The Consultation Game: TM Architects on Northwold Estate

Last October, on the invitation of the residents of Northwold Estate in Hackney, ASH visited an exhibition held in the estate’s community hall by TM Architects, the purpose of which was to help the architects ‘consult’ with residents about the options they had been commissioned to draw up for the future of the estate by the Guinness Partnership. We had been asked to attend by members of Love Northwold  – a campaign which had recently been set up by residents worried about their homes – in order to give them architectural feedback on what they were being offered. ASH had met with the campaign a few times previously; and to judge by the reception we received from them it appeared that TM Architects had also heard of us. Architects may be able to endure the demolition of working-class homes to clear the ground for their designs with equanimity; but smelling a threat to their commission TM Architects turned into small yelping dogs who accompanied us around the room, answering all our rather difficult questions with frantic declarations about their good faith mixed with protestations as to just how beneficial all this will be for residents – if only they would open their eyes . . .

On entering the room the first thing we saw was a large plan of the estate on which every block was covered in stickers indicating where residents lived, places they liked, places they didn’t like, and places residents thought could be ‘redeveloped’ – this last category marked by a blue sticker. When I pointed out that every single block had a blue sticker on it, that this map could, therefore, be used as proof that residents were in favour of an option of full demolition, and that perhaps residents should be given some indication of what redevelopment would mean for them before they consigned their homes to demolition, TM Architects responded – as if this were some sort of excuse: ‘Oh, I think some kids got hold of the stickers . . .’

The exhibition began with an ‘Introduction and Update’ board filled with misinformation, half-truths and outright lies about what will happened to tenants and leaseholders in the event of their homes being demolished – all of which seemed a little premature given that residents were supposedly being consulted on what they wanted to happen to their homes. This was followed by what TM Architects – no doubt under the direction of the Guinness Partnership – had already decided were the criteria by which the different levels of development should be judged; but not once, in any of the material displayed, was the argument made why any development on the Northwold Estate at all should take place. Instead the exhibition pushed ahead with the presentation of the three available options: infill development, partial redevelopment and full redevelopment – which is where things really began to take off between ASH and TM Architects.

Having looked at the notice boards plastered with sticker-notes from residents asking for repairs and maintenance of their homes and the long-neglected upkeep of the estate’s communal spaces, the first thing we asked the architects was why there was no refurbishment option. They had no answer to this – quite simply because it wasn’t in their client brief, beyond which they saw no reason to look.

The second thing we asked TM Architects was why their infill option, which had come up with an additional 40-60 homes in an estate of ten times that number, had ignored the largest area of brownfield land available for redevelopment – a disused depot on Rossington Street owned by Hackney Labour Council on which they could easily have found room for a further 40-60 flats. They said the council were only willing to free up the land for regeneration if it involved demolishing the existing homes on the estate. We’ve subsequently been told that the council did in fact offer the land, but that the Guinness Partnership declined it except in the eventuality that they partially or fully demolish the estate. Whatever the truth, either the council or the housing association were interested in drastically reducing the number of homes that could be built through an infill option that would leave the existing homes and community intact.

Perhaps a better indication of how TM Architects infill option might have been arrived at was conveyed to us recently by an architectural assistant from Architectural Workers, a recently-formed group of junior architects unhappy at having to work for large practices on estate demolition schemes. The assistant we spoke to had only graduated the previous year, and yet the practice for which they worked – which to protect the worker’s identity we will not reveal – gave this graduate the responsibility, alone, for drawing up the infill option for an entire estate redevelopment project. And the time the practice gave this recently-graduated junior architect to complete the task? A single day. With such practices endemic in architectural studios given the remit of ruling out infill options in advance, is it any wonder TM Architects could only find space for 40-60 new flats, whereas ASH has consistently found an increase of 40-45 per cent housing on the estate’s we’ve worked with?

Finally, we asked TM Architects – who were really beginning to take a dislike to us – whether they had produced assessments of the social, mental health, financial and environmental impacts – on both residents and the surrounding community – of the partial and full demolition options they were proposing. They hadn’t, of course. So we suggested that doing so should be preparatory to any consultation with residents on these options. To propose these options without them would amount to deliberately deceiving residents into signing up to something whose consequences for them and their families were unknown – either to them or to the architects who, despite the complete absence of these assessments, for some reason presumed to know what was best for this Hackney community.

