Sustainable Estates: Central Hill, West Kensington, Gibbs Green and Patmore

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.

Your Central Hill Estate

Above left is a photograph tweeted by the local ward councillor and former Lambeth Cabinet Member for Housing, claiming that mould is one of the reasons Central Hill estate must be demolished. While to the right is a photograph tweeted by PRP, Lambeth’s chosen architectural practice, accompanied with the question: ‘Would you walk down this alleyway?’ In response to this concerted campaign of denigration, here is ASH’s alternative narrative confronting the propaganda of estate demolition with an alternate narrative of estate living:

These last two slides were taken on Central Hill estate at a yearly event ASH organises called Open Garden Estates, which a dozen estates across London hosted last year. Open Garden Estates is designed to challenge the negative propaganda around council estates by inviting the public to visit, walk around and meet the resident communities. It’s also an opportunity for residents to organise and promote their campaigns of resistance to demolition, as well as make contact with other estate communities facing the same threat to their homes.

Case Study 1: Central Hill Estate

To explore what a sustainable future for our housing estates might look like, ASH has spent the last two years working with residents on estates, investigating the social, economic and environmental consequences of estate regeneration, and proposing design alternatives to demolition. Ultimately, we propose ways of improving the homes, landscape and community facilities on the existing estate by providing options for building additional housing on the land without demolishing a single home or evicting a single resident. The plans we produce are put forward by the residents as part of their campaigns to save their homes. We call this model ‘Resistance by Design’.

Central Hill estate in Crystal Palace, south London, was designed by Ted Hollamby and Rosemary Stjernstedt in the 1960s around the existing trees and steep landscape. It is made up of pedestrian ‘ways’ off which pairs of stacked maisonettes are arranged across the hillside, with every home having a view of London to the north, and a courtyard to the south. The estate was therefore designed in relationship both to the landscape and to the environment. The estate, which achieves a high density of housing unusual for such a low-rise estate, is very popular with the residents, who enjoy the variety of private and outdoor spaces. Central Hill contains 472 homes, ranging from 1-bedroom studios to 6-bedroom houses, all of which have been condemned for demolition by Lambeth Labour council. In opposition to this decision, ASH’s proposal retains and refurbishes all the existing homes, keeps as many of the existing trees as possible, while making necessary improvements to the landscape and community facilities, all paid for by the rent or sale of a proportion of the new homes.

ASH’s proposal identifies the potential for between 200 and 240 new homes on Central Hill estate, roughly 40 per cent of the existing estate. In the aerial view above, infill housing (in yellow) is built on unused and derelict sites. Roof extensions (in pink) consist of one or two additional lightweight, pre-fabricated floors on top of some of the existing flats. These are situated around the edges of the estate, where their additional heights will not obscure residents’ views. Any issues that residents may have with the layout or the design of the estate can also be addressed through refurbishment and other design interventions.

The chimneys of the long-abandoned boiler house in the north-eastern corner of the estate are retained, providing a new entry to the estate that celebrates the past as well as looking to the future. The existing concrete structure could be sustainably refurbished to accommodate low-cost workspace on the ground floors, and a new building above could provide up to 28 wheelchair-accessible flats without any negative impact on the neighbouring buildings.

New housing around the edge of the estate is designed to provide up to 50 new homes, improving access into the estate from the main road up to Crystal Palace. A relatively traditional terrace of houses along the road will formally link the estate into the surrounding street pattern.

Light-weight pre-fabricated roof extensions will respond sensitively to the qualities of the existing architecture, estate layout and landscape. At our request, Arups, the engineers for the original estate, provided some preliminary desktop analysis of the existing building structures, and established that it is quite possible to install one or two stories on top of many of the existing buildings. The flat roofs on the remaining homes would have new green roofs.

ASH commissioned Model Environments, a firm of environmental engineers, to produce a report estimating how much embodied carbon is locked into the buildings of Central Hill estate as well as the emissions associated with the energy required for their demolition. They concluded that ‘demolishing a housing estate of some 450 homes will exact a high carbon price on the environment and detracts greatly from London Borough of Lambeth’s contribution to tackling climate change. This report shows that a conservative estimate for the embodied carbon of Central Hill estate would be around 7000 tonnes of CO2 e. Those are similar emissions to those from heating 600 detached homes for a year using electric heating, or the emissions savings made by the London Mayor’s RE:NEW retro-fitting scheme in a year and a quarter.’

ASH also commissioned quantity surveyors Robert Martell and Partners to cost our proposals, who calculated that the construction of 242 new homes and the proposed community facilities, plus the refurbishment of the existing homes and landscape, would amount to around £75 million. If we assume a similar construction cost of around £250,000 per home, the notional cost of rebuilding the 472 existing homes Lambeth council wants to demolish comes to nearly £120 million. That’s before a single new home has been built. And this doesn’t take account of the highly complex site conditions which necessitated one of the most expensive estate projects of its time when originally built, or the significant costs of demolition, which as far back as 2003 the government estimated at £50,000 per home.

Case Study 2: West Kensington & Gibbs Green Estates

There is a direct relationship between who writes the briefs, who designs the master-plans, and the future of our estates. ASH believes the most sustainable approach to the future of our estates is addressed by those who live there and have a direct stake in its future. The brief written by residents of West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates in west London made explicit the social, economic and environmental conditions they wished to see in the design for their estate. This placed sustainability at the heart of their People’s Plan.

Residents from West Ken and Gibbs Green have been fighting for 8 years against the demolition of their homes by developer Capco, which has included the estates within their £1.2 billion Earls Court development. In September 2015, ASH was approached by the West Kensington and Gibbs Green Community Homes – a Community Land Trust set up by the residents – to produce a feasibility study for additional homes and community facilities, as well as refurbishment and improvements to the existing homes and landscape. This feasibility study is the basis of the residents’ current application for the Right to Transfer the estates from Hammersmith and Fulham Labour council into their own ownership and management.

West Kensington and Gibbs Green are two neighbouring estates of around 760 homes for around 2000 residents. Architecturally, they are composed of a diverse range of building types, from 4-bedroom family houses with gardens to medium-rise, 2-storey maisonettes around communal courtyards and 1- and 2-bed flats in 10-12-storey towers.

One of the first things ASH did was to organise walks around the estate led by the residents, inviting them to show how they used the estate and tell us about the area.

During these walks we were invited inside residents’ homes to get an understanding of each of the typical layouts and how they worked. It was also an opportunity to hear the residents talk about what their homes and the estate meant to them. This revealed one of the key issues at the heart of the current problem: namely, that these are people’s homes that are being destroyed – not simply units for sale or investment, not just commodities to be exchanged, but well-loved places of use, experience and memory.

Over the following months ASH conducted six design workshops that were attended by around 200 residents in total. These allowed us to get to know the residents and to hear what they wanted to see happen to the estate, with the first event specifically discussing what ‘home’ means for them. As we progressed, these workshops allowed us to use a diverse range of media to draw and test ideas with the residents. We also communicated issues like planning and other constraints, as well as our own design ideas, so that residents could get an understanding of the process and a true picture of the options available to them.

ASH took all the information obtained during the course of these workshops and located the comments on a large map. This map grew in size and detail as our knowledge increased and the project unfolded, with green indicating things residents liked about the estate, red for things they didn’t like, and blue for opportunities and solutions.

We also asked residents to draw their routes through the estate, onto which we overlaid views and access boundaries and finally a map, which located all the places which the residents and ASH had identified as locations for improvements, infill or roof extensions.

In response to the residents’ needs and wishes, which we had gathered over the course of around 3 months of workshops, ASH produced specific designs for each identified site, then exhibited these at an event attended by over 60 residents, who were responsible for both presenting and commenting upon the proposals.

ASH’s final design proposes around 250-330 new homes for the estate – an increase of around 40 per cent on the existing homes. These proposals include roof extensions (indicated in pink) and infill housing (shown in yellow), whose interventions were also able to address concerns residents had with the layout of the existing estate.

Refurbishments to the existing blocks included winter gardens and roof extensions to the tower blocks, roof gardens to the existing lower maisonettes, as well as improved insulation, ventilation and passive renewable energy strategies. In addition to a renovated playground, ASH proposed new single-storey housing for elderly and disabled residents, or those who are downsizing due to the bedroom-tax – among other reasons – or in need of supported accommodation. This should in turn free up the larger homes for families that are currently living in overcrowded accommodation elsewhere on the estate. We also proposed converting some of the currently underused garages into workshops, providing income for the estate, as well as low-cost workspaces for residents, also improving the social qualities of this outdoor space. And a new infill block adjacent to an existing tower would provide a new community space on the ground floor, which could open onto Franklin Square for community events.

ASH’s proposals have been costed and a viability assessment produced, and we are confident that the rent or sale of a number of the 250-330 new homes would enable all the remaining homes to be refurbished and all the proposed improvements to the landscape to be paid for. ASH’s model of our design proposals now remains with the residents, who use it to describe the project to visitors – in the photograph above to Green Party candidate for London Mayor, Siân Berry, who as a member of the Greater London Authority has been very supportive of the project.

