Achilles Street: Open Garden Estates 2017

As part of this year’s Open Garden Estates, Achilles Street residents researched the abundance of wildflowers living in and around their estate. The walk they created out of their discovery reveals the beauty found in unlikely places and raises questions about how we value our urban environment and local communities. Overlooked and unappreciated, these plants, like the residents, will be uprooted and discarded in the demolition of the estate.

Sustainability is about the relationship between our communities and the environment in which they live. Estate demolition is as much an attack on our natural environment as on our local communities, unnecessarily releasing huge quantities of embodied carbon and pollutants into our atmosphere, as well as tearing up well established communities that have taken root over generations in the fabric of our city.  Their destruction will leave London impoverished and stripped of its indigenous cultures and resources for the short term gain of non-domiciled and foreign speculation and investment.

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Macintosh Court: Open Garden Estates 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long live the Macintosh Court community!

Architects for Social Housing

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

Open Garden Estates 2016

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Open Garden Estates is an initiative by Architects for Social Housing (ASH), a collective working to save London council estates under threat of demolition from Government housing policy, the Mayor’s building programme, local authority estate regeneration schemes and property developers.

Last year, Open Garden Estates was hosted by three council estates: Cressingham Gardens, designed by Ted Hollamby; Central Hill, by Rosemary Stjernstedt; and Knight’s Walk, by George Finch. All three estates are under threat of demolition by Lambeth Labour Council.

This year, over the weekend of 18-19 June, ASH is exporting Open Garden Estates across London, and a dozen estates have signed up, including Macintosh Court, Silchester and Lancaster West, Somerstown, Old Tidemill Gardens and Crossfields, Alton East and West, Ravensbury Grove, Warwick Road, Granville and Edmundsbury estates.

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Resistance Begins at Home: The Housing and Planning Act

London’s housing crisis is at a crossroads. The Conservative Government’s Housing and Planning Bill has passed to an Act. We have a new Labour Mayor, elected on a manifesto promise to build 50,000 new homes a year on demolished council estate land. David Cameron will soon launch his Blitzkrieg campaign on 100 so-called ‘sink estates’ across England, many of which will be in the capital. The London Land Commission is compiling a statutory register of brownfield land suitable for redevelopment that includes existing local authority housing estates. And the estate demolition plans drawn up by real estate firm Savills that threaten the council homes of over 400,000 Londoners are ready to be implemented through London Labour Councils. It seems necessary, therefore, to take stock of where we are, where we are going, and what we need both to do and stop doing in order to start doing something about it.

Parliamentary Ping Pong

On Tuesday 3 May, Brandon Lewis, the Minister for Housing and Planning responsible for driving the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill through Parliament, rejected 12 of the 13 amendments proposed by the House of Lords. Financial privilege, a convention that deters peers from voting against the Government’s Budget, was invoked in six of the amendments refused, relating to local authorities retaining a percentage of funds from the enforced sale of high-value council housing rather than it all going to central government, the income threshold at which a household will incur market rents, and the limits to the increase in that rate. The Minister’s party backed him up, and the following day, Wednesday 4 May, after a warning from the Minister about the Government’s mandate, the House of Lords failed to insist on all but two of their amendments, 108, on carbon compliance for new homes, and 110, on sustainable drainage systems, and proposed five new amendments in lieu: 10B, on the provision of other forms of affordable housing besides Starter Homes; 47B, on local authorities retaining part of the proceeds from the sale of high value council homes to build replacement affordable housing, including, according to amendment 47C, homes for social rent; as well as 97B, on neighbourhood right of appeal against planning permission, and 109B, on affordable housing contributions to small scale developments. These amendments were sent back to the Commons the following week, and on Monday 9 May they rejected them again, while conceding new amendments to energy performance and drainage. Tuesday they were back with the Lords, who withdrew new amendments 10B on Starter Homes, 97D on neighbourhood planning, 108 on carbon compliance and 110D on drainage, but narrowly insisted on proposed new amendment 47E on the proceeds of high value council housing. On Wednesday the Commons again, and for the last time, rejected amendment 47E, and later that same day, after a further warning from the Prime Minister, the Lords finally withdrew the last of their 13 amendments. The following day, Thursday 12 May, the Bill received Royal Assent.

