Central Hill: A Case Study in Estate Regeneration

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

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

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

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

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

Table of Contents

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

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

Simon Elmer and Geraldine Dening
Architects for Social Housing

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The Truth about Grenfell Tower: A Report by Architects for Social Housing

A PDF file of this report is available here: The Truth about Grenfell Tower

On Thursday, 22 June, 2017, in response to the Grenfell Tower fire the previous week, Architects for Social Housing held an open meeting in the Residents Centre of Cotton Gardens estate in Lambeth. Around 80 people turned up and contributed to the discussion – residents, housing campaigners, journalists, lawyers, academics, engineers and architects. Below is an edited film of the meeting made for us by Line Nikita Woolfe, with the assistance of Luc Beloix on camera and additional footage by Dan Davies, and is produced by her company Woolfe Vision. The presentations we gave that evening are the basis of this report, to which we have added our subsequent research as well as that collated from the numerous articles on the Grenfell Tower fire published in the press and elsewhere, to which we have attached the weblinks, with the original documents included whenever they are available.

Architects for Social Housing is a Community Interest Company (no. 10383452). Although we do occasionally receive minimal fees for our design work, the majority of what we do is unpaid and we have no source of public funding. If you would like to support our work, you can make a donation through PayPal:

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The Good Practice Guide to Resisting Estate Demolition: ASH response to the GLA

Unfortunately it takes longer to unwrap a lie than it does to tie it with a pretty bow and sell it to ‘the People’, and the Greater London Authority’s Draft Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration, published in December 2016, is a cellophane-wrapped, ribbon-tied box of untruths. This commentary by Architects for Social Housing, therefore, is considerably longer than the Guide itself, which is a compilation of the myths used to justify London’s estate demolition programme. Of course, as Alexander the Great famously demonstrated, the quickest way to untie a mythical knot is with a sword, and the best response to this draft is the organised resistance of estate communities to its proposals, beginning with their refusal to engage in any consultation with the public institutions and private companies that are intent on demolishing their homes for profit. It’s clear that this draft and the consultation it invites, sent out to every housing estate in London with a Toolkit for Local Meetings, is a precursor to the individual estate consultations which – as any resident who has gone through the process can testify – will be used to justify the demolition of their homes.

What follows is ASH’s commentary on the Greater London Authority’s draft text, to which we have opposed our own Good Practice Guide to Resisting Estate Demolition. Although we have not commented on every paragraph, for ease of reference we have retained the GLA’s titles and paragraph numbering in red. And in place of its anonymous and highly fanciful case studies of estate regeneration, we have provided real and verifiable examples of estate demolition. We have no illusions that the Greater London Authority, the London Mayor or the Homes for Londoners board he chairs will read or respond to our comments; but we hope that, when local authorities and housing associations refer to the GLA’s Guide in order to justify their plans to demolish an estate, residents new to the language of ‘regeneration’ will be able to use our commentary to challenge them. It shouldn’t be hard, as this is one of the worst written policy documents we’ve ever read. So bad is it, in fact, that rather than responding to its contradictory, inaccurate, misleading and frequently meaningless statements – which render this draft useless as a means of consultation – residents should seek to use this Guide as a weapon with which to defend their homes. It is this that the ASH commentary has been written to provide. A PDF file of this report can be downloaded here:  Homes for Londoners

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Ethics of Estate Regeneration: ASH response to the RIBA


Dhruv Sookhoo, RIBA Housing Group
RIBA Journal (2 June, 2016)

‘Getting to grips with the ethics of estate regeneration is as pressing as the practical means of achieving it.’

‘The ethical dilemma for architects engaged in estate regeneration is the need to balance the rights of existing residents, who have invested socially and financially in their neighbourhoods, with the unvoiced claims of potential new neighbours desperate for a home.’

The balance between existing residents and their future neighbours isn’t about the rights of the former and the claims of the latter, but about the ability of each to afford the new housing being built on the land currently being occupied by the homes of residents. This isn’t an ethical dilemma for architects but an economic determination of who gets to live in the housing they design. Residents’ right to return to the new development, which has been brandished by everyone from Michael Heseltine and Brandon Lewis to Sadiq Khan, is meaningless if they cannot afford to do so. Nor is it clear for what potential neighbours the new housing is being built when the prices preclude all but the very wealthiest investors.

‘Estate regeneration can be a controversial, complex, bruising business. Architects engaged in it have recently found themselves accused by activists and the media of being complicit in social cleansing, heritage heresy, crimes against sustainability and profiteering. Residents’ ongoing negative experiences of estates resulting from poor construction, maintenance failures or perceived systematic underinvestment may provide a dismal basis for forecasting the new project team’s intent or ability to create socially equitable, liveable neighbourhoods.’