At this point TM architects were practically in tears, and I had to ask them not to shout at us. Like most architects whose practices we’ve confronted, they seemed to take our questions as personal attacks, rather than as a defence of the residents they threaten. Unused to being cross-examined on their own unexamined convictions, perhaps now TM Architects might know a little more what it’s like for residents who are forced to justify their right to continue to live in their own homes by so-called ‘consultations’ such as this. Except, of course, that residents have their homes to lose, while architects merely have a commission. Still, we have to start somewhere if we’re to cross the yawning gap between the professionals whose claims to know what’s best for residents is founded on their class arrogance and blindness, and the largely working-class residents whose homes their professional opinion threatens. I only wish architects showed such passion for the people whose lives their designs will have such an impact on as they do for their own offended professional sensibilities. With a final spurt of indignation the TM Architects shouted at us: ‘Well, if you think you can do better, why don’t you design an option?’

So we are. This week ASH met with the Love Northwold campaign, and on their instructions we are beginning the process of designing an alternative to the demolition of their estate, one that will increase its housing capacity far more than the ridiculous 40-60 homes TM Architects came up with, leave the existing community intact, and generate the funds to refurbish their homes – as the rents, mortgages and service charges they paid to the Guinness Partnership should have done. We shall be calling on Hackney Labour Council, and in particular its elected Mayor, Philip Glanville, to make the land on which the disused depot sits available for redevelopment. Presumably this is entered on the land registry of brownfield land councils are now compelled to draw up, and therefore, under the Housing and Planning Act, should receive planning permission in principle for any new housing development. And as the only reason the Guinness Partnership has given for consulting on the redevelopment of the Northwold Estate is their declared desire to build more homes to address London’s housing crisis, residents will be approaching the housing association about funding our design work.

Since the Guinness Partnership is a private company and not a local authority, and therefore under no public obligation to solve the housing crisis, it’s unclear from where this civic-minded duty springs – other than the huge profits to be made from manipulating this crisis to their benefit. But we’ll take them at their word – for the moment, and remind them that the housing crisis in London is one of affordability, not supply. Given the rank inadequacy of the infill option put forward by TM Architects, Love Northwold will be asking for the full financial backing of the Guinness Partnership for a design option that does not demolish a single home for social rent in a borough in which such homes are everywhere being demolished by Hackney Council’s estate demolition programme. If the Guinness Partnership’s plans to demolish the Northwold Estate spring from a desire to solve the housing crisis, it should be clear to them that this will best be achieved by refurbishing what few homes for social rent the borough still contains, not demolishing them, while increasing the number of homes in Hackney in which residents can actually afford to live.

There is one final indication of the kind of practice TM Architects is. Since residents were informed last July that their estate is up for ‘regeneration’ they have consistently been told that nothing has been decided, no plans have been made, and that the Guinness Partnership is just ‘consulting’ on the possibilities. While I was taking the photographs in this article, TM Architects must have told me half a dozen times that there was no need to as the display boards would ‘all soon be up on our website’. I thanked them for offering to save me the bother, but told them I’d take the photographs anyway – just in case. Of course they were lying, and the display boards never were put up, either on their website or that of the Guinness Partnership. What they did put up on the TM Architects website, however, is a timeline of their projects, and one entry indicates work starting on an ‘urban design strategy for redevelopment of a large North London estate’. It’s clear from the anonymous ground plan that’s included that it’s the Northwold Estate. And the date the work started? August 2015 – a full year before residents were told their estate was even being considered for regeneration.

Of course, the Guinness Partnership might have their eyes on quite another prize. It’s clear from the urban design strategy of TM Architects in conjunction with Farrer Huxley Associates and BPP Construction Consultants – not to mention the failed attempts by regeneration consultants Newman Francis to lead residents to this option during their own farcical ‘consultations’ – that the partial redevelopment option has been the one the Guinness Partnership has intended to pursue from the start – long before it went through the motions of ‘consulting’ with residents. At first we thought this was a case of them grabbing a little handful now and then filling their boots later, and that living on a building site for the next ten years would encourage tenants and leaseholders not already decanted to take what re-housing offers and compensations packages the Guinness Partnership offered them before the rest of the estate was demolished. But now we’re not so sure.

