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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Housing Crisis or Capitalist Crisis? ASH Presentation at the Platypus Society European Conference 2018

The questions we were posed for possible discussion on this panel, even if I were qualified to try and answer them all, would take up the rest of this day at least. So I want to focus on just one question, which I think is coming into sharper focus in the UK, and which relates most closely to what have been ASH’s attempts to propose alternatives to London’s estate regeneration programme. This question is:

‘Why does capitalism appear to produce a housing crisis? And can it be solved in capitalism?’

I chose this question, first, because by proposing that our current housing crisis has been produced it refuses the discourse of ‘crisis’ by which we have been paralysed, and which has made us accept, uncritically and without question, the ‘solutions’ proposed to solve this ‘crisis’, rather than challenging the ends to which it has been produced. One only has to recall that the same terminology has been applied to the financial crisis, the deficit crisis, the benefits crisis, the NHS crisis, the education crisis, the population crisis and (the mother of all crises) the environmental crisis to understand something about how this discourse acts as an instrument of privatisation.

But I also chose this question because it questions the extent to which the so-called solutions to the housing ‘crisis’ are in fact producing and reproducing the very crisis they have been proposed in order to ‘solve’, and in doing so understands our housing crisis not as a failure of capitalism at this particular instant of that seemingly eternally recurring crisis to which it has been doomed almost since its inception, but rather as the instrument of capitalism’s latest colonisation of what housing activists inaccurately describe as a ‘human right’. Indeed, if we wish to understand the mutation capitalism is undergoing as it shifts on its global axis, we could do worse than examine London’s housing ‘crisis’.

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Social Housing Scrutiny Project: ASH Presentation to Haringey Council Housing and Regeneration Scrutiny Panel

On 29 November 2017, at the invitation of Christian Scade, the Principal Scrutiny Officer at Haringey council, Geraldine Dening of ASH made the following presentation to the cross-party Housing and Regeneration Scrutiny Panel. In attendance were Labour Councillor Emine Ibrahim, Chair of the Panel, Labour Councillor Zena Brabazon, Liberal Democrat Councillor Gail Engert, and Liberal Democrat Councillor Martin Newton, all of whom are Members of the Panel. During the summer the Panel had set up a high-level social housing review focusing on national, regional and local issues. The terms of reference for this review are as follows:

  1. To consider attitudes towards social housing, both in Haringey and further afield.
  2. To review the supply and quality of social housing in Haringey with consideration given to both new and older housing across the borough.
  3. To identify barriers in current regional and national housing policy to enable consideration of what Haringey’s lobbying priorities should be around social housing.
  4. To identify key indicators that enable social interventions of estate regeneration to be measured, ensuring existing communities get the greatest possible benefit from changes to their neighbourhoods.
  5. To identify opportunities for residents so they can contribute fully to the delivery of objectives outlined in the Council’s Housing Strategy (2017-22), including monitoring of progress.

The Panel, which is similar to a Select Committee at national level, hoped to receive evidence from a wide range of sources, including professional experts, academics, local residents, council officers, external partners, the voluntary sector and local resident associations. This will be used to develop recommendations, and a report, to be published in March 2018, will include the ASH presentation as part of the evidence pack. Other presentations to the panel were made by Dr. Lisa Mckenzie, Lecturer in Practical Sociology at Middlesex University, and Brian Robson, Policy and Research Manager at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

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Battle of Ideas: Reform or Revolution in Housing?

On Saturday, 28 October, as part of the Barbican’s Battle of Ideas festival, ASH was part of a panel debate titled Housing: Reform or Revolution? The rest of the panel was composed of Patrik Schumacher, the Principle at Zaha Hadid Architects, who the previous year, at a speech at the World Architecture Festival, had called for estates in Inner London to be demolished to make way for more productive people and their ‘amazing multiplying events’; Kath Scanlon, Assistant Professorial Research Fellow at the London School of Economics, who the same year co-authored a report commissioned by the Berkeley Group recommending their estate redevelopment, Kidbrooke Village, as an example of why London’s housing should be taken out of the control of local authorities and placed in the hands of private developers; Lisa Taylor, Chief Executive of Future London, a policy network which the previous year had published a report recommending that demolishing and redeveloping council estates was one of the keys to addressing London’s housing crisis; and James Woudhuysen, Visiting Professor at London’s South Bank University, who in 2006 on the BBC Breakfast Show had argued that recycling was a symptom of an ‘authoritarian state’ and accused the Green Party of being ‘reactionary’ and ‘anti-human’. This is the text of ASH’s presentation.

1. Reform or revolution?

I want to start with the title of this event: reform or revolution, and look at what this opposition means in practice through a recent image of a new housing development. The image is an advert for the NX Gate apartments in New Cross. It shows a young woman in what I guess advertising executives would call a state of excitement, over which are written the words: ‘The rental revolution is here! Rent from £300 per week’. Developed by Realstar Living, NX Gate rents 2-bedroom apartments from £1,525 per month, not including the numerous service charges. Just down the road from this new development is the Achilles Street estate, where a 2-bedroom council flat costs £414 per month, nearly a quarter as much. Despite this, Lewisham council has plans to demolish this estate and redevelop it along the same lines as NX Gate, making it just one of over 190 such estates that have recently undergone, are undergoing, or are threatened with redevelopment, privatisation and social cleansing by London’s estate regeneration programme. In case we don’t know at whom this ‘revolution’ is being marketed, the Rightmove advert for NX Gate indicates that the new development is 10 minutes from Cannon Street and 12 minutes from Canary Wharf, with Goldsmiths College just around the corner.

