Scheming Schemes: A Street View of Gentrification

I’m dreaming dreams, I’m scheming schemes,
I’m building castles high.
They’re born anew, their days are few,
Just like a sweet butterfly.
And as the daylight is dawning,
They come again in the morning!

– Jaan Kenbrovin, I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles (1918)

There’s been a lot in the papers and on social media lately about West Ham football fans and how much they hate their new ground in the London Stadium. This culminated in the recent pitch invasion and protests during the Hammers’ home defeat to Burnley in March, when hundreds of angry fans demanded the removal of the board that oversaw the club’s move in August 2016 after 108 years at Upton Park. The London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, who last year had to take back management of the stadium after it was revealed that the move has cost the public £300 million – the same cost as rebuilding a football-specific arena from scratch – called these protests ‘disgraceful’. In response, the club has introduced tighter security measures, including bringing the police into the ground, to patrol the space separating fans from the West Ham board on match days. A protest walk from Upton Park to Stratford planned for February was only called off following back room deals between the club’s vice-chairman and selected supporter groups. Despite Newham council spending £40 million on converting the former Olympic stadium through loans it admits it does not expect to see repaid, West Ham season ticket-holders complain about what a wasteland Stratford is, with none of the Pie & Mash shops and cheap pubs they used to visit on match day, and how much the former Olympic stadium, with its running track for athletes, separates them from the football pitch. This alienating distance, echoing that between working-class fans and the millionaire players and board-members, is the perfect image of the gentrification of English football since the Hillsborough Stadium disaster of 1989, the subsequent imposition of all-seater stands that doubled ticket prices overnight, and the forming of the Premier League stockmarket in 1992, and as such part of the wider marketisation of every aspect of our lives that is socially cleansing the working class from our inner cities.

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Central Hill: A Case Study in Estate Regeneration. ASH Presentation to the Department of Architecture, Braunschweig University of Technology

Poster for Lecture

1. The Estate Regeneration Programme

ASH map of London's Estate Regeneration Programme

In September 2017, as part of our residency at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Architects for Social Housing (ASH) mapped out London’s estate regeneration programme. Our research identified 237 housing estates that have recently undergone, are currently undergoing, or are threatened with regeneration, demolition or privatisation with the resulting loss of homes for council or social rent. In one borough alone, no less than 9,500 such homes are being lost to Southwark council’s estate regeneration programme. These figures are not anomalies, but accord with the targets of estate regeneration. These have been laid out in such policy-defining publications as City Villages: More homes, better communities (published in March 2015), which recommended reclassifying existing council estates as ‘brownfield land’ – a term usually applied to ex-industrial or commercial land that requires decontamination before use; and the report to the Government’s Cabinet Office titled Completing London’s Streets: How the regeneration and intensification of housing estates could increase London’s supply of homes and benefit residents (January 2016), which recommended demolishing the council homes of over 400,000 Londoners. In practice, if not in name, the estate ‘regeneration’ programme means the demolition and redevelopment of housing estates for capital investment by offshore companies, buy-to-let landlords and home ownership. Only a small percentage of the new-builds end up as so-called ‘affordable’ housing, and this newly designated category increasingly means shared-ownership properties, rent-to-buy products or affordable rents set at 80 per cent of market rate. Few if any homes for social rent, fixed at 30 per cent of market rate, are being built to replace the thousands being lost. The effect of this programme, which every council in London is implementing on their housing stock, has been described with a term that still causes anger and furious denials in those carrying it out, but which has been universally adopted by both residents and campaigners resisting it: social cleansing.
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Our Urban Millions Must Wrest Control from Hostile, Inhumane Labour

I was reading Sadiq Khan’s article with this title in The Observer this Sunday, and initially I wondered who it was he was describing, so closely did his description of the Conservative government he was attacking resemble his own party. I thought that, given Labour’s record in local government, Khan’s got a nerve lecturing the Tories on morality and racism. So I rewrote his article in line with what Labour councils have been doing these past four years and longer to the urban millions the London Mayor calls on to vote this Thursday. On the 3rd of May remember to say: a vote for Labour is a vote for the demolition of hundreds of council estates, their replacement with properties for offshore investors, the selling off of our public assets to the highest bidder, the privatisation of our public land and services, the eviction of local businesses and markets, and the social cleansing of our communities from the inner cities.