The Love Northwold campaign has suggested that the real target of the Guinness Partnership is not, in fact, the 7 blocks already identified for demolition on the main estate, but the land that stands to the south-east, on the large square between Northwold and Clapton Roads, and therefore adjacent to the busy and commercially valuable high street. Currently occupied by three blocks, Hendale, Scardale and Whitwell, the phasing strategy of the partial demolition option put forward by TM Architects indicates that these will be the last to be demolished (years 5-8 on the timetable of the redevelopment) and redeveloped (years 8-10), and as such will be emptied of their previous residents. Under the guise of being decanted, those tenants and leaseholders that can afford to will be moved to their new homes on the main estate during demolition, but they won’t return – leaving the no-doubt high-quality, luxury apartments the Guinness Partnership will build on the corner of Northwold and Clapton Roads free for private sale at whatever exorbitant market price they command by then. Judging from the number of estate agents, artisanal bakeries and ethically-sourced coffee shops springing up on Clapton Road, that’s likely to be very high indeed.

guinness-financial-report2

We don’t doubt that the Guinness Partnership isn’t above turning a tidy profit on converting homes for social rent into ‘affordable’ housing in the 7 blocks identified for demolition north of Northwold Road. After all, according to their own Financial Statements (on page 25), they increased profits on ‘affordable’ rent from £14.6 to £21.1 million last year alone through converting 559 such homes and letting new homes at ‘affordable’ rent. But perhaps it’s here, on the corner of Northwold and Clapton Roads, away from the rest of the estate, that they intend to cash in on Hackney’s rocketing property prices – the highest rising in London. The average house price in Hackney has increased by a barely believable 702 per cent in the past 20 years, from £75,569 in 1996 to £606,269 in 2016. It’s anyone’s guess what it’ll be in 10 years’ time when the luxury apartments the Guinness Partnership wants to build here are put on the market in the newly gentrified neighbourhood of Clapton-on-Lea. Is it any wonder that the infill development produced by TM Architects was so inadequate in finding space for new flats, when such an option would fail to decant the residents of Hendale, Scardale and Whitwell houses from their coveted land?

And with such a golden fleece dangling before their eyes – no matter how high the Guinness Partnership propose building on this block of land, no matter how dense they pack the housing – Hackney Labour Council’s easily-lobbied planning department will have the ready-made excuse that only through selling luxury homes at the highest possible market value can Guinness afford to pay for all that ‘affordable’ housing on the rest of Northwold Estate. Under this new catch-all phrase – which doesn’t bother trying to distinguish between 30 and 80 per cent of market rate, homes for rent, homes for private sale, mixed equity, the scam of shared ownership or the even bigger scam of Starter Homes – no mention of the number of homes for social rent lost is ever made in the viability assessments of property developers. And despite describing itself as a ‘not for profit’ organisation, that is exactly what the Guinness Partnership is.

If this is, indeed, the case, and the real profit motive for the Guinness Partnership’s interest in Northwold Estate, then the blocks they have already proposed for demolition are nothing more than a means for redeveloping the far more commercially valuable land on Clapton Road; and the households whose homes will be demolished and whose lives will be thrown into chaos over the next ten years as they are decanted, relocated and evicted from Northwold Estate are being manipulated and moved around like pawns on a chessboard. And like all pawns, they will be sacrificed when the real prize comes into play. But though the board is laid against us and the game fixed in advance, it’s still our move.

Architects for Social Housing

Deliverability of the ASH proposal on Central Hill: ASH response to Lambeth Labour Council

Fiona Cliffe
Capital Programme Manager
24 June 2016

Introduction

‘Following the February 2016 Resident Engagement Panel (REP) meeting the Council has sort to establish a constructive dialogue with Architects for Social Housing (ASH) so their proposals for Central Hill could be considered.’

‘The Council has now had the chance to review the ASH proposal and this report sets out a summary of the Council’s findings.’

Architects for Social Housing undertook to produce an architectural proposal for The Alternative to Demolition of Central Hill estate pro bono publico and with very limited financial resources. Lambeth Labour Council has not provided us with a brief, a housing needs survey, a measured survey of the existing estate, a consultant team, a criteria for deliverables, and of course we have received no payment. Not a single member of Lambeth Council, including the Cabinet Member for Housing and Ward Councillor for Crystal Palace, attended ASH’s formal presentations of our proposals: not when we presented to the Central Hill community in February 2016; nor again when we presented to the Residents Engagement Panel in May. Instead, with the backing of PRP Architects, Lambeth Council dismissed our design proposals even before they were published; and they continue to refuse to answer our Freedom of Information request to see their viability assessments months after it was issued. So Lambeth Labour Council’s ‘dialogue’ with us has been anything but ‘constructive’; on the contrary, it has been unrelentingly negative, dismissive and obstructive. Finally, as further evidence of their unwillingness to engage in ‘constructive dialogue’, Lambeth Labour Council has not invited ASH to discuss the issues they raise in this report, or to present our responses, which we are, therefore, publishing here.