The week-long stalemate between the House of Commons and the House of Lords is known in Parliamentary parlance as ‘Ping Pong’; but rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic would be a more accurate description of its bearing on the outcome. If the two Houses had not reached consensus over the final text of the Bill before the State Opening of Parliament on 18 May, the Government could have invoked the Parliament Act and forced the Bill through in its original form, without any of the Lords amendments. The Minister had hinted at this threat with his repeated reminders to the Lords that the Bill was part of the Government’s election manifesto and therefore has a democratic mandate. So now, after seven months of debate – first through its two readings in the House of Commons, then a month in the Public Bill Committee, then again in the report to and final reading in the Commons, then for two readings in the House of Lords, a further month in Committee, another report to and final reading in the Lords, back again to the Commons, and then back and forth between Lords and Commons – the Housing and Planning Bill has not changed in any significant way since it was first read in the House of Commons on 13 October, 2015.

Against hopes if not expectations, the Right to Buy will be extended to housing associations, adding to the 40 per cent of council homes lost to Right to Buy that are now being rented out by private landlords. On the pretence of paying for this, local authorities will be forced to sell council homes that become vacant if they are deemed high value according to a threshold that is still to be determined by secondary legislation, but is thought to be around £400,000 for a 2-bedroom home in London, and will apply to nearly 113,000 council homes in England. A total of 214,000 households earning over £40,000 in Greater London and £31,000 in England, rather than the originally proposed £30,000, will be forced to pay market rates to stay in their council homes, but these thresholds will now be based on the incomes of the main two household earners, not include child or housing benefits, and be raised in line with inflation, with a taper of 15p in every pound over the threshold rather than the proposed 20p. Secure tenancies will not be passed from parent to child and new council tenancies will be for 2-5 years. The obligation to build state-subsidised Starter Homes for sale at 80 per cent of market rate on 20 per cent of new housing developments will be an enforceable duty that supersedes any requirement to build affordable housing, including homes for social rent, under Section 106 agreements, but their resale after 5 years at full market price will now be regulated by a taper to be determined, once again, by secondary legislation. And planning permission in principle will be granted to any housing development on sites entered on a statutory register of brownfield land that will include existing local authority housing estates. Following Royal Assent the Housing and Planning Act is the new law of the land, to be implemented by central and local government, and enforceable by the cops and the courts. So much for Parliamentary democracy.

Kill the Housing Bill

Few of us, perhaps, who have read this Bill and watched the Government use every dirty trick in the house to curtail Parliamentary scrutiny of its legislation, expected anything else. Following the constitutional reform on English votes for English laws, the Housing and Planning Bill could draw on a majority of around 90 MPs whenever a vote was required to push it through to the next stage. More damagingly, though, what popular opposition there has been to the Bill in the housing sector, which coalesced around the Kill the Housing Bill campaign at the end of last year, has been almost entirely devoted to influencing the passage of the Bill through this Parliamentary process: first through lobbying Members of Parliament, then through lobbying the House of Lords, and through any number of marches and demonstrations to and outside Parliament. At all of these, however, from the initial demonstration outside Parliament on 5 January to the march to Downing Street on 30 January, a second march to Parliament on 13 March, and another protest outside Parliament on 3 May, plus the various meetings in town halls and lobbies in Parliament, Labour politicians of every rank, from Councillors and Cabinet Members for Housing to MPs all the way up to John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn, have been invited to add their voice to the Kill the Housing Bill campaign’s opposition to the Bill – or at least, to those aspects of the Bill that are not being directly implemented by Labour Councils.

This is hardly surprising, since the organisations leading the Kill the Housing Bill campaign are all supporters of, and in some cases supported by, the Labour Party. Whether Defend Council Housing, the Socialist Workers Party, the Radical Housing Network, Unite Housing Workers, the People’s Assembly, Momentum, and all the other organising groups would agree with this statement in theory is irrelevant. In practice they have consistently placed their criticisms of the Bill in the mouths of invited Labour Party spokespersons, and their opposition to its legislation outside Parliament has conformed in every aspect to that of the Labour Party inside. It’s difficult to come up with any other reason for the continued absence from the campaign’s literature and press releases – and even from its name – of anything about the Bill’s legislation on planning, which has been written specifically to extend the estate regeneration programmes that are being aggressively pursued by Labour Councils in Southwark, Lambeth, Lewisham, Newham, Hackney, Haringey, Islington, Camden, Walworth, Hammersmith and Fulham, and across Greater London.

