What is Community-led Housing? Proposal for a Co-operative Housing Development

ASH, Brixton Gardens, architectural rendering by Leonie Weber

Brixton Gardens, architectural rendering by Leonie Weber

What is ‘community-led housing’? The phrase is used these days with increasing frequency, but what does it mean? How can it embrace the resource and advice hub set up by the London Mayor to build more affordable housing, and which has just been allocated £38 million of funds, and, at the same time, proposals made by campaigners trying to save the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Lewisham, which has been condemned to demolition and redevelopment by a council and housing association acting with the financial support and planning permission of the same London Mayor? Beyond its rhetoric of government decentralisation and resident empowerment, what does ‘community-led’ mean in practice? Is it an initiative by London communities in response to the threat to their homes of estate demolition schemes implemented by councils in which they no longer have any trust? Is it emblematic of the kind of initiative envisaged by the former Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, in his image of a Big Society that takes back responsibility for housing UK citizens from the state and places it in the hands of entrepreneurs, whether small developers or housing co-operatives? Is it a way to relieve London councils of the responsibility for housing their constituents? Is it just another term in the increasingly duplicitous lexicon of Greater London Authority housing policies designed to hand public land and funds over to private developers and investors under the guise of being ‘community-led’? Or is it a genuine, if limited, solution to London’s crisis of housing affordability, one that will finally build and manage at least some of the homes in which Londoners can afford to live? In this article we address these questions through looking at ‘Brixton Gardens’, a proposal for a co-operative housing development that was made last year by Architects for Social Housing in partnership with the Brixton Housing Co-operative.

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The Carpenters Estate: A Fresh Start or Business as Usual at Newham Council?

Photograph by Alessia Gammarota

On the 27 October 2018, at a meeting between members of the Focus E15 Campaign and Rokhsana Fiaz, the Mayor of Newham, and members of her new administration, it was agreed that Architects for Social Housing would make a presentation to Newham council on the financial, social and environmental benefits of estate refurbishment and infill versus the costs of demolition and redevelopment. This presentation would present the findings from our report, The Costs of Estate Regeneration, which we had published in September and have since been presenting to various organisations across London. These included the inaugural Festival of Maintenance held at University College London; at a meeting of the Tulse Hill branch of the Labour Party; at a GovDesign meeting on Repair, Renovation and Maintenance; and to Len Duvall, the Greater London Authority Member for Greenwich and Lewisham and Leader of the Labour Party in the London Assembly. We have also been invited to present its findings to the Government’s Planning Advisory Service forum on Planning, Housing and Affordable Homes, which will be attended by council leaders, regeneration and planning officers from Brent, Havering and Merton in London, Milton Keynes, South Cambridgeshire, Manchester, Salford, Stockport, Southampton, West Dorset and other local authorities.

At the Newham council meeting the Mayor stated that she would be making a public announcement about the Carpenters estate in early December. We were pleased to note the Mayor’s commitment to consider all the options for the regeneration of the estate before proceeding, but concerned that the information on the costs of refurbishing the estate on Newham council’s website was inaccurate. On 8 November we wrote to Deborah Heenan, the Major Projects Director at the London Borough of Newham, to propose a meeting at which we could present our more accurate findings and discuss the possibilities available to the future of the Carpenters estate that are both financially viable to the council as well as socially and environmentally beneficial to residents and constituents.

Following on from our subsequent telephone conversation on 21 November, I wrote to Ms. Heenan explaining that it would be very useful for us if, prior to our meeting with Newham council, we could have clarification on a number of issues for which the information has not been made public. ASH has developed design alternatives to demolition for 6 housing estates in London, and on every one we were able not only to increase their housing capacity by around 50 per cent, but also to increase the supply of homes for social rent, rather than demolishing and replacing them with market sale, shared ownership, rent to buy and other forms of so-called ‘affordable’ housing required by the huge costs of demolition and redevelopment in today’s market. In order to better advise the new Mayor on the possibilities of refurbishment and infill on the Carpenters estate, therefore, we requested the following information.