01

Process of evaluation

‘The evaluation carried out by the Council is based on three key considerations:

  • ‘The deliverability of the proposed design when assessed against basic design, structural and planning principles;
  • ‘The feasibility of delivering the proposals within the financial constraints the Council finds itself in, and;
  • ‘The ability of Lambeth to fund the refurbishment costs for the 456 tenanted and leasehold homes on Central Hill and the value for money of this investment.’

The intention of ASH’s design proposal is to illustrate that there are alternatives to demolition that need to be explored for reasons that we have laid out in our critique of Lambeth Council’s Criteria for Demolition, which relate to the social and environmental costs of demolition and redevelopment, and which both Lambeth Council and PRP Architects have failed adequately to consider. The comments from Lambeth Council that follow in this report demonstrate their complete unwillingness to explore the proposals ASH has put forward in a constructive way, and their desire to dismiss them as quickly and quietly as possible based on fabricated figures, withheld information, inaccurate assessments, false claims and deliberate misunderstandings. The point of this commentary is to point out only the most glaring and cynical of these, which raise serious doubts about the integrity of the councillors making decisions about the homes and lives of thousands of Lambeth Borough residents.

Deliverability of ASH Proposals

1. Design and Planning

‘The 250 ‘new build’ homes would be subject to local planning requirements and this would require at least 40% of the new homes to be affordable.’

‘The planning requirements set out a certain mix of property sizes (i.e. 1 beds, 2 beds, 3 beds etc.) and at present the ASH proposal provides too many 1-bedroom homes and not enough family sized homes.’

This is factually inaccurate. In fact, ASH’s design proposal, including the retained existing homes, has a better mix of homes than Option D in PRP Architects’ scheme, which was presented to the residents earlier this year. Nearly 50 per cent of Central Hill Estate following ASH’s refurbishment and infill proposal would be 3 bedroom homes or greater, while only 29 per cent of PRP Architects’ scheme provided 3 bedrooms or more.

05

‘An initial commentary given by architects, planners, building control and general views were provided to ASH on 14 April 2016 and the Council’s urban designers, PRP, have further reviewed the proposals submitted by ASH and the commentary below summarises the key issues identified in the review:

  • ‘Buildings over four storeys in height will require lift access and therefore where you have buildings in excess of four storeys in the ASH proposal new lift access will need to be provided. This will have both design and cost considerations which the ASH proposal has not undertaken.’

Every new building with over four storeys is already provided with two lifts to allow for wheelchair access. The only location in which we propose new homes to be entered above the fourth floor is on the roof extensions to the prospect blocks (Site 15 in our proposal). We have now shown that, if necessary, lifts can easily be provided to access these new flats. We understand that, although it is desirable that floors at the fourth level and below be accessed by a lift, in mitigating circumstances the lift can be omitted according to the Minor Alterations to the London Plan (MALP):

‘3.48A. As set out in Approved Document M of the Building Regulations – Volume 1: Dwellings, to comply with requirement M4 (2), step-free access must be provided. Generally this will require a lift where a dwelling is accessed above or below the entrance storey. The application of requirement M4 (2) has particular implications for blocks of four storeys or less, where historically the London Plan has not required lifts. Boroughs should seek to ensure that dwellings accessed above or below the entrance storey in buildings of four storeys or less have step-free access. However, for these types of buildings this requirement may be subject to development-specific viability assessments and consideration should be given to the implication of ongoing maintenance costs on the affordability of service charges for residents. Where such assessments demonstrate that the inclusion of a lift would make the scheme unviable or mean that service charges are not affordable for intended residents, the units above or below the ground floor that cannot provide step free access would only need to satisfy the requirements of M4(1) of the Building Regulations.’ (my italics)

This exception potentially includes any buildings that are entered at fourth floor but for whom lifts would be prohibitively expensive. As they have done with the prohibitively expensive Lambeth Homes Standard, imposing this requirement at the cost of what can be afforded by the existing residents is another indicator of Lambeth Labour Council’s desire to socially cleanse residents from their homes under the guise of ‘improving’ them. If it’s a choice between walking up four flights of stairs to their homes and being moved four miles away from their homes, we believe residents will choose the former.

03

  • ‘The location of the tall buildings is not seen as appropriate and would have a difficult relationship both with the existing Victorian buildings and the retained low-rise blocks of Central Hill.’

