Macintosh Court: The Campaign Continues

Macintosh Court residents and campaigners with Architect Kate Macintosh (second from right), celebrating their victory at Open Garden Estates this weekend with blue plaques of the newly named estate by ASH member Senaka Weeraman.

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269 Leigham Court Road in Streatham is purpose built sheltered housing, with 45 flats that are currently home to 50 residents, all over the age of 60, all on secure tenancies. Despite being designed by architect Kate Macintosh specifically to house elderly people, a duty it has performed since 1975, in January 2013 Lambeth Labour Council suddenly declared the estate ‘unfit for purpose’, told residents that it was too expensive to carry out the repairs and maintenance they had neglected for years, and declared the site was to be ‘sold as cleared land.’ On Monday, 13 June, a meeting was called with residents at 269 Leigham Court Road to announce Lambeth Labour Council’s proposal for the estate.

The Council’s original plans had been to evict all 50 of the current residents, to move them to various sheltered housing complexes around the borough, to demolish the existing 45 homes, and to sell the estate as ‘cleared land’, with new developments being what they euphemistically call ‘other housing’. In preparation for this, the onsite sheltered housing officer was withdrawn, causing one resident we met to have to wait 5 hours for paramedics to turn up following a fall. And the estate gardeners neglected the gardens, leading to the erosion of the topsoil in places, the needless tearing up of bushes without first consulting residents, and the death of the tree in the central square.

There is no talk, even from Lambeth Labour Council, about building new homes for the existing residents. This was a land grab, pure and simple, for this much sort-after corner of Lambeth. We know how vulnerable elderly residents are to the mental and physical stresses of eviction and relocation, not to mention the years of threats and underhand tactics used by councils to terrorise and degrade communities before demolishing their homes. Lambeth Council’s plans for Macintosh Court are nothing less than an attack on the security, dignity, well-being and even the lives of its 50 residents. It reveals not only the ruthlessness of Lambeth Council and the lengths it will go to get its hands on the land our homes are built on, but also the truth behind the so-called regeneration programme it is pursuing on estates across the borough.

Fortunately, these eviction plans were thwarted in May 2015 when the estate, following a campaign by residents and their supporters, was given a Grade II listing by Historic England. This protects the exterior walls of the estate from demolition, and the grounds and its gardens from being built on. It does not, however, stop Lambeth Council from gutting the interior and turning the homes into, for instance, luxury apartments, much as is being done in Tower Hamlets with Balfron Tower, and with the same consequences for existing residents.

To the surprise of residents, therefore, at the meeting on 13 June, David Warrell, Lead Commissioner at Lambeth Council, announced that they were no longer intending to demolish the estate. Instead, they would be recommending to Cabinet in July that 269 Leigham Court Road be refurbished as what they call ‘Extra Care Housing’.

For some time now residents have not had 24-hour on-site care. The previous wardens had asked for a pay rise, and Lambeth Council had responded by first withdrawing services, then used this excuse to argue that the estate was no longer ‘fit for purpose’. Under the proposed new category of Extra Care Housing, the estate would have 24-hour onsite care. However, the staff would be provided by a private contractor, care housing being a thriving industry for our ageing population. Rather than a fixed staff that would get to know and be known by residents, care would be provided on a rotational basis by an ever-changing staff. It also raises the question of exactly who would pay for and profit from the redevelopment of the estate.

One of the reasons Lambeth gave for its original plans to demolish the estate was that they could not afford to refurbish the homes and grounds they had neglected to maintain for so many decades while receiving the rent payments to do so. At the meeting, therefore, I asked David Warrell where the money to redevelop the estate as Extra Care Housing was coming from. He wouldn’t say. I asked if the estate was to be redeveloped by Homes for Lambeth, the housing association being set up by real-estate firm Savills to demolish and redevelop six Lambeth Council estates. He categorically rejected this.