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Questions without Answers: Reginald House and Old Tidemill Garden

Save Reginald Save Tidemill

On 19 October I wrote the following on the Save Reginald Save Tidemill Facebook page. My comment was written in response to a shared statement by Lewisham Labour Councillor Joe Dromey, the Cabinet Member for Finance, Skills and Jobs, that he had originally made on the I Love Deptford page about the regeneration scheme. The son of Harriet Harman MP, the former Acting Leader of the Labour Party, and Jack Dromey MP, the Shadow Labour Minister for Work and Pensions, Joe Dromey is also a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Policy Research, the think tank that did much to create and form the current programme of estate demolition and redevelopment with the publication in 2015 of ‘City Villages: More homes, better communities’. I asked to join the I Love Deptford page in order to respond directly to Councillor Dromey, but my request to do so was denied; and although Councillor Dromey had responded to earlier comments on the Save Reginald Save Tidemill page, he hasn’t responded to mine. In response, Roy Hobson, a qualified surveyor retired from the Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors and supporter of the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign, copied my comment onto the I Love Deptford page, with the statement that he ‘totally agrees’ with its estimates. As of writing, Councillor Dromey still hasn’t responded. Here is the original comment by Councillor Dromey:

‘You may have heard that a judicial review had been brought against the proposed development at Tidemill to try and stop the development from going ahead. Earlier this week, the judge rejected the judicial review. The people campaigning against the development have a right of appeal, and I understand they will be doing so. But the development is now more likely to go ahead.

‘The Council is proceeding with the development because there is a desperate need for more social housing in our community. We’ve got 2,000 homeless households in Lewisham and many hundreds in Deptford. We’ve got 10,000 households on the council waiting list.

‘The Tidemill development will bring 104 additional social homes. These will be provided on secure tenancies, at below half the market rate, to households on the council waiting list. Over half (56%) of the homes on the site will be social housing – with the additional social housing representing 51% of the homes. A quarter of the homes (24%) are shared ownership to help people get on the property ladder. 20% are built for sale to fund the rest of the homes. It’s the biggest increase in social housing that we’ve seen in Deptford or in Lewisham in a generation.

‘All the existing residents (13 tenants, 3 leaseholders) will get a new home for life on the site. They won’t have to move off the site even for a day, and they won’t face higher rents. We want them to stay, and we want to provide more social homes for those in desperate need.

‘There will be lots of green space on the new estate, equivalent to over 80% of the size of the current garden. Most of this will be open 24/7 for our community.

‘Some have been campaigning to stop the development and to keep the Tidemill garden. It is understandable that some people will be unhappy with the decision, but there has been an extensive process, and the development has been approved by the Council, the Mayor of London, and now backed by the court. We can’t build the same number of homes and keep the meanwhile use garden. So our priority must be social housing to tackle the Tory housing crisis.

‘As ever, happy to discuss this with any members who have any questions.’

And here is what I wrote in return to Councillor Dromey’s invitation:

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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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Class War on Woodberry Down: A National Strategy

Woodberry Down in Manor House is one of the most sinister places I’ve ever visited. The council estate, built between the 1950s and 1970s, sits either side of the Seven Sisters Road, cradled in a bend of the New River flowing south. But turn down Woodberry Down itself and behind the Edwardian terraces and red-brick façade of St. Olave’s Church, overlooking the two large pools of Stoke Newington Reservoir, and a strange new world is emerging. Behind a wall of glass sweating office workers run towards you but never arrive. Maps of the surrounding area are reproduced on every corner with arrows indicating ‘you are here’. Hoardings lining the street display huge colour photographs of people smiling or shopping or jogging or pointing. Banners bearing company logos hang from lamp posts next to children’s drawings enlarged by professional artists. Boards and windows are covered with obscure phrases like ‘Designed for life’, ‘Our Vision’, ‘City Living Naturally’, ‘High Spec Equipment’, ‘The Nature Collection’, ‘Wildlife Information’, ‘Career Advice & Volunteering’ and ‘Sales & Marketing Suite’. And in contrast to the noisy mix of classes, races, ages and cultures spilling out of Manor House tube station, here everyone is young, everyone is silent, and everyone looks the same. Ashen-faced girls in dark skirt-suits walk home in uncomfortably high heels; while boys with neatly-trimmed beards and tight-fitting jeans walk tiny Pugs along the pavement. Down by the reservoir a huge silver ball sits encased in water flowing from the sort of water-feature you’d expect to see in the courtyard of a Singapore hotel. Everywhere you look signs remind you that this is ‘Woodberry Down’. While above you, emerging from a skeleton of steel and plastic netting, towers of green and yellow glass rise high into the sky. And at every corner, down every alley, on every lamp post, above every shop, beside every entrance, a red plastic dome watches over you, recording your every move. So what has happened here?