Case Study 3: Patmore Estate

Adding additional homes to estates, which as these two proposals demonstrate allows an estate to grow in size in a more sustainable way than full demolition and redevelopment, is clearly a long-term project. However, it’s important that the short-term conditions of life on an estate are also addressed and improved where necessary. Severe under-investment, poor management and managed decline all contribute to an increased negative perception of estates both among the residents and in the wider area, facilitating the arguments for their demolition.

To address these issues on the Patmore Estate in Wandsworth, south-west London, ASH is working with the residents to come up with proposals for the refurbishment, re-use and re-appropriation of existing but under-used spaces around the estate. In doing so we hope to come up with a vision for the future of Patmore that helps put it proudly back on the map as the historical heart of the area.

The Patmore Estate is a council estate of around 860 homes owned by Wandswoth Conservative council and managed by the Patmore Cooperative. It currently sits in the Vauxhall, Nine Elms and Battersea Opportunity Area, the largest development site in London and, sitting across the Thames from Pimlico, on some of the most valuable land in the world.

Having returned an overwhelmingly positive response to a resident survey a few years ago, the estate is not immediately threatened with demolition. But given its location 100 yards or so from Battersea power station, which is being redeveloped into luxury properties, the estate is in a very vulnerable position. Despite Wandsworth council’s false claims to the contrary, most of the homes are still waiting for the upgrade of their kitchens and bathrooms to the Decent Homes Standard, the roofs are leaking, and all the estate’s community halls have been closed down or privatised over a number of years, depriving the community of both facilities and self-esteem. All of which begs the question: whose opportunity is the opportunity area serving?

Patmore estate is composed of 28 buildings of 3-6 stories arranged around well-designed and maintained courtyards containing children’s playgrounds and landscaped communal gardens. The buildings fall into 11 building types, ranging from terraces of maisonettes to larger L shaped blocks, and are distinguished by their use of materials and balconies.

We started by doing a survey of the existing buildings, meeting residents who showed us around their homes and hearing what they liked about living there as well as the things they thought could be improved. For each building type we identified both refurbishment issues that need to be addressed and heritage architectural elements to be celebrated. The checkerboard balconies are a strong motif that is repeated across the whole estate, and the entrance canopies are a unique and eclectic use of stone and steel.

It became clear that on top of the need for refurbishment of the existing buildings, there was also a need to address a more strategic and infrastructural lack of communal facilities, which currently prevents the estate residents from making the most of the estate, and in particular from coming together collectively. The removal of such facilities is a common tactic used by local authorities to shut communities down in preparation for the demolition of their homes. During the course of our meetings with the residents, residents have identified a whole range of communal activities and facilities they would like to see reinstated or which they are keen to initiate on the estate.

These spaces are already serviced, so could accommodate cooking facilities for the local food bank (which currently distributes on the street); provide a place where people could teach, learn, cook and eat; workshop facilities, dog grooming, recycling, children’s after school clubs, and simply meeting rooms for hire or events. These potential DIY spaces generally extend out from the front of the buildings, around the side in some cases and into the communal gardens, providing excellent opportunities for children to be play overseen, or areas for other outdoor activities. We believe that – more than the production of a report that will make the argument for proper investment in Patmore estate – it is through residents taking control of the future of their homes that the resistance to their demolition and the social cleansing of the community from the area will be most effective.

Over the past few years ASH has explored a number of different strategies for creating possible futures for our social and council housing in this country, and fought for it to be acknowledged as part of a sustainable city that people can afford and want to live in. Collectively, we must continue to argue that it is the sustainability of their communities that is critical to our cities, and that architecture is always political.

Architects for Social Housing

11 Myths about London’s Housing Crisis

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 does not only produce 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.

MYTH 1. London has a housing crisis

There is no housing crisis, if by ‘crisis’ we mean something that is out of our control. The shortage of housing and the corresponding boom in UK house prices and rents has been carefully prepared and legislated over a number of years to serve the interests and fill the pockets of those who have the most to gain from it, both politically and economically. Part of a wider discourse of crisis by which we are paralysed – including 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 – there is in actuality, rather than in the ideology of our society, a class war being waged through housing, and so far it is all going to plan. Far from being out of control, the so-called ‘housing crisis’ is well in hand.

FACTS. The estimated total value of the housing stock in England in January 2017 was £6.8 trillion, having increased by £1.5 trillion in the last three years alone. Equivalent to 3.7 times the gross domestic product of the UK, and nearly 60 per cent of the UK’s entire net wealth, the housing market now constitutes an economy in itself. £1.7 trillion of that housing stock is in London. According to this year’s Sunday Times Rich List, 26 of the 100 wealthiest people in the UK listed property as a major source of their wealth; while among the richest 1000 people in the UK there are 164 property moguls with a combined wealth of £143.7 billion. More than 100,000 UK land titles are registered to anonymous companies in British oversees territories like the Virgin Islands. Transparency International has been unable to identify the real owners of more than half of the more than 44,000 land titles registered to oversees companies, but 9 out of 10 of the properties were bought through tax havens. As an example of which, in 1 St. George (above), part of the Vauxhall, Nine Elms and Battersea opportunity area, 131 of the 210 apartments are owned by foreign investors, with a quarter held through offshore companies based in tax havens. Nobody is registered to vote in 184 of the properties.

MYTH 2. We need to build more homes to meet housing demand

The housing shortage is a crisis not of supply but of affordability. 56 per cent of London homes failing to meet this criterion in Shelter’s new Living Home Standard. In a survey published in the Guardian in February 2014, it is the high cost of housing, the lack of council housing and the excessive rents charged by private landlords that are the three biggest concerns for residents.

FACTS. London house prices have risen by 86 per cent since 2009, and at an average price of nearly £491,000 in January 2017 now cost fourteen-and-a-half times the average London salary of £33,720. In Inner London that price rises to £970,000. Home ownership in the UK peaked at 71 per cent in 2003 and has been declining ever since, with only 40 per cent of Londoners predicted to own their own home by 2025. Rents on London’s private market have risen by 9.6 per cent in the past two years alone to an average of £2,216 per month for a 2-bedroom home, double the national average. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation have predicted that over the next quarter of a century rents will rise at twice the rate of incomes, and renters will be twice as likely to live in poverty. As of September 2016, a total of 73,000 households in England, including 115,000 children, were living in temporary accommodation. In London alone, 250,000 households are currently on housing waiting lists, 240,000 households with 320,000 children are living in overcrowded accommodation, and 53,000 households with 78,000 children are homeless and living in temporary accommodation.

MYTH 3. Building more homes will push prices down

Building more homes does not push house and rental prices down. In May 2016 a study of US cities that increased their housing density showed that, rather than reducing demand and with it prices, it actually increased both. While the law of supply and demand describes competitive markets responding to human needs, London’s financialised housing market, flooded by global capital, is driven by profit margins. Building more properties for home ownership, Buy to Let and capital investment will only push house and rental prices up. Despite this, all the major political parties are agreed that a massive increase in house building is the solution to the housing crisis, with both the Conservative and Labour parties outbidding each other in their promises to build 1 million new homes over the next five years.

FACTS. According to the British Property Federation, 61 per cent of all new homes sold in London in 2013 were bought solely as an investment. Estimates by real estate firm Savills of London’s housing forecast over the next five years shows that for lower-prime properties (£1,320,000) there is a demand for 4,000 units and a supply of 6,500; for upper mainstream properties (£850,000) there is a demand for 7,000 and a supply of 9,000; for mid-mainstream properties (£490,000) there is a demand for 14,500 and a supply of 13,250; for lower mainstream properties (£315,000) there is a demand for 17,000 and a supply of just 100; and for sub-market rent properties there is a demand for 20,000 and a supply of 5,700, a shortfall of 14,300.

MYTH 4. There is a lack of land on which to build new homes

Far from there being a lack of land to build on, in December 2016 the top ten house builders in the UK were sitting on land with planning permission sufficient to build over 404,000 new properties, and held option agreements with landowners on enough land to build at least another 480,000. Land, not materials or labour, determines the value of property, and the less there is of it the more it costs, and the higher the price of the properties built on it.

FACTS. Contrary to what we’re constantly told, the UK is anything but crowded. 10 per cent of England’s land is classified as urban; just 2.27 per cent of that land is built upon, and only 1.1 per cent is used for homes. Twice as much land, nearly 2 per cent of England, is taken up by golf courses as by housing. Persimmon Homes, currently sitting on land for 92,400 homes, built just 5,171 new properties in 2016, yet its pre-tax profits have risen from £144 million in 2011 to £774.8 million in 2016. Taylor Wimpey, sitting on land for 77,805 homes, built 14,112 properties last year, and its pre-tax profits have risen from just £89.9 million in 2011 to £732.9 million in 2016. The Barratt Group, sitting on land for 71,351 homes, built just 7,180 properties in 2016, yet its pre-tax profits have risen from £42.7 million in 2011 to £565 million in 2016. And the Berkeley Group, sitting on land for 42,125 homes, built a mere 3,350 properties in 2016, yet its pre-tax profits have risen from £136.2 million in 2011 to £530.9 million in 2016. In total, the pre-tax profits of the four largest builders in the UK – who are also the four largest land-bankers – were over £2.6 billion in 2016, a more than six-fold increase in just five years; yet between them they built less than 30,000 homes in the UK last year.