In short, the ‘revolution’ in housing is a marketing gimmick, aimed at young bankers looking to buy and international students looking to rent with the bank of mum and dad. So let’s look at the reality behind this gimmick.

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Sustainable Estates: ASH Presentation at the Centre for Alternative Technology (Part 2)

Part 2 of ASH’s presentation at the conference on Housing Justice, held at the Centre for Alternative Technology as part of the Small is Beautiful festival in Machynlleth, Wales, 8-11 June, 2017.

‘Economics’, meaning the management of a community’s resources, including those of the household, and ‘ecology’, the study of the relationships between organisms and their physical environment, are both derived from the Greek word oikos, meaning ‘household’. Rather than worship at the altar of regeneration, where communities are sacrificed to the demands of profit, we need to realign our understanding of economics with the notion of sustainability – at the centre of which is the household. Sustainability is the interrelationship of the economy, our communities and the environment.

Contrary to what we are constantly told, housing estates are neither inherently flawed in their design and construction, nor come to the end of their natural lifespan. Rather, through the process of managed decline, estates such as Central Hill in Crystal Palace have been deliberately run down by the local authority, in this case Lambeth Labour council. The resulting state of disrepair is then cited by those same authorities to support their argument that there is no alternative to demolition and redevelopment. The subsequent demonisation of council housing by the media as places of crime and anti-social behavior leads to the wider cultural acceptance of the estate demolition programme by the general public.

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11 Myths about London’s Housing Crisis: ASH Presentation at the Centre for Alternative Technology (Part 1)

Part 1 of ASH’s presentation at the conference on Housing Justice, held at the Centre for Alternative Technology as part of the Small is Beautiful festival in Machynlleth, Wales, 8-11 June, 2017.

One of the biggest obstacles to coming up with sustainable solutions to the housing crisis is that almost everything said about the crisis by the people charged with solving it – knowingly or otherwise – is wrong. On Friday night one of the performers sang a folk song about the poverty of weavers, and I was reminded that I’d recently read that by the early Twentieth Century the English cotton industry produced enough cloth to make a suit of clothes for every man, woman and child on the planet – yet England itself didn’t grow cotton. The raw material came from plantations in the United States of America – a legacy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade – was woven into cloth by Lancashire weavers, then exported across the world to colonial markets. Yet the only people to make a profit from the cotton’s circulation in what was already a global economy were the British capitalists – the one link in this chain that did none of the labour to produce it. And against the use-value of the clothes as a product, the scale of its production meant its exchange-value as a commodity allowed British capital to undercut and ultimately destroy thousands of local textile industries across the globe. This is an example of the genius of monopoly capitalism, which today has become almost universally accepted as a universal good. It should remind us that capitalism not only produces markets and goods, it also produces myths about itself. In proposing solutions to the housing crisis, therefore, it’s important to understand and dispel its myths, which as products of our neo-liberal ideology are not deviations from the truth, not misunderstandings of the truth, but deliberate productions of the opposite of the truth. Here are eleven myths about London’s housing crisis.

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15 Truths About London’s Housing Crisis: ASH Presentation to the Architectural League of New York (Part 1)

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ASH Presentation to the Architectural League of New York (Part One)

London is experiencing a housing crisis, unprecedented in its severity, whose solution demands taking tough decisions. An already densely populated island is predicted to see a major increase in population, and nowhere more so than in its capital. An influx of migrants and refugees will push Greater London’s population up from its current peak of 8.6 million to approaching 10 million by 2020. Land in London is scarce and correspondingly some of the most expensive in the world. The building industry is ready to take up the challenge and build the homes that Londoners need. But they need land.

Although large in expanse, London housing is low in density. Following the population decline in the 1950s and 60s, poorly designed Brutalist council estates were hastily erected across the city, replacing London’s traditional terraces with high-rise but low-density tower blocks. However, intrinsic design flaws and poor build standards have inevitably given rise to anti-social behaviour, crime, drug dealing and even rioting.

But there is a solution. Independent think-tanks have all arrived at the same conclusion: that here, on these sink estates, lies the brownfield land developers need to meet London’s housing demands. In place of housing estates come to the end of their life span we need to build new city villages. In place of high-rise and low-density we need to build medium-rise high-density housing on London’s traditional street plan. In place of hastily erected, pre-fabricated concrete blocks we need to build high-quality, low-energy homes that will last for generations.

Under central government cuts necessitated by a program of fiscal austerity, local authorities are working to get the best deal for existing residents, while at the same time building the homes that that will enable a new generation of Londoners to get onto the city’s property ladder. In close consultation with estate communities, the architectural profession is already designing homes to the highest standard. And the architectural press, vigilant to the ethical dimension of the profession, is reporting on London’s transition to a fairer, more inclusive, less segregated, more multicultural city of mixed communities, while celebrating the emergence of a new London vernacular in architecture.

According to the National Centre for Social Research, 86 per cent of the British population wants to own their own home. To this end, the government has promised a multi-billion pound investment programme to build up to 50 per cent affordable housing on every new development; and the London Mayor has committed to building 50,000 new homes a year for the next five years, doubling the current rate of completion. Backed by the foreign investment a post-Brexit UK needs to be competitive, the private sector will create the new communities London needs to thrive in the Twenty-first Century. By cutting through the red tape of bureaucratic planning requirements, the Government’s Housing and Planning Act is the first step towards this vision of a new London. In this historic undertaking, the architectural profession is ready to take a leading role.

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This – more or less – is the narrative to which every politician, councillor, builder, property developer, housing association, marketing consultant, real estate agent, academic, journalist and architect in London has subscribed and repeats pretty much verbatim and certainly ad infinitum. The truth, however, is something very different. Here are fifteen truths about London’s so-called housing crisis.

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