Describing the role of estate regeneration in social cleansing as the accusations of ‘activists’ is inaccurate and dismissive when numerous housing groups, estate resident campaigns, and even the odd architectural practice, have demonstrated the truth of the claim. Equally, systematic underinvestment in council estates isn’t ‘perceived’ but a fact verifiable by council records and the testimony of estate communities and their rejected requests for the refurbishment of their homes. In this context, ‘socially equitable’ and ‘liveable’ are abstract terms that occlude the real source of the managed decline of housing estates by councils preparatory to their demolition and redevelopment.

‘Architects anxious about slotting into a past narrative of social decline may choose to avoid regeneration projects altogether. However, the incoming architect’s decision to accept a regeneration commission should be based on how likely they feel able to positively influence what happens next. Wrestling socially responsible, architecturally worthy projects from years of decline or underinvestment requires our most capable, morally grounded architects. Withdrawing for fear of unjust disapproval or project complexities is an abdication of responsibility for a widely regarded societal challenge: providing more, high quality homes where they are needed most.’

One would hope that the anxiety of architects is of rather less concern to the profession than the uncertainty, threats, intimidation, lies, depression and fear that residents live through during the ten or more years of the regeneration process. ‘Morally grounded’ is, again, a meaningless term, and an inappropriate one for the RIBA to use given its recent election to its Presidency of Ben Derbyshire, who as Managing Partner of HTA Design is overseeing the redevelopment of the Aylesbury Estate, one of the worst examples of architects collaborating in the social cleansing of an estate community. Characterising residents’ disapproval of plans to demolish their homes as ‘unjust’ betrays a set of pre-existing assumptions about the reasons for that rejection incompatible with an ‘ethical’ approach to regeneration. And taking responsibility for a societal challenge means not only designing more and better homes, but above all ensuring that they are homes people who need them can afford to rent or buy, starting with the people whose existing homes are being demolished to make way for them. ‘High quality’ homes, like ‘affordable homes’, has become a euphemism for building up-market investments as part of the social cleansing of a community, and its uncritical use here betrays the author’s complicity in this process, or at best an ignorance of its language.
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The Housing & Planning Bill: ASH submission to the House of Commons Public Bill Committee


Despite what we had previously read about the Housing and Planning Bill by commentators in the press and housing industry, it is far worse than we expected. Part 4, Social housing in England, seems designed to bring about the end of social housing in this country, particularly in London, at which the Bill is very deliberately targeted. Combined with the intrusive measures it proposes for monitoring social housing tenants, the Bill is an enormously dangerous piece of legislation whose significance and consequences, we fear, are being lost in the widespread reactions to our latest intervention in Syria. To call it a Housing Bill really doesn’t do justice to what are far-reaching plans for the social engineering of social housing tenants. This aspect of the Bill appears to be under-appreciated, and certainly under-publicised, and we feel it needs far clearer debate and far wider dissemination.

The Bill itself is an extremely poor piece of legislation. Many of the key definitions of its terms, such as ‘high income’ with regard to the social housing tenants whose rents will be increased, and ‘high value’ with regard to the homes councils will be forced to sell, are left to the discretion of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and crucial details of its implementation have been deferred to secondary legislation.

Perhaps the section of the Bill that most concerns us is Part 6, Planning in England, and in particular the section on Permission in principle and local registers of land. A number of planners have expressed their belief that these changes will mean the effective end of planning and its replacement by an automatically triggered zonal system completely insensitive to the social dimensions of urban planning. In our own capacity as campaigners against the demolition of housing estates, we are horrified at the potential passing of legislation that will allow the re-designation of such estates as ‘brownfield land’ – a term used in planning to describe former industrial or commercial land that has been contaminated by waste and requires cleaning up. This is so deeply buried in the labyrinthine legalese of Part 6 of the Bill that it has passed largely without comment. However, it is on this legislation that the Adonis Report was based and its plans for demolishing and redeveloping London’s housing estates. It is also the platform on which the Tory candidate for London Mayor is running in the forthcoming election. There is still far too little awareness in the public realm of what this will mean for the communities who live on the 3,500 housing estates in London.

This submission addresses six aspects of the Housing and Planning Bill:

1. State subsidies for unaffordable Starter Homes

2. Extension of Right to Buy to housing association homes

3. Obligation of local authorities to sell ‘high value’ housing

4. Enforcement of Pay to Stay for ‘high income’ tenants

5. Planning permission in principle for ‘brownfield land’

6. Phasing out of secure tenancies and their succession

*          *          *          *          *

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