John Healey, Matthew Bennet and Jeremy Corbyn, Lambeth Labour Manifesto 2018
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Knight’s Walk: The Good Practice Guide to Gentrification

Prior to the launch of the ASH report on Central Hill, which we’re holding in the Residents’ Hall of Cotton Gardens estate in Kennington on 26 April, we thought we’d catch up with what’s happening on Knight’s Walk, the low-rise component of Cotton Gardens that was specifically designed by London County Council architect George Finch for elderly residents or residents with disabilities – and the news isn’t good.

In December 2014 Lambeth council placed Knight’s Walk on its six-estate ‘regeneration’ programme and the following February the residents were presented with three options, all of which were for full demolition. In response, residents invited ASH to start working with their campaign in March, when we set about producing design-alternatives to demolition which forced the council to look at other options and ultimately helped save half the estate from demolition. In November 2015, Lambeth council proposed to cabinet the partial demolition of Knight’s Walk according to option Scenario 2D drawn up by Mae Architects. This would entail the demolition of just over half of the existing homes – 18 out of a total of 33 – and the development of 82 new and replacement properties. 1 of these was to be a replacement freehold property and 17 would be replacement homes for council rent; while of the 64 proposed additional properties, 25 were to be for council rent, and 39 for private rent. These figures, however, were described in the proposal as ‘indicative’, and subject to what the council called ‘further detailed analysis’. This was where things stood when ASH last wrote about the Knight’s Walk redevelopment scheme, in which we ended with the warning: ‘Watch this space to see if Lambeth council honours its promises!’

Lambeth council, Appendix B, Cabinet report, 9th November 2015
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Central Hill: A Case Study in Estate Regeneration

Architects for Social Housing (ASH) is pleased to announce the publication of a book-length report based on our work on the alternative to the demolition of the Central Hill estate in Crystal Palace. Titled Central Hill: A Case Study in Estate Regeneration, the report includes not only our designs for the estate’s refurbishment and increase in housing capacity by up to 50 per cent without the demolition of a single existing home, but also our account of why and how these proposals were rejected by Lambeth council, which in March last year announced its intention to demolish Central Hill estate. But despite this decision, which is opposed by 77 per cent of the residents, and which is being repeated on hundreds of estates across London, the refusal of London councils to consider estate regeneration options other than demolition has begun to weaken.

Last November ASH was invited to present our designs for Central Hill and the five other estates we have worked with to the Haringey Council Housing and Regeneration Scrutiny Panel, who are looking into alternatives to the Haringey Development Vehicle, the future of which is now in doubt. Then this February the Labour MP for Hammersmith and Fulham, Andy Slaughter, speaking in the House of Commons, said that ASH’s design alternatives for the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates ‘shows how new development ought to be done’. Most professionals involved in housing will recognise that there is a sea change in attitudes towards London’s estate demolition programme – partly, no doubt, in the wake of Brexit and the consequent fall in the market for the luxury developments being built in their place; but also because of increased awareness of the central place the estate regeneration programme occupies in London’s housing crisis, in which it plays the paradoxical role of both primary mechanism and proposed solution. ASH believes that there is the beginning of the search for an alternative to the current model, one that sees regeneration not in terms of demolition and redevelopment but of maintenance of existing stock and sustainable increase in housing provision.

However, there is nothing, either in current government legislation or in the housing policies of the Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat parties, that will stop councils from following the same practices Lambeth council employed to push through their plans to demolish Central Hill estate against both the wishes of residents and the demonstrable social, financial and environmental benefits of the design alternatives. The Greater London Authority’s recently published Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration fails to deliver either target requirements for councils in terms of retaining and building much-needed homes for council and social rent, or the financial support residents need to propose alternatives to demolition, whether refurbishment or infill or both. Central Hill: A Case Study in Estate Regeneration is not only a presentation of what these alternatives can be, but also an example of why and how legislation needs to change for these alternatives to become the enforceable default option for local authorities and housing associations when undertaking the regeneration of a housing estate.