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An Exemplary Regeneration: King’s Crescent Estate

‘It’s a question of never demolishing, never reducing or replacing;
always adding, transforming and reusing.’

– Frédéric Druot, Anne Lacaton, Jean Philippe Vassal,
PLUS : Large-scale Housing Development (2004)

The regeneration of the King’s Crescent estate in Hackney is an exemplary regeneration. Everyone says so. Philip Glanville, the current Mayor of Hackney and former Cabinet Member for Housing who oversaw its planning application, says so. Karakusevic Carson, the architectural practice that designed it, says so. Higgins Construction, the company that is building it, says so. The Royal Institute of British Architects, on their online page dedicated to estate regeneration, says so. The Greater London Authority, which gave its outline planning consent to the scheme in 2013, said so. Sadiq Khan, who was interviewed on the building site last February on BBC1’s Sunday Politics as part of his mayoral campaign, says so. Even the Duke of Kent, when he visited the site last November – generating the headline ‘Regeneration Fit for Royalty’ – says so. And the Architects’ Journal, which included the estate in its booklet titled ‘Exemplary Housing Estate Regeneration in Europe’, says so. Exemplary: an example to other estate regeneration schemes. Something to include – anonymously, along with the other ‘case studies’ – in the Greater London Authority’s Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration. Not something like the Heygate estate in Southwark, or the Ferrier estate in Greenwich, or the West Hendon estate in Barnet, or the Woodberry Down estate, also in Hackney – all of which have been object lessons in the social cleansing of estate communities. No, the King’s Crescent estate is exemplary. Everybody says so. So let’s take a look at what example King’s Crescent sets for other local authorities, housing associations, builders, property developers, estate agents, architects and investors looking for a lesson in estate regeneration.

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Sheffield Tent City and the Social Cleansing of Park Hill Estate

In the new year ASH visited Park Hill Estate in Sheffield. We went to look around the estate and see the renovations. Park Hill has often been compared to London’s Robin Hood Gardens, which unlike Park Hill was refused listing by English Heritage, and we wanted to see why one building had been saved for renovation and the other is to be demolished. We also wanted to see what the consequences of that renovation were for residents, both past and present. Above all, though, we wanted to visit Tent City, the homeless camp that had been set up there in October 2016. The first thing we saw, on the site where the tents had originally been pitched, was a Notice to Leave from Sheffield City Council, stapled to a stake in the ground. The deadline was dated a few days previous, but the camp hadn’t gone, just moved around the corner to one of the courtyard lawns between the west and south blocks of the estate. There we met Anthony Cunningham, the organiser of Tent City.

He told us he wants to draw attention to the poor condition of the various homeless shelters in the city. The reason so many people were living in Tent City, he said, is because the hostels were full of drugs and violence, and they felt safer here, in tents on an empty housing estate, than they did either in the shelters or on the streets of Sheffield. Homeless people had walked from as far away as Manchester and Newcastle to come here. He told us even the council’s housing officers were sending people they couldn’t house to Tent City. Anthony also wants to draw attention to the amount of money the homeless charities are receiving from the council and various other grants, and question how it’s being used. ‘If they’re doing the job they’re being paid to do’, he asked, ‘why does Tent City exist?’ It’s a reasonable question, which neither Sheffield City Council nor the homeless charities have yet answered.

While we were talking to Anthony a woman arrived with some hot soup she’d made for the camp. The previous night she’d brought some hot chocolate. She was responding to the videos Anthony releases on social media every day asking for food, water, clothing, blankets, cardboard to stand on, wood for the fire, camping equipment, and everything else you need to survive outdoors through a Sheffield winter. Beside a metal brazier the camp’s Christmas tree was still up, decorated with strands of tinsel. At the entrance to the camp, hung across one of the tents, a bed sheet carried the message: ‘Don’t make our homeless homeless’. On the floor of the food tent a cardboard sign said simply: ‘No more Death.’ 

We spent the next three hours walking around the estate, photographing the buildings and talking to the people we met. When we got back to London we made contact with Anthony, and over the past month we’ve done our best to publicise his campaign through our networks. This is what we saw and have learned since about what’s happening on Sheffield’s Park Hill Estate.

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