It seems reasonable to suspect, therefore, that the famously broke Council, despite having £50 million for a new Town Hall and many millions more for a Garden Bridge, will be entering into a contract with a developer, housing association, care housing business provider, builder, or indeed all of the above. That means the estate, whose current residents have secure council tenancies, will be turned, as the Council are proposing to do with many other council estates, into a housing association, with increased rents, decreased rights, and tenancies changed to yet another newly fashioned category, Lambeth’s ‘assured lifetime tenancy’. That scenario, however, is perhaps the best we can expect from Lambeth Council.

At the meeting residents were handed a consultation form and asked to say what they would like to see done to the estate in terms of refurbishment and changes. The turn around being asked of residents was extremely quick, with the consultation forms due in by 30 June. As you can imagine, after decades of neglect, managed decline and refusal by the Council to keep up maintenance, there was a loud and long response from residents about everything from leaking roofs to uncleared gutters and untrimmed trees. The ugly scaffolding the Council has erected instead of repairing the covered walkway that runs along the middle of the estate is just one example of how they have tried to degrade the estate. The lack of guttering means the land to the side of the walkway has been eroded of topsoil by the rain and the grass worn back to cracked mud.

One might think, therefore, that Lambeth’s proposal to refurbish is a welcome one. Indeed it is. However, I said the raised rents and reduced rights of a housing association is the best we could hope from Lambeth. The worst is very much worse.

Cressingham Gardens estate in Brixton was first put forward for refurbishment seven years ago. After residents obliged the Council with page after page of repair requests and complaints, Lambeth upgraded the refurbishment proposal to a regeneration plan. A few months ago, the Cabinet made its final decision to demolish the estate.

The residents of Macintosh Court, named by residents after more than forty years at Open Garden Estates this weekend, should always remember Lambeth Council’s original plan was to evict them from their homes, demolish those homes, and replace them with luxury apartments. If residents provide them with the reasons for doing so, Lambeth Council may be able to argue that the existing homes are not fit for purpose, as they originally argued, that the cost of refurbishing them to the Extra Care Home standard they have fabricated is prohibitive, and hand the estate over to Homes for Lambeth or another housing association for redevelopment, gutting the interiors and refurbishing them as the originally intended ‘other homes’ for the wealthy investors and middle-class residents the Council is so open about attracting to the borough.

The former tactics have been used by Lambeth Council at Cressingham Gardens; the latter strategy by Tower Hamlets Council at Balfron Tower.

Residents should never forget that it is they, and their campaign for their homes, that got the estate listed, and which forced Lambeth Council to change their original plans to evict residents and demolish their homes. But it would be naïve of us to think the same Council has now abandoned its plans for this much sought-after patch of green land in Streatham.

I said that the best we could hope for from Lambeth Council was the raised rents and reduced rights of a housing association, and the extra care homes of a private contractor. That doesn’t mean residents should accept the best the Council has to offer, which is very much less than they currently have.

It is essential to the future of Macintosh Court and its residents that they continue to campaign not only for the continued preservation of the exterior of the estate, but also:

  1. For the refurbishment of the estate’s interiors for residents’ needs;
  2. For the continued residency of existing residents on the estate;
  3. For the same tenure and security existing residents currently enjoy; and
  4. For the quality of 24-hour care existing and future residents deserve.

To this end, ASH strongly recommends that when filling out the consultation forms for Lambeth Council, in addition to listing the much-needed repairs and maintenance of the homes and their grounds, residents also stress:

  1. How fit for purpose as sheltered housing for the elderly the estate is;
  2. How well-designed it is for the needs of current residents; and 
  3. How much individual residents rely on the long-standing and strong community that has grown together over many years on Macintosh Court for their peace of mind, their emotional support, their health and well-being, for comradeship and solidarity.

A great victory over greed and money has been won. This weekend was a celebration of what has been achieved by the residents of Macintosh Court. Their bravery and their willingness to fight is an example to us all. We salute you! But the campaign is not over. As Kate Macintosh, the architect of Macintosh Court, said on Sunday: ‘This is not the end of the campaign. This is the beginning.’

ASH will continue to support you in your fight for homes, security, care and dignity.

Long live the Macintosh Court community!

Architects for Social Housing

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Deirdre Shaw, the resilient resident who, with one hand holding her walking stick and the other gripping her pen, has led the campaign to save the sheltered housing at Macintosh Court.

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