The consequences of this duplicity are growing increasingly apparent. As activists for the Labour Party’s carefully circumscribed opposition to the Bill, rather than the grass-roots campaigners they claim to be, the Kill the Housing Bill campaign has spent the past five months turning its back on the numerous estate resident campaigns that have been fighting the demolition of their homes by Labour Councils. To take only one example of many, at Lambeth Labour Council’s Cabinet decision in March to demolish Cressingham Gardens, the large protest by residents that saw Cabinet members barracked from the meeting hall lacked any support from either the Kill the Housing Bill campaign or members of its constituent groups, including Lambeth Momentum. Again, this is not surprising. Any campaigner who went onto an estate currently under threat of demolition by Labour Council regeneration schemes and told residents to vote Labour would find themselves identified not as the defenders of council housing they imagine themselves to be, but as apologists for the Labour Party’s ongoing attack on working-class homes. Since 2000, over 100 council-built estates have gone, or are going through, full or partial demolition regeneration schemes in London. The Housing and Planning Act will increase that number many times over. And the tens of thousands of residents whose homes these schemes threaten know whose logo is on their demolition notices, and for the overwhelming majority of them it isn’t that of the Tory Party.

That the Kill the Housing Bill campaign, despite this, has repeatedly invited Labour politicians to speak at marches, demonstrations and meetings supposedly organised to oppose the Bill represents, perhaps, just another in the long line of betrayals of the working class that make up the history of the Labour Party. But as a result of this betrayal, five months of fruitless lobbying and placing their opposition to the Bill in the service of the Labour Party has left the Kill the Housing Campaign back where it started. It would be wrong to say, however, that it has achieved nothing. It has wasted the time and energy of what popular opposition there was to this Bill on marches, meetings, lobbies and farcical stunts like the recent ‘sleep-out’ in solidarity with the homeless that was little more than a photo-opportunity for the invited Labour politicians. It has represented this Bill’s national assault on the working class as a disagreement in housing policy between two Parliamentary parties. It has refused to draw attention to any aspect of the Bill that implicates the Labour Party in its implementation, and in particular to the changes to planning legislation that will have the most direct consequences for London’s council estates. And most damaging of all, in doing so it has alienated the greatest source of resistance to this Bill for the sake of allegiance to a Party and faith in a Leader who has not only failed to make any statement condemning Labour Council estate regeneration schemes, but whose only response to the mass destruction of working class homes and communities that is happening now is to promise to build more council homes when – or more accurately if – he is elected in four years’ time.

One thing, nevertheless, has become clear from the seven months of Parliamentary debate and five months of wasted campaigning: and that is that any opposition to this Act that aligns itself with the Labour Party, as the Kill the Housing Bill campaign has done from the start, is doomed to parliamentary ping-pong. The fun and games are over, the marches and demonstrations and playing at politics, both inside and outside of Parliament. The real political practice starts now.

The Agents of Change

So let’s start again. And let’s start by distancing ourselves from any organisation that implicitly or otherwise supports the Labour Party and its complete failure to avert the disasters either of the Housing and Planning Act or of the mass demolition of the social housing that is still home to 3.9 million households in England. That means distancing ourselves from the Kill the Housing Bill campaign and all those who will, no doubt, continue to lobby, protest, march and fall in line behind its obedience to the Labour Party. We need to stop asking the people and institutions that want to demolish our homes to give us the means to stop them doing so, and start organising our own resistance on the ground. And let’s begin again by recognising that the greatest source of opposition and resistance to the Housing and Planning Act and the estate demolition programmes it serves are not to be found in Parliament and the consciences of landlords, life peers, hereditary millionaires and company CEOs, but on council estates and with the hundreds of thousands of working class residents whose homes and lives they threaten.

Architects for Social Housing works specifically with resident campaigns fighting the demolition of their homes through estate regeneration schemes. We design architectural alternatives to demolition that increase the number of homes on an estate through infill and build-over. By setting a percentage of these aside for private rent or sale we generate the funds to refurbish the existing homes, and in doing so we provide a way for the communities they house to continue to live together. In addition to this design work, we work closely with residents’ campaigns, sharing information about the regeneration process and what Government housing policy means for them. Over the past year we have pursued this approach with Knight’s Walk, part of the Cotton Gardens estate in Lambeth, where our proposals forced the council to consider alternatives to full demolition and ultimately helped saved half the homes; with Central Hill estate, also in Lambeth, whose residents have proposed our designs as an alternative to the Council’s plans to demolish all 456 of their homes; and with West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates in Hammersmith and Fulham, where our designs are part of the residents’ application for the Right to Transfer their 760 homes to a community-owned, resident-controlled housing association. All three of these estates are, or were, under threat of full demolition by Labour Council regeneration schemes.