MYTH 5. Council estates are breeding grounds for crime

There is no causal relationship between the architecture of post-war council estates and anti-social behaviour, drug dealing, crime or rioting, as both central government and local authorities claim as justification for their demolition and redevelopment. Housing poverty, cuts to benefits, lack of maintenance, closure of amenities, aggressive and racist policing and stereotypes propagated by our press and media are the cause of social problems on estates – not architecture.

FACTS. Crime rates on council estates are consistently lower than in the surrounding area. Since its regeneration after the 1985 riots, Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham has had one of the lowest crime rates of any urban area in the UK. In a survey of the estate’s residents in 2003, only 2 per cent said they considered the area unsafe, the lowest percentage for any area in London. The estate also has the lowest rent arrears of any part of the borough of Haringey. As the Indices of Deprivation 2015 interactive map shows (above), crime rates on the estate are in fact far lower than in surrounding areas where terraced housing predominates. Not only are estates not ‘breeding grounds’ for anti-social behaviour, crime and drug-dealing, but the close-knit communities that form within them significantly reduce crime rates. Yet Broadwater Farm has been targeted for demolition in the government’s Estate Regeneration National Strategy because of its proximity to the 2011 riots, and together with the Northumberland Park and Sky City estates it is to be redeveloped as part of the £2 billion ‘regeneration’ deal Haringey Labour council has made with international property developer Lendlease.

MYTH 6. Social housing is subsidised by the state

Far from being subsidised by the state, the rents on most post-war estates paid off the cost of their construction and debt interest years ago, and are in fact making a profit for councils and housing associations. It is the Right to Buy council homes, the Help to Buy shared ownership properties, the Housing Benefit paid to private landlords, the Homes and Community Agency and Greater London Authority grants for housing associations to build so-called affordable housing, the local authority funding for estate regeneration schemes, and the transfer of public land into private ownership that is being subsidised by public money – not council estates.

FACTS. 25 per cent of the nearly 2 million council homes purchased under the Right to Buy are now being rented out for significantly higher rents by private landlords. A report released in January 2013 revealed that in London 36 per cent of such homes were being rented back from private landlords by local authorities trying to house their ever increasing numbers of homeless constituents. A quarter of the people renting in the UK now rely on housing benefit to meet the cost of their accommodation, and in the year 2015-16 £20.9 billion of public money was spent on housing benefit in England alone. But with 20 per cent of homes now being privately rented compared to just 17 per cent social rented, and with private rents now double social rents in Britain, the bulk of that money goes straight into the pockets of private landlords. Meanwhile, over the next five years the Homes and Communities Agency has promised £4.1 billion for the Help to Buy 135,000 shared ownership homes on estate redevelopments like Woodberry Down (above). These subsidies are available to any household with an income up to £90,000 in London, or £80,000 in the rest of the UK. A further £350 million has been allocated for Rent to Buy. Nothing is available for homes for social rent.

MYTH 7. We need to build more affordable housing

So-called ‘affordable housing’ is unaffordable to the estate residents whose homes for social rent, at around 30 per cent of market rate, are being demolished to make way for it. Yet the election manifestos of the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green parties are all agreed that ‘affordable’ housing is the solution to the housing crisis. Not one manifesto mentions either building housing for social rent or stopping the loss of homes for social rent through estate demolition.

FACTS. Targeted by the London Mayor at 35 per cent of new developments, affordable housing now includes 25 per cent shared ownership on properties which in Inner London are selling for around £700,000 for a 2-bedroom home; rent at up to 80 per cent of market rate; and London Living rent at a third of the borough’s average household income with the additional obligation to save for a mortgage. This Living Rent equates to £680 per month per person in the borough of Haringey, £770 in Hackney, £895 in Lambeth, £950 in Southwark, and £1,170 in Tower Hamlets. Even then, not a single London borough met its affordable housing quotas in 2015, with just 13 per cent of new homes approved as such – a 24-year low – largely due to builders and developers claiming anything higher was ‘financially unviable’. In the year ending March 2016, just 6,550 homes for social rent were built in the whole of England.

MYTH 8. New-build developments are better quality

Far from being high quality, new developments are increasingly of significantly poorer quality than the estates demolished to make way for them. And rather than improving their living standards, studies show that estate redevelopment consistently has a negative effect on the mental, physical and economic well being of residents, with housing costs dramatically increased for those who are re-housed, and communities increasingly socially cleansed from developments they cannot afford either to rent or buy.

FACTS. Solomon’s Passage in Peckham, built by Wandle, a housing association supported by the London Mayor, is being pulled down after only six years due to water damage. Orchard Village in Rainham, still being built on the demolished Mardyke estate by the Clarion Housing Group, is already facing demands by residents to be demolished because of its numerous failings. Portobello Square in Notting Hill is facing the same. And Oval Quarter in Brixton (above), where 503 properties for private sale and shared ownership were built on 305 demolished council homes on the Myatts Field North estate, has had residents complaining of numerous problems, including noise pollution, rodent infestation, faulty wiring, water leaks, a lack of hot water, a lack of internet and phone access, a lack of servicing that has been contracted out to private providers, a lack of facilities for residents with disabilities, numerous breaches of health and safety regulations, as well as being locked into 45 year contracts with private power company E.ON that has driven many of them into fuel poverty. While leaseholders offered on average £144,500 for their demolished homes have been unable to return to the new development, this month a 2-bedroom apartment in Oval Quarter was being advertised for £595,000.

MYTH 9. Estate refurbishment is financially unviable

Far from being financially unviable, the refurbishment of estates has repeatedly been demonstrated to cost a fraction of their redevelopment, with none of the damage to the environment caused by their demolition. Local authorities have not been forced to demolish estates because cuts to their budgets by central government mean they can’t afford to maintain them. Like austerity, London’s programme of estate demolition is a political choice, not an economic necessity.

FACTS. In the report commissioned by Southwark Labour council but not presented to the Cabinet in 2005, Levitt Bernstein Architects showed that, at around £186 million, the cost of refurbishing the Aylesbury estate in Camberwell up to the Decent Homes Standard was between 41 and 58 per cent that of the estimated cost of its demolition and redevelopment (above). Since then Southwark council has spent £46.8 million to acquire, demolish and redevelop a mere 112 of the estate’s 2,700 homes at a cost of £417,000 per home. This compares with the £20,260 per home the council has spent refurbishing 611 homes up to the Decent Homes Standard elsewhere on the estate.

MYTH 10. Estate regeneration is the solution to the housing crisis

Estate regeneration is not a solution to the housing crisis, it is producing that crisis. The motivation for demolishing and redeveloping estates is not the housing of London’s rising population at higher densities in more and better homes, but to provide investment opportunities for global capital and the enormous profits to be made from building high-value properties on some of the most valuable land in the world. Not only is there no housing crisis, but it’s not about housing.

FACTS. On the Silwood, Bermondsey Spa, Elmington, Wood Dene, Heygate, North Peckham and Aylesbury estates a net loss of 4,275 homes for social rent has resulted from Southwark Labour council’s regeneration programme. However, the 3,168 demolished homes for social rent it has promised to rebuild are in the process of being turned into ‘affordable’ rent, bringing the actual loss of homes for social rent to 7,442. In addition, the Greater London Authority has estimated that Southwark will lose an additional 2,051 homes for social rent as a direct result of regeneration schemes the council is currently proposing on the Old Kent Road opportunity area, making the loss of homes for social rent closer to 9,500. That’s in just one London borough. According to our own research, as of June 2017 there are 155 London housing estates that are under threat of demolition, privatisation or social cleansing by Labour councils alone (above).

MYTH 11. To increase their housing capacity estates must be demolished

Estates do not have to be demolished to increase their housing capacity. Through our design alternatives for infill and roof extensions on Knight’s Walk, West Kensington, Gibbs Green, Northwold and Central Hill estates, Architects for Social Housing has shown that we can increase their housing capacity by up to 45 per cent without demolishing a single existing home or evicting a single resident, while at the same time generating the funds from the rent or sale of new builds to pay for the neglected refurbishment of the estate.

FACTS. Details of some of ASH’s design alternatives to demolition are discussed in the second part of our presentation, ‘Sustainable Estates’.

Architects for Social Housing

Clusterfuck! Labour’s Shameless Council Estate Rip-off

A version of this article by long-time ASH member Lolly Oii was first published in the new release of Class War, the most dangerous tabloid in Britain and the only paper that speaks to the working class about working-class struggle. We liked it so much we asked the author if we could publish it on the ASH blog and she said yes. This is one of the best summaries we’ve read about estate demolition, what it’s doing to our communities and who is responsible.