In the absence of any clear designation, it is not clear which ‘tall buildings’ this comment is referring to. As part of our planning response to this in our previous statement we wrote:

‘Building new buildings next to existing ones will inevitably create new relationships between the new and existing buildings. This is the nature of building in cities. Good design should mean this is not a problem but an opportunity. Cities are not homogeneous places. The distinctive character of Crystal Palace is rooted in the eclectic mix of architectural styles, as the area has evolved since the citing of The Crystal Palace, including four- and five-storey converted Victorian mansions, two-storey dwellings west of Roman Rise, and 5-8-storey blocks of 1960s flats on the south side of Central Hill. The ground-breaking and award-winning architecture of Central Hill Estate is a key element in the story of the area. A palimpsest of different styles built up over time is what makes cities exciting, vibrant and interesting, the sites of cumulative memory. ASH’s proposal celebrates the existing architecture and community, while also offering the potential for new homes. There is no reason why the design of the new buildings cannot be sensitive to the existing context.’

  • ‘A minimum 10% of units are required to be wheelchair-accessible or easily adaptable for residents who are wheelchair users.’

ASH’s plans provide a minimum of 12 per cent new flats with wheelchair access, with the potential for more if necessary. All our new ‘infill’ blocks over four floors high are provided with lifts, and can accommodate as many wheelchair-accessible flats as are required. So this is not an issue but a careless or deliberate misreading of our proposal.

  • ‘Proposed external staircase for access to upper level roof extensions block the existing north-south public access routes and cannot be built whilst retaining the required access on the public stairs.’

Although the access to upper floors does in some places conflict with existing routes, this does not have significant implications for the existing estate, as there are always alternative routes through the estate. Where it is possible, we have designed the access stair to allow access beneath or alongside these new access points. Once again, we believe that the eviction of residents from their homes is considerably more disruptive than the alternation of a few routes through the estate. This displays a willful desire by Lambeth Council to fabricate paper-thin excuses to reject ASH’s proposal, and flies in the face of common sense and, more importantly, the presumed integrity of the Council’s report.

04

  • ‘The thickness of the walls as shown are not consistent and are generally insufficient to achieve compliance with Approved Building Regulations, Part L requirements. This is important, as when these are corrected it will require the buildings to increase in size, which will also increase the cost.’

ASH’s proposal is a feasibility exercise, and was based on an Ordnance Survey map at 1:500 scale, so quibbling over this level of detail has very little value except as an indicator of Lambeth Council’s attitude. All external walls on our designs have been shown at 400mm or in some cases 350mm, and it is perfectly possible to achieve part L requirement with these dimensions, depending on wall construction. ASH has not been provided with a more accurate survey by Lambeth Labour Council, so more detailed drawings at this stage would have little purpose. This comment – which frankly is not worthy of an architectural practice – illustrates a persistent desire for a level of detail that is entirely unnecessary at this stage of design, and once again the Council’s desire to fabricate reasons for rejecting ASH’s proposal.

  • ‘Roof extensions and infill elements create Daylight and Sunlight issues.’

All new buildings will, by definition, have an effect on the existing environment, some more than others. We have not been shown that our designs contravene residents’ Rights to Light. If they do, this can be easily mitigated as part of the ongoing design process. Once again, we firmly believe that the existing residents will have access to better amenities in their current homes within the ASH scheme, than if their homes are demolished as part of Lambeth Labour Council’s redevelopment proposal.

  • ‘There is a concern that in order to integrate the new homes above existing homes you would need to run services through existing properties.’

There are plenty of options to deal with services at a detail design stage. Again, we have been provided with no detailed services drawings or surveys, so are unable to make any assumptions. Building on top of existing homes, however, is a common solution to the densification of London, and the concerns raised are inconsistent with its use in contemporary housing. Lambeth Council really are clutching at straws here.

  • ‘There is a concern over the weight of the new homes above existing homes and whether the existing homes could take the additional load.’

At our request Arup Engineers have already carried out a preliminary desktop study to show that a single story extension is more than likely to be acceptable. Lambeth Labour Council, however, have refused to appoint an engineer to follow up this survey. This is a further example of the Council demonstrating that they have no interest in establishing the genuine viability of this proposal.

  • ‘Without further detailed design solutions it cannot be determined whether the above issues can be resolved. However, even if resolved the physical deliverability of ASH’s proposals need to be considered against 2 & 3 below.’

A classic example of ‘kettle logic’. If Lambeth Labour Council were genuinely interested in exploring whether or not these issues can be resolved in order to produce a viable alternative to demolition, they would commission the necessary work to be done. That they have chosen not to demonstrates, contrary to their excuses about the condition of the returned kettle, their desire to dismiss all alternatives out of hand.

2. Financial Feasibility

‘The Council undertook a financial appraisal of the ASH proposal and this is found in Appendix 3. Where available the Council has used cost information provided by ASH; where this was unavailable the Council provided the financial assumptions.’

