ASH design proposals for West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates

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In response to the question addressed to ASH by the Architect’s Journal, there are many ways in ASH’s design proposals for the West Kensington & Gibbs Green People’s Plan are better than Capco’s masterplan, the primary and overriding one being that the residents, many of whom have lived here all their lives, will be able to remain living in their homes, the refurbishment of which can be funded by the provision of up to 250 new homes.

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ASH’s proposal is an entirely sustainable one, both socially and environmentally, that builds on the existing thriving community and surrounding neighbourhood, rather than wiping them out. A palimpsest of different styles over time is what makes cities dynamic, vibrant and interesting. Cities are places of cumulative memory, not something to be erased and rewritten every forty years like a cheap hard drive. That is cultural vandalism. The estates are well loved, and there is nothing wrong with them architecturally that cannot be addressed with investment and thoughtful and intelligent interventions that not only address any concerns residents may have but simultaneously provide the additional homes the area needs.

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ASH’s proposals provide a large range of new homes, from bungalows for the elderly and disabled (potentially freeing up some of the larger homes which may be under-occupied) to new townhouses for growing families needing more space.

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All this can be achieved without residents having to leave the estate, their friends, family and neighbours, all of which are the crucial but ignored foundations of our social structures.

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ASH’s proposal for a new block of flats on Lillie Road has the potential for a mix of uses on the ground floor, creating a new public square and entrance into the estates. This will make a really positive contribution to the public realm, working with the existing streets, not in spite of them.

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New and improved community facilities such as allotments and a new centralized community centre will support the existing community, which has matured and bonded over the years. The effectiveness of communal space is directly related to the maintenance of the environment and the stability and continuity of the community inhabiting the space. Reinvigorating the environment with new and improved communal facilities will only enhance this stable community’s enjoyment and use of the estate.

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Our proposal also sets out to increase the biodiversity of the existing green open spaces on the estates, which sit along a biodiversity corridor identified in Kensington and Chelsea’s latest Biodiversity Action plan.  As well as increasing the air quality on Lillie road and North End Road and Targarth Road, this will also ensure that it’s a great place for young families and children, and the elderly, which is not a defining characteristic of Capco’s scheme.

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Environmentally our scheme clearly also has the benefit – through retrofit and refurbishment – of retaining the embodied carbon and energy present within the buildings largely concrete and brick structures, which Capco’s full demolition scheme clearly doesn’t. In the Twenty-first Century it is unacceptable to ignore the devastating consequences demolition has on the urban environment when refurbishment is a much more viable and sustainable alternative. French architects Lacation and Vassal have shown how successful this is as a model architectural approach to french post war housing estates.

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In addition the construction could take advantage of recent advances in modern methods of construction using prefabricated elements thus aiming to reduce dust and noise, and with minimal disruption to the life of the estate.

More luxury homes are not what London needs. We don’t have a shortage of luxury homes, the market for which is collapsing. We do, however, have a severe shortage of low cost homes for social and council rent that people can afford. Capco’s plans will only exacerbate this lack of homes that Londoners desperately need and can afford to live in.

Wholesale devastation of longstanding neighbourhoods and communities, which are the direct effect of projects like Capco’s, are simply making things worse, for both the estate residents and the surrounding area. As a result of Capco’s plan, neighbouring communities will in turn suffer from increases in rent and council tax, a further burden on already overstretched public services like health clinics, schools and roads, and be indirectly forced out by stealth. This is an overt strategy discussed in real estate firm Savills’ ‘Complete Streets’ model. The estate demolition programme is destroying London with no regard for anything other than the profits of developers and investors.

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Many of the home owners who bought their homes via Right to Buy will – as demonstrated by the Heygate model – most likely have to move out of London altogether. Remaining tenants – if they can afford to return – will pay considerably higher rents, council tax, service charges, etc., forcing many of these families out as well, simply because they can no longer afford to live in their own neighbourhood. The promise of ‘like for like’ is simply a myth. Are they really going to be giving all the residents who currently live in a 3-4 bedroom home with a garden a whole house in the new development when a one bed flat is being advertised for £750,000?

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There is no evidence that estate regeneration improves the lives of the existing tenants. On the contrary, it is more likely to put residents in a significantly worse off situation economically, and have a significantly detrimental effect. Then there are the effects that the demolition of their homes has on the mental health of residents, many of the older of whom will die unhappily and alone during the course of this process, most likely in temporary housing during the so-called ‘decanting’ stage that drags on for five to ten years.

A house or a flat is not the same as a home. These places are peoples’ homes, and they are being destroyed for profit and political expediency. We know the lengths developers go to minimise what they are obliged to give back to the community through manipulated viability assessments. They have no interest in contributing to the public good of the city, unless it benefits their shareholders in some way. Is this who we want defining the future landscape of London?

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Michael Heseltine, Chair of the panel set up to look at how to implement the Prime Minister’s so-called Blitz initiative for council estates has said that estate regeneration ‘has to be locally led’, and that he wants to ‘see local communities coming forward with innovative ideas to achieve desirable neighbourhoods that local people can be proud of.’

ASH’s design proposals for the West Ken and Gibbs Green People’s Plan is a model for how estate regeneration should be done. In post-Brexit UK, we believe this is an example of how London should show its respect for its poor and working classes, whose needs have been ignored for so long.

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The People’s Plan is also a better deal financially for the local authority, whose deal with Capco was woefully (some would say, criminally) bad. We hope that by seeing what this alternative has to offer, the local Labour Council, London Mayor and the Secretary of State will support the residents’ application for a Right to Transfer the estates into community ownership, with the only genuinely sustainable, financially viable and socially just future for the residents of West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates.

Geraldine Dening
Architects for Social Housing

Download the full PDF of ASH’s feasibility report here: WKGG_report_rev3

The article based on our response in the Architects’ Journal can be read here: AJ article 8 August 2016

 

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