Architects for Social Housing is holding a launch for this report on Thursday, 26 April, from 7-9pm. The venue is the Residents’ Hall of Cotton Gardens estate, the low-rise component of which, Knight’s Walk, has also been consigned to partial demolition and redevelopment by Lambeth council, also against the wishes of residents. We are extending an invitation to a representative from the Lambeth branch of the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green parties, as well as any independent candidates standing on this issue, to come and make a short statement about the concerns raised by the ASH report, and specifically about how to bring about the required changes to existing policy on estate regeneration in local authorities, the GLA and central government.

Please join us for the launch of the ASH report, and add your voice to this debate on issues that will have consequences for the local elections the following week and in the years beyond. Copies of the report can be downloaded from the links below.

Table of Contents

Introduction
1. The Alternative to Demolition
2. Criteria for Estate Demolition
3. Deliverability of the Proposal
4. Transparency
5. The Community
Appendices

If you would like ASH to come and talk to your department, group or organisation about this report, please contact us at info@architectsforsocialhousing.co.uk.

Simon Elmer and Geraldine Dening
Architects for Social Housing

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The Social Realism of the Labour Party: Jeremy Corbyn and the Socialism of Fools

Mear One, Freedom for Humanity (2012)

The mural (above) at the centre of the latest publicity disaster to engulf Jeremy Corbyn has been compared to the anti-Semitic depictions of Jews in Nazi propaganda. One Labour Party website has even taken readers through comparisons between the offending mural and historical examples from Der Stürmer (below), a vehemently anti-semitic and anti-communist German tabloid newpaper. However, while this interpretation of the mural, which has been denied by the artist but eagerly embraced by the public, relies almost entirely on the size of the noses of its central figures, the mural makes a far more conscious reference to the history of art that has been entirely passed over by the press, most obviously because it doesn’t fit into the reductive and sensationalist narrative that has been woven about the anti-Semitism of the mural and Corbyn’s initial support for it. Followers of ASH will know that we have no love either for Jeremy Corbyn or for the Labour Party, but the willingness with which our national press and media, as well as our parliamentary parties, have embraced the mob-rule of Twitter to pursue their political ends is something we oppose. Behind the universal accusations of anti-Semitism directed at both this mural and Corbyn there is the collusion of the British establishment in silencing – through ad hominem attacks, unfounded accusations and personal slander that is disseminated without question in the press and repeated across social media – anyone who dares question what is being questioned across the world at the moment: the cultural hegemony of world capitalism.

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The Duties of an Architect: Regeneration and Gentrification in New Mildmay

‘In carrying out or agreeing to carry out professional work, Architects should pay due regard to the interests of anyone who may reasonably be expected to use or enjoy the products of their own work. Whilst Architects’ primary responsibility is to their clients, they should nevertheless have due regard to their wider responsibility to conserve and enhance the quality of the environment and its natural resources.’

– Architects Registration Board, Architects Code: Standards of Conduct and Practice, 2002

‘Whilst your primary responsibility is to your clients, you should take into account the environmental impact of your professional activities.’

– Architects Registration Board, Architects Code: Standards of Conduct and Practice, 2010

‘Where appropriate, you should advise your client how best to conserve and enhance the quality of the environment and its natural resources.’

– Architects Registration Board, The Architects Code: Standards of Professional Conduct and Practice, 2017

Under Section 13 of the Architects Act 1997 the Architects Registration Board (ARB) was required to ‘issue a code laying down the standards of professional conduct and practice expected of registered persons’ (i.e. as architects). It further specified that although failure to comply with the provisions of this code ‘shall not be taken of itself to constitute unacceptable professional conduct or serious professional incompetence’, such failure by the architect ‘shall be taken into account in any proceedings against him’ before the ARB’s Professional Conduct Committee. The code itself, which was first published in 1997, specified that architects are expected to be guided in their professional work not only by the letter but also by the ‘spirit of the code’. However, where the 12 constituent standards typically have 4 and up to 8 codes, section 5.1 is the single code on the standard architects should meet when ‘considering the wider impact of their work’.

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