‘The financial appraisal for the 250 new build homes shows a negative Net Present Value of £6.6m. This means that the money generated through the combined rents of the private homes and Council rent homes is insufficient to pay for the costs of building the new homes. The Council would therefore need to find additional money to make the ASH proposal achieve a break even position.’

‘This also means that there is no additional money generated by the 250 new homes and therefore there is no money generated to pay for the refurbishment of the existing homes on Central Hill.’

‘The Council could not therefore recommend this as a deliverable option.’

The mathematical calculations that ASH was provided with as part of Appendix 3 are, in fact, inaccurate and incorrect, and so cannot be used as the basis for assessing the viability of our proposals. Taking as an example this excerpt (below) from the viability assessment for our proposal produced for Lambeth Council by Airey Miller Construction Management, it can be seen that the assessment relates to one of our infill sites (Site 1) on which ASH has proposed building 30 new flats. The number of dwellings proposed is clearly indicated in the top line of the table as 30. As we go down the page, the chart at the bottom identifies the percentage of flats that will be for private and council rent, respectively, the total percentage of which therefore needs to add up to 100 per cent, with the total number of flats coming to the 30 indicated. However, as we see, only 1 flat for private rent out of the 30 has been accounted for, with 12 for council rent, a total of only 13 new flats. Where, then, have the other 17 private flats gone? Presumably the income from the rent of these private flats has not been added to the overall income from this building, so it’s no surprise that this site have been shown, as a result, to be ‘unviable’, with a negative pre-finance net present value (NPV). Is this simply a sloppy error by Lambeth Council, or a deliberate attempt to make our proposals ‘unviable’?

06

We have to assume the latter, because on top of these basic mathematical errors that we know of, ASH has not been provided with the assumptions on which these calculations were based. We have been informed by the Independent Advisors on the Residents Engagement Panel, however, that these are different from the assumptions on which PRP Architects’ initial viability assessment was based. ASH has made a Freedom of Information request for the calculations on which this appendix was based, which conflict with those used for the scheme by PRP architects, but we have been told by Lambeth Council that these ‘cannot be provided’. Specifically, they wrote to us that:

‘In all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information until the scheduled publication date. Therefore, the information is not provided to you.’

It is unclear, however, exactly what public interest is served in withholding the information pertaining to the viability assessment of both the ASH and PRP Architects schemes on Central Hill; but Lambeth Council has refused to answer further questions. Again, this is another example of the way in which Lambeth Council have sought to obstruct and dismiss our proposal. Lambeth Labour’s self-appointed designation as the ‘Cooperative Council’ is already something of a running joke, but nobody will be laughing when its deliberate attempts to pervert democratic process leads to the demolition of the homes of over a thousand residents on Central Hill estate. As far as we are concerned, therefore, the viability of the ASH proposal has not been sufficiently established, and we have no confidence in the assessment that Lambeth Labour Council has provided.

3. Investment Requirement for Central Hill

‘To reiterate the point above, as it is such a fundamental one, the ASH proposal does not address the issue of how to fund the costs to refurbish the 456 tenanted and leasehold homes on Central Hill.’

‘The ASH proposal would still require the Council to find the money to refurbish the new homes from existing budgets as the ASH proposal would not generate a positive receipt.’

In fact, there are several possibilities for funding the refurbishment of Central Hill Estate, such as forming a Tenant Management Organisation, or transferring the ownership of the estate to the residents, who can then borrow money against them to build the ASH proposal. Neither, however, has been explored by Lambeth Labour Council. We have not seen Lambeth Council undertake any explorations into alternative funding strategies – which, once again, demonstrates an unwillingness on their part genuinely to explore all the options open to the Central Hill community.

Other Considerations

‘As raised in the commentary of ASH’s initial proposals, there are potential issues with building over leasehold homes – all blocks have leasehold interests. Under the leases Lambeth reserves the right to build on adjacent land but does not reserve the right to alter the building in which the flats are contained. Potentially, the ‘enjoyment’ of other residents on the estate can be obstructed or interfered with and so they would have the right to object. The service charging and maintenance issues between Homes for Lambeth and the HRA will be complex.’

Building on top of leaseholders’ homes is, in fact, standard practice in other London boroughs, so it’s clearly not a fundamental problem to anyone who knows what they’re talking about, as opposed to someone making unfounded assertions confirming already reached conclusions. For example, as part of their ‘Hidden Homes’ project, Wandsworth Conservative Council has built new homes on top of Abbott House in Balham. Plenty of the existing homes are owned by leaseholders, as can been seen from the sale records of the flats. And it is our understanding that Lambeth Labour Council did, in fact, explore the possibility of building homes on top of the existing homes on the Hemans Estate. Is Lambeth Council now saying that it has different leasehold agreements with leaseholders there?