Well, where do we begin to untangle this clusterfuck of an issue? Yes, we know there’s a lot to blame Maggie for – introducing the ‘right to buy’ and blocking any cash generated by sales from being used to build new homes; but under carefully hidden layers there’s a lot more blame that actually falls directly at Labour’s feet. In 1997 Tony Blair and his asset-stripping cartel quietly started dismantling council housing using a two-part mechanism that was carried on by Gordon Brown and is continued to this day by Labour-run town halls.

A few hours after winning the 1997 election, Blair turned up at the Heygate Estate near Elephant and Castle to make his inaugural speech (packed full of lies) promising to help the so-called ‘forgotten people’ living on council estates. The only people Blair actually helped were the banks, property developers, housing associations and Oxbridge graduates who dominate council-estate and housing-trust management and policy papers. This privileged elite have asset-stripped our council housing and displaced the working class while making obscene personal fortunes in the process.

On 15 April, 2011, the lies of Blair’s inaugural speech unravel as the demolition of the Heygate Estate gets started. 1,212 council homes are destroyed, including those of 189 short-changed leaseholders, scattering a working-class community of over 3,000 to the four winds. Southwark Labour council’s leader, Peter John, sold the 25-acre estate to the notorious global property developers Lendlease for a paltry £50 million. It cost Southwark council £51.44m just to get rid of residents and demolish the buildings! Lendlease will generously be providing a total of 79 homes for social rent. Meanwhile, we suspect the total number of private homes built on the ruins of the Heygate will be quietly nudged up from the currently stated figure of 2,535 to create bigger profits.

So much for Blair’s ‘forgotten people’ speech. What happened at the Heygate was the mass social cleansing of a working-class community by a Labour council. This is being repeated all over London and beyond: handing over publicly-owned land and building homes for the rich to create huge profits for offshore property speculators, the middle class and the wealthy.

Labour’s Two-part Mechanism

Part One: A multi-billion-pound property giveaway

A council will deliberately withhold repairs and maintenance on an estate – called ‘managed decline’ – to create a reason to push through the ‘stock transfer’ of that estate to a housing association or trust, without any caveats safeguarding tenants or publicly owned land. These housing associations have successfully lobbied the government to let them morph into hardcore predatory property developers, demolishing estates and displacing communities to rebuild mainly private housing, while reducing the level of social housing in the new developments. And it’s much easier for a housing trust to evict tenants than it is for a council.

Part Two: Regeneration

Again, a council practices ‘managed decline’ and then promises residents it will replace the run-down estate with much better shiny new homes. But these new developments built on council ruins consist mainly of private and unaffordable housing. The paltry token amount of social housing will be badly built and shoe box-sized, and comes with further problems, such as the loss of a secure lifetime tenancy, rent increases of over 35 per cent, much higher (uncapped) service charges and, thanks to locked-in contracts with suppliers, expensive energy bills. These conditions have driven those few tenants who actually manage to return to their estate after regeneration deeper into debt.

Regeneration is Social Cleansing

London’s inter-generational working-class communities and small businesses – be they white, black, brown or other – are being eviscerated to build homes for the rich and retail units for corporations. And what has been going on in London is spreading across the UK. Don’t be fooled by councils’ ‘regeneration’ promises (they’re a pack of lies). Don’t believe the offers of more homes (they’ll be unaffordable) and jobs (on minimum wage and zero-hour contracts). Never forget that ‘regeneration’ is totally ring fenced upwards to benefit the banks, developers, elites, estate agents and the middle classes.

Let’s debunk these lies spouted by council regeneration officers. As Architects for Social Housing have demonstrated with their design alternatives to demolition, it’s actually much cheaper to refurbish existing homes and build additional ‘infill’ housing. And on a social level good housing improves people’s well being, creates less damage to the environment than demolition, and allows councils to retain their assets for future generations as well as generating additional revenue. Preserving existing communities is imperative. This means that developers need to be ‘educated’ by us – by any means necessary – to fit in around us, as opposed to being enabled by councils to displace working-class communities hundreds of miles away from our neighbourhoods, only to then slap crappy light-blocking towers of concrete and glass with badly built, overpriced shoe-box flats as and where they fancy. Who the hell needs or wants ‘Poor Doors’ and the social apartheid that comes with them? Don’t forget that many MPs are private landlords – and they won’t act against their vested interests in increasing the housing crisis with this multi-billion pound, council-home destroying, asset stripping Ponzi scheme who’s name is ‘regeneration’.

Now here’s the thing. When property developers – many of whom are also offshore tax-dodgers – build private luxury homes on the ruins of council estates, they get government subsidies and incentives. And the rich and middle class who buy these properties also get government support through the ‘help to buy’ scheme. Yet it’s the same two groups who look down their noses and sneer at us living in council housing as if we’re ‘scroungers’ living in ‘subsidised’ housing. The reality is exactly the opposite!

From Hackney to Haringey and Lambeth to Croydon, in London it’s Labour-run councils that are proving to be the most enthusiastic social cleansers. In September 2016 help for estate residents came from an unexpected quarter when the Tory Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, refused to allow Southwark Labour Council’s compulsory purchase orders that would pave the way for the demolition of 2,400 homes on the Aylesbury estate. And guess what? Southwark Labour council chose to challenge Javid’s decision in the High Court, paying its legal fees with the council tax of Southwark residents. The case was due to be heard on 9 May, but on 28 April Javid, a former Board Member of Deutsche Bank International with an annual salary of £3 million, quietly dropped his objections.

Labour is Lying

Where the fuck is Saint Corbyn of Corduroy in all of this? If you think the Labour leader will save you, you’re in for a bitter surprise. Jeremy Corbyn has remained totally silent on the subject of estate demolition, refusing to support or engage with London’s estate communities. Worse still, he has openly supported and posed for photos with London Labour councils’ villainous Cabinet Members for Regeneration, who in reality are lackeys for developers neatly embedded within council departments.

You might have been fooled into thinking there’d be a little help from the Labour Mayor of London, a former human rights lawyer whose dad was a bus driver and who boasts about growing up in a council home to get votes. But unbeknown to the general public, Sadiq Khan’s housing policies have been written by elite think-tank the Institute of Public Policy Research and toff estate agents Savills – both of who have called for the demolition of every council estate in London. In the run-up to his election in May 2016, Khan made repeated promises to ‘fix the housing crisis’, while his campaign was quietly being bankrolled to the tune of £92,000 by property developers and private slumlords. He promised estate communities that estate regeneration would only take place with resident support demonstrated by full and transparent consultation, and that demolition could only then go ahead if it did not result in a net loss of social housing or where all other options have been exhausted, with full rights to return for displaced tenants and a fair deal for leaseholders. But he was offering false hope. Fast-forward to December 2016, when the Mayor released his Draft Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration, and hey presto! – the promises are nowhere to be seen.

Khan’s actions since taking office clearly demonstrate that he will not defend working-class Londoners’ homes from demolition; or thousands of working-class workplaces and businesses built from nothing (like Eric & Leigh Miller at Gallions Point Marina at the Albert Dock in Newham); or the thousands of highly productive skilled trades and small businesses located in London’s railway arches (like those evicted in Hackney for a pretentious empty Fashion Hub paid for by riot funding money); or Brixton Arches traders fighting eviction by Lambeth Labour council for regeneration by Network Rail, which is shoving small independent businesses out and moving corporate businesses in; or the Black Cab Drivers directly under threat by the non tax-paying Uber Corporation and the City Of London. Khan – or, as many Londoner’s now call him because of the devastation he’s creating, Khanage – is in cahoots with big business, banks and developers.

Austerity is Class War

At the same time that they’re trying to knock our estates down, we’re faced with reforms in the name of ‘austerity’ and multilayered lies spouted by the Tory government – lies that are then parroted and joyfully executed by Labour MPs, mayors and councillors, and reinforced by TV and national and local press mainly owned by five tax-dodging media barons. The purpose is to brainwash, distract and divide the nation by laying the blame on the poorest in this country while keeping the heat off the guilty who actually created this entire toxic situation – the politicians, who’ve got off scott-free, and who continue to steal and carpetbag our homes, money, NHS, etc, for their mates in the banks and private corporations.

In April 2017 a new wave of deliberately cruel welfare legislation came into force. It abolished housing benefit for 18-21 year-olds, limited child-tax credits to two children, slashed bereavement allowance, scrapped the ‘eldest child premium’, reduced Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) payments for claimants in the work-related activity group, requires women who have conceived a child due to rape to fill in an eight-page ‘rape assessment’ form to stop their tax credits being withdrawn, and rolled out the disastrous Universal Credit. What we are witnessing is an active joint-enterprise class war from the Tory and Labour elites designed to push the working class out of London by removing estate homes and destroying our work spaces. If it’s not stopped, this active joint enterprise between the Tory and Labour elites to push the working class out of London by demolishing our council homes and work spaces will leave us deeper in debt and trapped in minimum-wage, zero-hour contract jobs, effectively making the working class modern-day slaves to banks, rent and corporations.