But we have a problem. As the resistance to their plans has grown, councils have stopped even pretending to listen. The People’s Plan, a 350-page document drawn up by the residents of Cressingham Gardens estate, was dismissed by Lambeth Labour Council out of hand and its authors, despite having the backing of over 80 per cent of residents, have been branded as trouble-makers and bullies unrepresentative of the estate as a whole. Architects for Social Housing received a similar response to the recent presentation of our design proposals to the Central Hill estate resident engagement panel. Following a concerted smear campaign against us in the press, only a single Lambeth Council officer bothered to turn up to our presentation. Across London the consultation process, such as it is, is being reduced to little more than a formal minimum as residents unanimously reject the justifications for the demolition of their homes. On the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates there has been no communication between residents and the council for nearly two years. Tenants and leaseholders alike are beginning to realise that steering committees, resident engagement panels, regeneration surgeries, overview and scrutiny committees, cabinet meetings, and all the other consultation structures supposedly set up by the council to listen to residents’ opinions are in fact there to silent their opposition. The more residents withdraw from these structures and start creating their own, the stronger their voices grow.

None of these resident campaigns is political in the conventional sense of the word. Their contempt for the Labour Party that has abandoned them is as total as it is for the Conservative Government. But over the course of our involvement with their campaigns we have watched residents’ growing politicisation – not to the ping-pong of Parliamentary politics but to the properly political practice of the communities which, under force of necessity, they come to form. And from working with these communities we’ve come to realise what many housing campaigners already know: that there are few stronger motivations to direct action than that of a single mother with two children fighting for her home. It is not by chance that so much of the current form of resistance to the social cleansing of London began with the Focus E15 Mothers, who in August 2013 took it upon themselves to act upon their situation when threatened with being forcibly moved out of London by Newham Labour Council. A year later they initiated a political occupation of the Carpenters Estate, where 600 council homes had stood empty for years since being decanted preparatory to their demolition and redevelopment. If the members of the Kill the Housing Bill campaign left their marches and demonstrations with Labour politicians and worked with residents in their fight to save their homes from Labour councils, they would know that here are the agents of change that will ultimately determine whether this cross-party attack on the working class will succeed or be defeated. Against first appearances, perhaps, certainly against their denigration by Government propaganda in the national press, and most definitely in opposition to the dismissive judgements made about them, their families and their homes by Labour Councils, these are the avant-garde of the movement we must set in motion.

After a year of attending council meetings and listening to council lies, residents know more about estate regeneration and what it means for them than any activist or academic. It is from them that we need to take our lead. In return, they need the support of housing campaigners, political activists, squatters and eviction resistance groups. They need the expertise and skills of lawyers, academics, architects, quantity surveyors, engineers, planners and even developers. They need the financial support of the unions and other organisations with access to funds. They need the solidarity not only of residents on other estates threatened with regeneration programmes, but also of other campaigns of resistance to the dismantling of the welfare estate by this Government, whether librarians, doctors, students, people with disabilities or union members. What they don’t need is to hear more lies from the Labour Party and its activists, or to see the struggle for their homes turned into an excuse for its complicity in the social cleansing of London. Again, if members of the Kill the Housing Bill campaign left their meetings and lobbies with Labour politicians and attended the endless panels, committees, surgeries and consultations with local authorities that residents do, they would know that here are the all-too-willing implementers of the end of social housing – not, as they falsely claim, under duress from Government cuts and the Housing and Planning Act, but in full collaboration with its policy of the social cleansing of our communities.

Building Resistance

So let’s begin again. And let’s start by putting the communities that live on council estates at the heart of our resistance, because at the moment few of them know what’s coming their way. If they’ve heard, by now, of the Government’s Housing and Planning Act, and might have read about its plans to ‘Blitz’ a hundred so-called sink estates, it’s still doubtful they’ve heard of the scale of the regeneration programme being drawn up by real estate firm Savills, given legitimacy by think-tanks like the Institute of Public Policy Research and Future of London, promoted by the London Housing Commission and New London Architecture, enacted by the London Land Commission and the London Mayor, financed by builders like Taylor Wimpey, Barrat and Berkley, supported by property developers like Barclays, Lend Lease and Capco, administered by housing associations like Peabody, Notting Hill Housing Trust and London and Quadrant, ratified by the Conservative Government, and then, only then, implemented by the predominantly Labour Councils the residents of these estates elected to power.

