investment, the extent to which the land will remain in public hands remains to be seen.

Since the homes of 6 of the 7 freeholders will be left untouched by the proposal, the £3-4 million saving on not having to buy out freeholders, plus the deterrent of drawn-out legal opposition to Compulsory Purchase Orders, seems to have been the casting vote in the Council settling on Scenario 2D. However, since ASH was set up to defend and build council housing, not knock it down, we will continue to campaign with the residents and tenants of Knight’s Walk to keep Lambeth to their promise.

We must ensure that the 17 council tenants and 1 freeholder whose homes have been sacrificed will be rehoused in the new development, and that their temporary decanting, with the promise of only a single move, is used to build the 25 additional homes for council rent that Lambeth has promised.

ASH will continue to apply pressure on Lambeth to ensure that displaced residents will be rehoused on the new development, and that, as Councillor Bennett has promised, ‘a minimum of 40 per cent’ of the new homes will be for council rent, ‘hopefully more.’ Watch this space to see if Lambeth Council honours its promises.

Link to article in Building Design

Architects for Social Housing

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