There is zero political opposition ready to right any of the eight years of heinous wrongs unleashed on us in the wake of the financial crash of 2008, including the state-backed mass euthanasia of the disabled, poor and vulnerable. The removal of legal aid now allows the powerful to screw us even harder with impunity. So fuck the Tories! And fuck fucking Labour too! Both are elites with their snouts buried so deep in the trough of the lucrative public gravy train that they’ll lie, maim, destroy and kill to keep hold of the power and financial privileges that come with being in public office.

Remember, there’s only a year to go till the next round of local elections. A great time to kick the political elite’s arses – and have some fun! Did you know there is only one Labour-run council in the entire UK that has not imposed cuts to local services? It’s in Scotland, where Labour only have one MP left. Ayrshire Labour Council has been forced to ring-fence services, cut councillors’ vanity projects and focus instead on doing right by the people of Ayrshire.

All this is very different from those parts of the UK where Labour dominate local and other regional councils and treat working-class constituents with total disdain, imposing barbaric cuts and then having the barefaced cheek to swan off in packs to swanky property fairs – like MIPIM in Cannes or the London Real Estate Forum in Berkeley Square – and shameless town-hall champagne jollies at our expense, where they sell off council estates, parks, libraries, schools, community spaces and our future generations’ community assets to international, tax-dodging, speculating, property developers. Oh yeah, and don’t forget the billions that councils waste on vanity projects fawning and pandering to the middle class, while the most vulnerable in our communities are denied essential services to pay for this rubbish.

Everybody Out

Just imagine if people in London and other Labour strongholds started to organise strategically and rebel constructively against the party’s tyrannical cuts to public services, asset-stripping, gross malfeasance, and the social cleansing being inflicted on working-class communities by London’s Labour-dominated town halls. It’s time to remind these council members and mayors what they are: public servants. Time to make them sweat. Time to make them nervous. Time to get the piss-taking Oxbridge and PPE elite piss-taking toffs that have taken over our fucking town halls sacked and give them a good long taste of our reality: zero-hours contract jobs on minimum wage or off to the job centre for a life on unemployment benefit and state-backed DWP abuse!

There’s a long, hot summer coming. So get off the sofa, switch off the lobotomising TV propaganda and get out on the street. If you’re going to a housing demo – or any demo – make sure you bring your own personal placard or banner with what you want to say. Do not, under any circumstances, accept or hold any placards branded by the Socialist Workers Party, Defend Council Housing, Axe the Housing Act, Radical Housing Network, Momentum, Radical Assembly, Unite the Union or any other Labour-affiliated organisation. There are lots of dodgy predatory political distraction merchants out there, and they’re part of the reason we’ve seen no real change in politics over the past 35 years, only growing inequality.

Remember, if you live on a council estate the rich and the middle class want you out of your home so they can demolish it and piss all over your manor. So keep an eye out for the tell-tale signs. It always starts with an invasion of hipsters and artists, overpriced craft beer and poncey coffee shops. Then your local market is destroyed and replaced with some bullshit ‘farmer’s market’. These moves are usually funded by the council to serve their gentrifying agenda. And before you know it – hey presto! Your estate is up for ‘regeneration’. Ain’t nothing wrong with change, but not if it excludes the local community. Fight for what’s yours by any means necessary – and do not allow yourselves to be excluded from your own neighbourhood!

Get angry. Don’t be afraid to find your voice and shout and curse the Tory government, bent Labour councils and politicians. Get out there and make some noise, have a laugh and take the piss out of them. For too long the political elite, mayors and town hall dictators have been laughing at us and robbing us blind in the process. The only way out of this political sea of shit and the ongoing daily misery is to do things ourselves. The only way forward is class solidarity, mutual aid and self-determination.

Lolly Oii
Architects for Social Housing

10 Myths about London’s Housing Crisis

This text was commissioned from ASH by the Guardian’s Housing Network, which subsequently refused to publish it. This is the second time an ASH piece has been commissioned and refused by the Guardian, which since Katharine Viner took over as editor in March 2015 has moved further and further to the political right, and whose articles on housing have increasingly resembled press releases for the councils, mayors, housing associations, property developers, builders, real estate firms and architectural practices feeding at the housing table – so we weren’t surprised. The last two years have shown ASH that there is nothing the mainstream press would publish that we would consider writing, and nothing we would write that they would consider publishing. Here is the text as rejected.

  1. There is no housing crisis, if by crisis we mean something out of control. The shortage of housing and the corresponding boom in UK house prices and rents has been carefully prepared and legislated for by those who have the most to gain from it. Far from being out of control, the so-called ‘housing crisis’ is well in hand.
  1. The housing shortage is a crisis not of supply but of affordability, with 56 per cent of UK homes failing to meet this criterion in Shelter’s new Living Home Standard. Rather than satisfying housing demand, building more unaffordable properties for home ownership and capital investment will only push house and rental prices up.
  1. Far from there being a lack of land to build on, the top nine UK building companies are sitting on land with planning permission to build over half a million homes in England. The less land available for development the higher the price of the properties built on it and the greater the profits of the builders, with the top four companies recording pre-tax profits of over £2.76 billion last year.
  1. There is no causal relationship between the architecture of post-war estates and anti-social behaviour, drug dealing, crime or rioting, as both central government and local authorities claim as justification for their demolition and redevelopment. Crime rates on council estates are consistently lower than in the surrounding area. Housing poverty, cuts to benefits, lack of maintenance, closure of amenities and stereotypes propagated by our press and media are the cause of social problems on estates – not architecture.
  1. Affordable housing is unaffordable to the estate residents whose homes for social rent are being demolished to build it. Constituting up to 50 per cent of new developments, affordable housing now encompasses properties for 25 per cent shared ownership, London Living rent at a third of the borough’s average household income, and sale or rent at up to 80 per cent of market rate. Redeveloped with twice the housing density, demolished council estates are being replaced with properties that in Inner London are selling for around £700,000 for a 2-bedroom home.
  1. Far from being subsidised by the state, the rents on most post-war estates paid off the cost of their construction and debt interest years ago, and are in fact making a profit for councils and housing associations. It is the Right to Buy council homes, the Help to Buy affordable housing, the housing benefit paid to private landlords, the government and GLA grants to build affordable housing, the local authority funding for estate redevelopment, and the transfer of public land into private ownership that is being subsidised by public money – not council estates.
  1. Far from being high quality, new developments are increasingly of significantly poorer quality than the estates demolished to make way for them. And rather than improving their living standards, studies show that estate redevelopment consistently has a negative effect on the mental, physical and economic well being of residents, with housing costs increased and communities socially cleansed in the name of ‘regeneration’.
  1. Far from being financially unviable, the refurbishment of estates has repeatedly been demonstrated to cost a fraction of their redevelopment, with none of the damage to the environment caused by their demolition.
  1. Estates do not have to be demolished to increase their housing capacity. Through our design alternatives for infill and roof extensions, Architects for Social Housing has shown that we can increase their housing capacity by up to 45 per cent without demolishing a single existing home, while generating the funds from the rent or sale of new builds to pay for the neglected refurbishment of the estate.
  1. Far from being a solution to the housing crisis, estate demolition is producing that crisis.

Architects for Social Housing

Scumbag! Vauxhall Hustings 2017

I’ll keep it brief, because I’m nearing the end of my tolerance for this stuff. We started with a minute’s silence and the local minister, Steve Chalke, calling on us to show respect for democracy – which he said meant listening to each other. As chance would have it this hustings were being held in the church that for several months last year put a blackboard up outside inviting passersby to write down their ‘hopes and prayers’ for the community, and they would pray for them. I wrote down quite a few, including: ‘A plague on this Tory government that is a plague on the people of Britain!’ ‘Stop Lambeth Labour Council demolishing Cressingham Gardens!’ ‘May the working class rise up against the oppression of the rich and the corrupt’ And finally, when it seemed none of my prayers were being answered: ‘May the church condemn this government’s attacks on the poor, the disabled, the sick and the vulnerable!’ I don’t know whether the church ever prayed for any of these, but eventually the blackboard was taken down.

After the opening statements by the five candidates, which included for Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, the Pirate party (something about technology and online privacy) and the Women’s Equality Party, the Chair, Tom Kibasi, who is the Director of the Institute of Public Policy Research, chose questions that been submitted by the audience in the following order of importance. To give you an indiction of how long each topic was discussed I also recorded roughly when the questions were asked:

7.45pm – Brexit
8.20pm – Voting ID and proportional representation
8.25pm – Fox hunting
8.30pm – Banking reforms
8.35pm – National debt
8.45pm – Arts subjects in schools
8.50pm – Child care nurseries
9.00pm – Local transport
9.05pm – Cycling and cars
9.10pm – Housing

As you can see, some really pressing questions here. It was like listening to applicants at a job interview – which is of course exactly what this is:

– ‘Are you for or against fox hunting?’
– ‘Oh I’m definitely against fox hunting!’