As to the ‘enjoyment’ of existing tenants: it is far more likely to be ‘obstructed’ or ‘interfered’ with as a result of a full demolition scheme than with some additional housing. With demolition, residents will not be able to ‘enjoy’ their existing homes and amenity spaces at all. Even if they are able to afford to return to the estate, which is highly unlikely, the amenities proposed as part of PRP Architects’ scheme would be considerably less than they currently enjoy. With adequate resources, ASH is quite capable of ensuring that no Rights to Light are infringed upon.

As to the complexity of service charging: again, we recommend that Lambeth Labour Council look at other councils that are doing exactly this. The fact that it is ‘complex’ should not be a reason to demolish an entire estate, or is the Council claiming incompetency? Given their inability understand ASH’s proposals, this would be the one thing in this report that is true.

Conclusions

‘Lambeth’s key priority is to build “More and Better Homes” and so any proposal has to look at how many additional homes can be delivered – specifically affordable homes, and also how it can deliver investment to the Lambeth Homes Standard for the retained Lambeth stock.’

‘The proposal by ASH would be challenging to deliver in light of the constraints highlighted above, in particular in building above existing homes, and the Council considers a more realistic and achievable figure would be 128 new homes.’

The council has not provided any evidence of how they have arrived at this new figure, which they have plucked from the sky, nor illustrated that they have tried to mitigate any of the constraints highlighted, most of which are due to the constraints of their comprehension and honesty in considering them.

‘The financial assessment of the costs given by ASH and income for the development of 250 homes shows a negative net present value of –£6.6m. As such the proposal is not feasible to be developed.’

ASH disputes this figure, which once again has been produced from thin air. We have not seen any accurate figures for its calculation, or the assumptions by which these figures were reached. To reiterate what we said above: the only figures ASH has been provided with are mathematically incorrect, and therefore cannot be trusted. The same might be said of the Council that, whether through incompetence or deliberately, provided us with those figures.

‘The ASH proposal will not generate any surplus money to fund the refurbishment of the existing homes and so residents will see no benefit other than the development of 250 new homes on their estate.’

We do not believe, or accept, that this is correct, as we do not have confidence in the viability assessment produced. In order for us to assess the veracity of Lambeth Labour Council’s viability assessment, we need to see it and have it independently assessed. As we have said, though, Lambeth Labour Council has refused to provide us with this assessment. Readers may come to their own conclusions as to why not.

‘In light of the assessment the Council cannot recommend the ASH proposal as a deliverable option and it will not be considered as part of the consultation with Lambeth tenants, leaseholders and freeholders on Central Hill.’

Contrary to this report, to which an architectural practice of PRP’s standing should be ashamed to contribute, ASH is convinced, and can show to anyone willing to attend our presentations – as Lambeth Labour Council is not – that our ‘Alternative to Demolition’ scheme is the most socially, environmentally and financially viable future for Central Hill Estate. Our proposal may be viewed on our blog here, and we reiterate that our designs are part of a feasibility study, and can be developed in further consultation with residents to meet their needs, rather than the investment opportunities of property speculators on London’ s housing market.

Finally, before ASH is asked to defend its proposals against the fabricated and disingenuous appraisals of a report such as this, Lambeth Labour Council has a duty to the residents of Central Hill Estate to answer the many questions about the social and environmental costs of their proposed redevelopment scheme. To this end, ASH has outlined these questions in our text Criteria for Estate Demolition: ASH Response to Lambeth Labour Council, which we recommend as further reading for both residents and councillors alike. We look forward to receiving Lambeth Council’s response.

Geraldine Dening
Architects for Social Housing

Below is PRP Architect’s Design Compliance Risk Assessment for ASH’s proposal, on which Lambeth Council’s report is based, with ASH’s point-by-point response. All the images reproduced in this post may be viewed in greater detail on request.

ASH design proposals for West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates

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In response to the question addressed to ASH by the Architect’s Journal, there are many ways in ASH’s design proposals for the West Kensington & Gibbs Green People’s Plan are better than Capco’s masterplan, the primary and overriding one being that the residents, many of whom have lived here all their lives, will be able to remain living in their homes, the refurbishment of which can be funded by the provision of up to 250 new homes.

