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
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.
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.
AIMS AND OBJECTIVES OF ESTATE REGENERATION
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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