– ‘Do you think arts subjects in schools are important?’
– ‘Well, my mother is an art teacher so I think they’re really important!’

– ‘Should we have more cycle lanes?’
– ‘Oh yes, I’ve been a cyclist all my life!’

– ‘Should our banks be reformed?’
– ‘Oh yes, our banks should definitely be reformed.’

– ‘Do we need more child care?’
– ‘Oh yes, I have three children so childcare is really important!’

– ‘Is our national debt too big?’
– ‘Oh yes, our national debt is definitely too big!’

We sat through an hour and three quarters of this, when finally a question on housing was taken. I can’t now remember what Hannah said, as she started by talking about the importance of cycling, but I seem to remember she said we needed more ‘affordable housing’. In fact, the phrase ‘affordable housing’ had crept into the conversation a few times, and was even used by the Liberal Democrat candidate, the housing campaigner George Turner, who really should know better. ‘Affordable housing’, which increasingly means £650,000 properties for shared ownership, is precisely what our council estates are being replaced with. That doesn’t mean George talked about housing, as he kept his comments almost exclusively to Brexit and the fact the Labour candidate, Kate Hoey, had voted to leave the EU. Something strange happens to people when they enter the political arena. They stop speaking like the rest of us, and become a ventriloquist’s doll, speaking the platitudes of their party. I’ve never met George before, but from his articles on housing he seems like an intelligent bloke, and last night was a lost opportunity for him to shine a spotlight on Labour’s disastrous housing record in the constituency.

Now, the Chair had also taken follow-up questions from the floor on each topic, so even though I had slipped into a state of catatonia by now I put my hand up, at which point, at 9.15pm, he called the session to an end and called for the candidates to do their summing up. I shouted out:

– ‘What about estate demolition?’
– ‘I’m sorry there’s no time.’
– ‘But there is to discuss fox hunting?’
– ‘You should have submitted a question.’
– ‘I did. Here it is.’
– ‘I haven’t got it.’
– ‘I’ll ask it now then.’
General clamour from the floor – ‘Respect the Chair!’
– ‘There are three estates and thousands of homes in this constituency threatened with demolition by Lambeth Labour council.’
– ‘That’s a council matter, not parliamentary politics.’
– ‘Does the fact you’re Director of IPPR, which promotes the demolition of council estates have anything to do with your refusal to take my question?’
– ‘What are you talking about?’
– ‘Or that the think-tank you head recommended recategorising existing council estates as brownfield land?’

By this time everyone was shouting at me. The woman from the Kennington Park Road Residents Association and Neighbourhood Watch (KPRRANW) who organised the hustings was defending her choice of Chair. I think the minister was saying something about democracy.  And someone projected a big slide on the wall saying: ‘Please respect the opinions of others!’ I noticed afterwards that it also said: ‘Be ready to be challenged’ – but no-one mentioned that.

The room reminded me of a Momentum meeting we once went to in Vauxhall. Almost entirely white and middle to upper-middle class, I doubt many of them had even been on an estate. Apparently there were no less than four questions submitted about fox hunting. Hannah told me afterwards that the woman sitting next to her said in response to my interruption: ‘This is what happens when you let young people in!’ We’d been arguing by now for several minutes, easily long enough for me to have asked my question, so I turned to the room and asked:

– ‘Who would like to hear a question about estate demolition?’

The answer was a unanimous – ‘No!’ The lone exception was a pink-haired working-class woman a few rows in front of us who had tried to ask a question earlier about the effect of austerity measures on people living in estates. Austerity was just one of a whole range of topics such as homelessness, poverty, soup kitchens, benefit cuts, the Vauxhall, Nine Elms & Battersea opportunity area and the 22,000 households on Lambeth’s housing waiting list that were deemed not as important for discussion as fox hunting and cycle lanes.

In the concluding statements that followed, the candidates for the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Green Party stated their position on estate demolition. So afterwards I went up to the Chair (who had been having a staring contest with me all the way through George’s last words) and pointed out that it turned out the candidates did want to talk about estate demolition, so why had he refused to take my question?

– ‘I didn’t receive your question in advance.’
– ‘I sent it in this afternoon, and you were still taking questions from the public at the door on the way in.’
– ‘We don’t have time to ask every question.’
– ‘And your directorship of IPPR had nothing to do with your refusal to take my question from the floor?’
– ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about!’
– ‘It’s titled City Villages: More homes, better communities, published in March 2015, recommending that the greatest source of land in London for redevelopment is that on which existing council estates are built.’
– ‘We publish a lot of reports. I wasn’t director then.’
– ‘Is it because IPPR is supported by Savills real estate firm who are advising Lambeth Labour council on their estate demolition programme?’
– ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about!’
– ‘Why do I know more about your organisation than its director?’
– ‘I wasn’t director when that report was published.’
– ‘Is it because the IPPR set up the London Housing Commission last year to advise the candidates for the next London mayor to build 50,000 homes a year on demolished council estates?’

At this point the woman from the KPRRANW said she took ‘full responsibility’ for choosing Tom Kibasi as Chair. I told her he was a poor choice, and that it was a disgrace someone who was promoting estate demolition was chairing hustings in a borough where three estates were under threat and one, Myatt’s Field North, had already been demolished and redeveloped with disastrous results.

I walked off then, but as I did so Tom turned to me and said – ‘Scumbag!’ I always like how the middle-classes are so keen on what they call ‘behaviour’, and are so quick to look down their noses at the swearing of the working class and dismiss the anger of the people whose lives they’re casually destroying. But contradict them, put them on the spot, dare to question their authority, and the abuse flows from their mouths.

I turned back to him and clarified what he had said. My fellow ASH member had heard him too, and she took a photograph of the two of us to commemorate the moment. We continued our conversation a little longer. Even though he had just called me a scumbag, Tom started telling me how angry I was and to ‘calm down!’ Have you noticed that, whenever the middle classes are rattled, they start telling you what to do? We see it all the time in council meetings when residents dare to contradict councillors with facts, and of course by parliamentary candidates put on the spot about their support for estate demolition.

The director of IPPR told me that the reports it produces are the opinions of the individual authors, and that his personal view was that we should build more social housing, not demolish council estates and make ‘affordable’ housing affordable.

– ‘So why didn’t you bring this topic up for discussion in the hustings?’

What was most annoying about last night wasn’t the Chair, though. I knew he’d do everything he could to silence any talk about estate demolition. It was the servile obedience of the audience to middle-class etiquette, their willingness to be told what to do by a Church that has stood by and said nothing to condemn what the Tories have done to this country over the past ten years but assumes it can tell us how to behave in a political debate, and their complete indifference to what is happening to the working class in their borough. For them, it’s all just a game of behaviour. As the time given to each topic showed, the only thing that really gets the middle classes worried is the threat Brexit represents to their standard of living, whether their children can still have a gap year in Croatia, and will they still be able to buy a second home in Marbella.

And that’s about it. Another two hours of my life I won’t get back. I think I’ve got one hustings left in me, then I’m out. The German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck once remarked: ‘Never ask how sausages and politics are made!’ Give me a sausage factory any day.

For the record, this is the question we submitted to the Vauxhall hustings 2017:

‘The Vauxhall constituency contains three council estates on Lambeth Labour council’s current estate demolition programme: Fenwick, Westbury and Knight’s Walk. Elsewhere in the borough, the council have ignored the 79 per cent of residents on Central Hill estate and the 80 per cent of residents on Cressingham Gardens estate who voted against the demolition of their homes and the privatisation of the new developments under Homes for Lambeth. If elected MP of the Vauxhall constituency, will the candidate oppose or support the thousands of residents and constituents threatened by Lambeth Labour council’s programme of estate demolition?’

In response to the failure of these hustings to discuss the issue of housing, Architects for Social Housing has arranged a hustings devoted exclusively to the housing crisis and the role of Lambeth Labour council’s estate demolition programme in making it worse. We will also be looking at the Vauxhall, Nine Elms and Battersea opportunity area, which is one of the largest developments in Europe and yet has been entirely missing from the debates. It will also be an opportunity to cross-examine the housing policies of the competing parties and their implications for London’s housing estates. We invite all candidates, constituents, residents and campaigners to attend, to ask our future MP whether and how they will stand up to an increasingly unaccountable Progress council that ignores the wishes of residents, and to discuss how we can form a progressive alliance against the London-wide programme of estate demolition. Details of the hustings can be found here. Please join us.

Architects for Social Housing

Secure Homes for All? The Labour Party Manifesto on Housing

Well, it’s brief, and says nothing that hasn’t been said before; so let’s get the housing component of the Labour Party Manifesto – published today under the title For the Many Not the Few – out of the way.