Open Garden Estates is an initiative by Architects for Social Housing designed to counter this lack of information. Piloted last year on the three estates we were working with, it was an opportunity for campaigns to galvanise fellow residents into resistance, publicise the struggle to save their homes, and invite people from the local community and beyond onto the estate. The aim was to help banish the myth of council estates as concrete jungles that are home to anti-social behaviour and crime, and show them to be what they are – some of the last instances of community living left in London, and perhaps the only remaining places where the mixed communities we hear so much about in the speeches of politicians have a chance to survive the encroachment of gated ghettos of predominantly white, middle-class wealth. This year, with funding from a charitable trust and in collaboration with the Revolutionary Communist Group, Open Garden Estates is expanding its reach. We currently have ten campaigns signed up to host the event, which is also part of the London Festival of Architecture, and we hope to have more by the time it happens over the weekend of 18-19 June. Our aim, this year, is to reach as many residents with as much information as we can about what the housing policies of this Government, the new London Mayor and their local authority will mean for their homes, and how they can start to build their resistance.

Our current advice to estate residents, which has been arrived at by residents themselves through their own struggle, but which is supported by advice from housing and leasehold lawyers, is that collective resistance by leaseholders forcing Councils to issue compulsory purchase orders against them is one of the most effective ways to resist estate regeneration and potentially save the homes of all residents, leaseholders and council tenants alike. It costs the Councils considerable sums in legal fees, allows residents to question the consultation process at public inquiries and judicial reviews, put forward alternative architectural designs for refurbishment and argue that they better represent the needs of the local community, and delays developers’ demolition plans by years, costing them large amounts of money. It also casts an illuminating light on the Plato’s cave of illusions in which the public is imprisoned by the media and its representation of what is happening to housing in this country. If we can show every leaseholder on every estate in London why they should do this, and why every council tenant on their estate should support them, then the Conservative Government, Labour Councils, and all the other 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.

We need to remember at every step that there is no housing crisis except the one being driven by the boom in the London property market, and we need to make it both financially and politically unviable for the businessmen and politicians running this city to realise their plans to build investment opportunities for offshore capital on the land our homes stand on. The police have immunity to beat up as many protesters as they like, and councils are happy to pick off tenants one by one; but we need to test their ability to evict an entire community in which the public, despite the denigration of working class lives in our national media, 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 social housing we are facing. 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. This isn’t about a choice between the Conservative Party and the Labour Party, as liberals too terrified to face the truth like to think: this is a fight between monopoly capitalism and its subjects. Resistance begins at home.

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing

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Cressingham Gardens: Pilot workshop on open spaces

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Over the weekend of 13-14 June, as part of Open Garden Estates, ASH undertook a pilot workshop at Cressingham Gardens run by Georgie and Emily from Attic. This was focused on Cressingham’s extensive green spaces and gave us a chance to be briefed by residents and members of the Save Cressingham Gardens campaign, and begin talking with others about important parts and issues on the estate as well as understanding their own involvement with the campaign.

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During the afternoon older kids experimented with photographing (above), filming and recording various parts of Cressingham, and ASH were given a tour by a resident of 9 years in his electric wheelchair to plot out potential new access routes.

The last part of the workshop was a frantic but very enjoyable drawing session with the very youngest residents, maybe not a ‘consultation’ in itself,  but sessions like this are are hugely valuable in understanding dynamics, how residents use the estate currently, and most simply in providing an activity for kids, over which parents can talk, discuss resisting demolition, learn more about the campaign if they were new to the community or in one case just meet their neighbours for the first time.

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Central Hill: Open Garden Estates

Central Hill participated in Open Garden Estates on the 13th June, hosting walking tours of the estate, a barbecue, Marxist puppet show, seed planting and plenty of discussion!

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The walking tours were very popular, with approximately 100 people talking part on the tours. ASH exhibited some of the posters they had been working on relating to Lambeth’s policies and housing issues.

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ASH member Senaka Weeraman presented blue plaques he had made for Ted Hollamby and Rosemary Sternstadt, architects of the estate.

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