Titled ‘Secure Homes for All’, its focus is on house building, rightly identifying the housing crisis as one of affordability, but wrongly identifying the building of new homes as the solution. To this end the Manifesto promises the by-now familiar figure of 1 million new homes over the next Parliament should Labour be elected to power. And what will a Labour government build? 100,000 council and housing association homes a year, so half the five-year total, just as we have previously been told. And what will those homes be? For ‘genuinely affordable rent or sale.’

Let’s just pause here. Housing associations are not government run so half of these homes – in the absence of precise figures let’s say 50,000 per year – will be built by them to fit their requirements as private companies; though no doubt they will continue to receive the considerable subsidies they currently receive from central government agencies like the Homes and Communities Agency that the Manifesto promises to overhaul. So will a Labour government only provide those subsidies for the building of homes for social rent? The manifesto doesn’t say, and in the absence of any indication to the contrary we must assume housing associations will continue to receive public subsidies for building homes for affordable rent or sale at up to 80 per cent of market rate, for London living rent at a third of the borough’s average household income (so £680 per month per person in the borough of Haringey, £770 in Hackney, £895 in Lambeth, £950 in Southwark, and £1,170 in Tower Hamlets), for 25 per cent shared ownership, for shared equity, and anything else they can think of to supplant the council homes for social rent housing associations are either privatising or demolishing and building in their place. Indeed, ‘affordable’ is the only tenancy type and rental level the manifesto mentions.

So what of the other half of this half a million homes, the 50,000 council homes a year? To this end a Labour government will establish a new Department for Housing – in the words of the Manifesto – ‘to focus on tackling the crisis and to ensure housing is about homes for the many, not investment opportunities for the few’. We couldn’t have put it better ourselves. Except that council homes are not affordable housing, not even for ‘genuinely affordable rent or sale’. Council homes are, or were, exclusively built for rent at around 30 per cent of market rate, which is uniformly, although confusingly, referred to these days as ‘social rent’ – particularly in local authority planning documents identifying their demolition and replacement by, again, homes for affordable rent, London living rent, affordable sale, shared ownership, shared equity and, of course, private sale – which, as in the Labour Manifesto, make up by far the largest proportion of new-build homes. Despite its vague promise to build ‘council homes for rent and sale’, the Labour Manifesto says nothing about building council homes for social rent.

What it does talk about is ‘Home Ownership’, the title of the next section. The other half of the 1 million homes a Labour government promises to build is, of course, made up of homes for private sale, so it’s understandable that these take precedence. The Manifesto promises ‘low-cost homes’ for ‘first-time buyers’, much like the Conservative government’s policy of Starter Homes. By this the Tories meant new-build properties capped at £450,000. Does the Labour Party regard this as ‘low cost’? The Manifesto doesn’t say. What it does say is that it will build these low-cost homes ‘just as Labour councils have been doing right across the country.’ So, let’s look at what homes for private sale Labour councils have been building, and get an idea of what the Manifesto means by ‘low cost’.

In Trafalgar Place at the Elephant and Castle Southwark Labour council in partnership with property developer Lendlease have built 2-bedroom apartments that start at £725,000 on the ruins of the demolished Heygate estate. Transparency International recently reported that every one of the properties on the first phase of the redevelopment has been bought by oversees investors. On Woodberry Down in Manor House Hackney Labour council in collaboration with property developer Berkeley Homes is building 2-bedroom apartments that start at £660,000. 55 per cent of the properties on the first completed phase have been bought by overseas investors. In Kidbrooke Village Greenwich Labour council, again in collaboration with Berkeley Homes, has built 2-bedroom apartments for £540,000 on the demolished Ferrier estate. And on the condemned Cressingham Gardens estate Lambeth Labour council – in a redevelopment vehicle directly backed by Jeremy Corbyn – is promising to build new properties for private sale that will start at £435,000 for a 1 bedroom apartment rising to £863,000 for a 4 bedroom property. So maybe the comparison with the Conservative government’s policy on Starter Homes is inaccurate only in that it undervalues the cost of these ‘low cost’ homes. Labour are limiting Help to Buy funding for first-time buyers of such properties to households earning up to £100,000 per year. We’ll leave it to you to judge whether this is building ‘homes for the many’ rather than ‘investment opportunities for the few’.

The next section is titled ‘Private Renters’, the fastest rising market in UK accommodation. Because of the lack of council housing for social rent – which is being further reduced by the council estate demolition programme being implemented across the UK but concentrated in London because of the huge profits – 20 per cent of British households now rent from private landlords, compared to just 17 per cent from social landlords – housing associations making up 9 per cent of that, and only 8 per cent living in council flats and paying social rent. So while the Manifesto’s pledge to introduce three-year tenancies for private renters, place a cap on rent rises, and ban letting agency fees is welcome, this only attempts to address the private market, which accounts for the vast majority of the £20.9 billion the UK spends per year on housing benefit. What it doesn’t address is the lack of alternative rented accommodation in the public sector, or the erosion of that 8 per cent by the nation-wide council estate regeneration programme.

So maybe the next section, titled ‘Council and Social Tenants’, will provide the solution. Perhaps here is where we will read the Labour Party’s commitment to build slightly more than the half of the half of the 1 million new homes it has promised. Perhaps this is where we will see laid out in clear terms the tenancy and rental levels so desperately needed by the 1.9 million households on the UK housing waiting list, the 280,000 households at risk of homelessness, and the 71,500 households living in temporary accommodation who can’t afford the new homes being built by Labour councils for three-quarters of a million quid?

Well, the pledge to ‘remove government restrictions that stop councils building homes’ is a good start – though perhaps if the Manifesto clarified those restrictions as including that on councils borrowing in order to build council homes for social rent this pledge would carry more weight. And the Manifesto also promises to reverse some of the housing legislation brought into law by Conservative governments, including ditching the phasing out of secure tenancies on council flats, scrapping the bedroom tax on council tenants, and suspending the Right to Buy council homes. But beside this ditching, scrapping and suspending, nothing is said about stopping the nation-wide estate demolition programme being carried out predominantly by Labour councils. Instead, all we get is a repetition of the pledge to build ‘genuinely affordable homes to rent and buy’.

And that’s it. There’s a further section on ‘Homelessness’, but nothing about the role of Labour housing policy in producing it. The pledge to make 4,000 homes available for people with a history of rough sleeping is welcome, but nothing is said about Labour councils criminalising rough sleepers with Public Space Protection Orders, closing down homeless hostels and selling the land off to private developers, or using anti-homeless architecture to drive rough sleepers out of their boroughs. Nothing is said about ditching, scrapping and suspending these practices and the laws created by the Conservative government and embraced by Labour councils to accommodate them.

And that really is it. There’s nothing we haven’t heard before on Labour housing policy; nothing promised that isn’t already being delivered by Labour councils across the country; and nothing said – not one word of hope – for the hundreds of thousands of Londoners facing the demolition, privatisation and social cleansing of their homes by the national programme of estate regeneration. No wonder the Labour Party unanimously agreed to this Manifesto: for Labour and Conservative councils alike it’s very much business as usual.

This is a Manifesto to nothing, a final throw of the dice in the wager Jeremy Corbyn has been playing with the British public, hoping that his image of a social democratic government will appeal to a large enough percentage of the population to get the Labour Party elected on 8 June. That its housing policies remain so bound to a programme of privatisation and home ownership shows just how little it has changed from the party of Tony Blair, whose devotees in our town halls, councils and housing committees remain the real representatives of Labour in power. We’d like to say that this is a missed opportunity; but in the 20 months since he was elected leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn has never once given the slightest indication that his housing policy differs in any way from that of the Labour councils to which he has given his backing. On the contrary, both he and his Shadow Housing Ministers have gone out of their way to say that Labour councils are the Labour Party in power. This Manifesto is the final proof of that betrayal.

Architects for Social Housing

Social Housing: Demolitions, Privatisations & Social Cleansing

Last month, to accompany its exhibition at the RIBA, Karakusevic Carson Architects published a book titled Social Housing: Definitions & Design Exemplars, which contains 24 case studies of new developments across Europe and the UK, many of them estate regenerations in London. These include the Colville, Kings Crescent and Nightingale estates in Hackney and the Bacton Low Rise estate in Camden, all four of which have been designed by Karakusuevic Carson; the Agar Grove estate in Camden, designed by Hawkins/Brown and Mae; as well as Tower Court in Hackney, designed by Adam Khan Architects and the Silchester estate in Kensington & Chelsea, designed by Haworth Tompkins. Oliver Wainwright, the architecture and design critic at the Guardian, called the book ‘A fascinating overview of social housing today. Complete with the essential nitty gritty details of plans, sections, budgets and timeframes, it’s both a practical manual and optimistic manifesto for what its possible to achieve, against all the odds.’

Such case studies have become endemic to the rash of publications over the past two years setting out the legislation, business models and design principals of estate regeneration in the UK. In February 2015 Urban Design London published its Estate Regeneration Sourcebook, which contains 14 case studies of regenerated estates, again including the Colville and King’s Crescent estates. In March 2016 four architectural practices not in the Karakusuevic Carson book – HTA Design, Levitt Bernstein, Pollard Thomas Edwards, and PRP – published Altered Estates: How to reconcile competing interests in estate regeneration, which contains 12 case studies of  estates regenerated by these practices, including the South Acton, Aylesbury, Packington and Crossways estates. Last December the Conservative government published its Estate Regeneration National Strategy, which contains 16 case studies of regenerated estates, including the demolished Ferrier and Myatts Field North estates, now redeveloped as Kidbrooke Village and Oval Quarter. The same month the Greater London Authority published Homes for Londoners: Draft Good Practice Guide to Estate Regenerationwhich contains 8 case studies of anonymised estates. And in April of this year the Labour Party published Local Housing Innovations: The Best of Labour in Power, which contains 44 case studies of new housing in Labour boroughs, many of which are engaged in council-led estate regeneration programmes.

All these publications and case studies have one thing in common: they all depict estate regeneration as the solution to the UK’s housing shortage, the new developments as unqualified improvements on the demolished estates, and the communities of residents as willing and satisfied customers in the regeneration of their homes. What was uniformly missing from all these publications is the ‘nitty gritty details’ – to use Oliver Wainwrights phrase – of how many homes for social rent were lost to these demolition schemes, how much public land was privatised by the redevelopment, and how many residents were socially cleansed from their estate as a result – everything, in fact, that would allow the reader to make a judgement about whether these ‘exemplars’ of estate regeneration are solving the housing crisis – as they claim to be – or exacerbating it.

To rectify these omissions – which are the first and most important criteria by which any estate regeneration should be judged – Architects for Social Housing is publishing this e-book of 12 case studies that we have written over the past year-and-a-half, accompanied by 6 articles that look at the function of estate regeneration in London’s housing crisis. Missing from this list of studies is Central Hill estate, on which we have published numerous articles as well as a design alternative to its planned demolition, and which will be the subject of a book-length case study to be published later this year. The reality of estate regeneration revealed in these studies is totally at odds with that presented in the publications by the Conservative government, the Labour opposition, the Greater London Authority, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the think tanks set up by the London councils demolishing the estates and the architectural practices contracted to design the new developments. We will leave it to the reader to judge which is the more accurate representation of a national strategy that will affect the homes and lives of millions of people in the UK.

Case Studies in Estate Regeneration 

  1. Kings Crescent estate, Hackney
  2. Woodberry Down estate, Hackney
  3. Northwold estate, Hackney
  4. Loughborough Park estate, Southwark
  5. Heygate estate, Southwark
  6. Aylesbury estate, Southwark
  7. Macintosh Court sheltered housing estate, Lambeth
  8. Knight’s Walk, Lambeth
  9. West Kensington & Gibbs Green estates, Hammersmith and Fulham
  10. Montague Road estate, Waltham Forest
  11. Ferrier estate, Greenwich
  12. Park Hill estate, Sheffield City

Estate Regeneration and the Housing Crisis

  1. 15 Truths About London’s Housing Crisis
  2. Ethics of Estate Regeneration
  3. The Housing and Planning Act
  4. Mapping London’s Housing Crisis
  5. Sink Estates and Starter Homes
  6. The London Clearances

Reviews

‘Twaddle as usual.’

– Philip Glanville, Labour Mayor of Hackney

‘Hard left nonsense. The article isn’t just shrill, it’s factually inaccurate and spreads misinformation about estate regeneration.’

– Theo Blackwell, Cabinet Member for finance, technology and growth, Camden Labour council

‘You just lie, and lie, and lie to people.’

– Tom Copley, Labour Deputy Chair for Housing, London Assembly

‘The so-called “Architects for Social Housing”.’

– Matthew Bennett, former Cabinet Member for Housing, Lambeth Labour council

‘Ego-tripping self publicist.’

– Joan Twelves, Lambeth Momentum and former Leader of Lambeth Labour Council

‘Shows how much you know about anything. I had thought you were a force for good, this completely changes my opinion.’

– Candida Ronald, Labour councillor for Blackwall and Cubitt Town, Tower Hamlets council

‘Cretinous sectarian drivel that if listened to would ensure the mass demolition of our council houses.’

– Keith Dunn, Haringey Momentum

‘Disingenuous propaganda that undermines fellow professionals.’

– Alex Ely, founder of Mae Architects

‘A noble idea but not really practical.’

– Brendan Kilpatrick, Managing Director of PRP Architects

‘Not everyone believes that public money should be used to subsidise families to live in areas they could not otherwise afford to.’

– Ben Derbyshire, Chair of HTA Design and President elect of the RIBA

‘Behold the Trumpo-Ukip “Left”.’

– Dave Hill, sacked housing commentator for the Guardian

‘Too shouty.’

– Oliver Wainwright, architecture and design critic for the Guardian

‘Architects have a key role in our society’s responsibility to initiate change, and the evolving discourse of ASH and its members are an essential and much needed reflection of this.’

– Tomasz Romaniewicz, Coffey Architects

‘If you want a thorough grounding in what’s causing the ongoing housing crisis and what needs to be done to provide a solution that’s dictated by our agenda, this is essential reading.’

– South Essex Heckler

‘A very good piece which deserves a wide audience.’

– Anna Minton, Reader in Architecture at the University of East London and author of Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the Twenty-First Century City

‘First time I’ve heard a genuinely powerful proposal for how to combat this, and such a comprehensive and concise view on the whole thing.’

– Olga Winterbottom

‘So much information and analysis here on the issue of social housing, starter homes, right-to-buy sell-offs and estate regeneration.’

– Andree Frieze, freelance journalist and Green Party candidate, Ham & Petersham

‘I strongly applaud the work ASH have undertaken, on a number of levels, these last few months. Their actions and very successful message-delivery have reached a wide audience, and I, for one, find the manifesto an excellent hook upon which to hang my own beliefs, emboldened in the knowledge that there is a growing movement standing against the complicity of the architecture profession in exploiting homes and the built environment as mere financial commodities. Due to this movement, I feel able to say that I will never work for clients whose aim is to use architecture as a vehicle for producing money. Architecture is there to support life; a creative, diverse and complex life. This must remain its priority. Thank you ASH for clarifying this objective, and strengthening my resolve to achieve it.’

– Sam Causer, Director of Studio Sam Causer

‘This is probably the finest writing on the subject of this administration’s policies on social housing I have come across.’

– Joseph Asghar, photographer

‘Wonderful blog post. I hope to view a great deal more by you.’

– Robert Marie

‘Thank you ASH for a superb critique. This kind of analysis is a great complement to the on-the-ground work you have been doing at West Kensington & Gibbs Green, Central Hill and so on.’

– Michael Edwards, Teaching Fellow at the Bartlett School of Planning and author of The Housing Crisis and London

‘Excellent analysis. I’m so glad you’re doing this work, even if it must feel sometimes like writing the eulogy for council housing UK.’ 

– Single Aspect

‘Well done ASH for putting all these pieces together.’

– Jerry Flynn, 35% Campaign

‘Your Blog is superb. I look forward to reading it and, in particular, your most recent posts have been extremely powerful and pertinent to everyone in the country. I’ve shared them widely.’

– Briony Sloan, Chair of Rawdon Greenbelt Action Group

‘I feel as if I have just had a warm, relaxing bath reading this article. Such a relief to hear about happenings from such dedicated, informed, effective and, to top it off, even dryly humorous group. Thanks very much for posting.’

– Orenda E, former leaseholder on the Heygate estate

‘Well done guys keep it up.’

– Peter Barber, Director of Peter Barber Architects

‘So happy you are saying all the things many of us believe but wouldn’t dare to say.’

– Fenna Haakma Wagenaar, architect

‘A judgment has to be made, not just on the quality of a building, but whether it contributes to the Common Weal, or its opposite. ASH have demonstrated that there are other ways to practice architecture and maintain professional integrity.’

– Kate Macintosh, architect of Dawson’s Heights and Macintosh Court

‘This important challenge to academics relating to architecture and housing, and to the Labour party, needs to be published and widely distributed.’

– Stefan Szczelkun, author of The Conspiracy of Good Taste

‘Brilliant article. Fabulous research. It’s the kind of investigative journalism “proper” journalists don’t seem to do any more. I wonder why . . .’

– Steve Tiller, Hackney Momentum Steering Group

‘A long read but well worth the effort, as it goes into forensic detail about what happens when a council estate in London is “regenerated” and what happens to the former residents.’

– On Uncertain Ground

‘ASH helps residents have a voice and a vision.’

– Patmore Cooperative

‘Look forward to publication. None of these architects, critics and case studies speaks to residents about their homes and communities. You do!’

– Save Northwold Campaign

‘Long live ASH!’

– Aysen Dennis, tenant on the Aylesbury estate

Since it started in September 2015 the ASH Blog has been visited over 88,000 times by nearly 53,000 people in over 150 countries.