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ASH’s proposal is an entirely sustainable one, both socially and environmentally, that builds on the existing thriving community and surrounding neighbourhood, rather than wiping them out. A palimpsest of different styles over time is what makes cities dynamic, vibrant and interesting. Cities are places of cumulative memory, not something to be erased and rewritten every forty years like a cheap hard drive. That is cultural vandalism. The estates are well loved, and there is nothing wrong with them architecturally that cannot be addressed with investment and thoughtful and intelligent interventions that not only address any concerns residents may have but simultaneously provide the additional homes the area needs.

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ASH’s proposals provide a large range of new homes, from bungalows for the elderly and disabled (potentially freeing up some of the larger homes which may be under-occupied) to new townhouses for growing families needing more space.

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All this can be achieved without residents having to leave the estate, their friends, family and neighbours, all of which are the crucial but ignored foundations of our social structures.

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ASH’s proposal for a new block of flats on Lillie Road has the potential for a mix of uses on the ground floor, creating a new public square and entrance into the estates. This will make a really positive contribution to the public realm, working with the existing streets, not in spite of them.

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New and improved community facilities such as allotments and a new centralized community centre will support the existing community, which has matured and bonded over the years. The effectiveness of communal space is directly related to the maintenance of the environment and the stability and continuity of the community inhabiting the space. Reinvigorating the environment with new and improved communal facilities will only enhance this stable community’s enjoyment and use of the estate.

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Our proposal also sets out to increase the biodiversity of the existing green open spaces on the estates, which sit along a biodiversity corridor identified in Kensington and Chelsea’s latest Biodiversity Action plan.  As well as increasing the air quality on Lillie road and North End Road and Targarth Road, this will also ensure that it’s a great place for young families and children, and the elderly, which is not a defining characteristic of Capco’s scheme.

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Environmentally our scheme clearly also has the benefit – through retrofit and refurbishment – of retaining the embodied carbon and energy present within the buildings largely concrete and brick structures, which Capco’s full demolition scheme clearly doesn’t. In the Twenty-first Century it is unacceptable to ignore the devastating consequences demolition has on the urban environment when refurbishment is a much more viable and sustainable alternative. French architects Lacation and Vassal have shown how successful this is as a model architectural approach to french post war housing estates.

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In addition the construction could take advantage of recent advances in modern methods of construction using prefabricated elements thus aiming to reduce dust and noise, and with minimal disruption to the life of the estate.

More luxury homes are not what London needs. We don’t have a shortage of luxury homes, the market for which is collapsing. We do, however, have a severe shortage of low cost homes for social and council rent that people can afford. Capco’s plans will only exacerbate this lack of homes that Londoners desperately need and can afford to live in.

Wholesale devastation of longstanding neighbourhoods and communities, which are the direct effect of projects like Capco’s, are simply making things worse, for both the estate residents and the surrounding area. As a result of Capco’s plan, neighbouring communities will in turn suffer from increases in rent and council tax, a further burden on already overstretched public services like health clinics, schools and roads, and be indirectly forced out by stealth. This is an overt strategy discussed in real estate firm Savills’ ‘Complete Streets’ model. The estate demolition programme is destroying London with no regard for anything other than the profits of developers and investors.

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Many of the home owners who bought their homes via Right to Buy will – as demonstrated by the Heygate model – most likely have to move out of London altogether. Remaining tenants – if they can afford to return – will pay considerably higher rents, council tax, service charges, etc., forcing many of these families out as well, simply because they can no longer afford to live in their own neighbourhood. The promise of ‘like for like’ is simply a myth. Are they really going to be giving all the residents who currently live in a 3-4 bedroom home with a garden a whole house in the new development when a one bed flat is being advertised for £750,000?

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There is no evidence that estate regeneration improves the lives of the existing tenants. On the contrary, it is more likely to put residents in a significantly worse off situation economically, and have a significantly detrimental effect. Then there are the effects that the demolition of their homes has on the mental health of residents, many of the older of whom will die unhappily and alone during the course of this process, most likely in temporary housing during the so-called ‘decanting’ stage that drags on for five to ten years.

A house or a flat is not the same as a home. These places are peoples’ homes, and they are being destroyed for profit and political expediency. We know the lengths developers go to minimise what they are obliged to give back to the community through manipulated viability assessments. They have no interest in contributing to the public good of the city, unless it benefits their shareholders in some way. Is this who we want defining the future landscape of London?

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Michael Heseltine, Chair of the panel set up to look at how to implement the Prime Minister’s so-called Blitz initiative for council estates has said that estate regeneration ‘has to be locally led’, and that he wants to ‘see local communities coming forward with innovative ideas to achieve desirable neighbourhoods that local people can be proud of.’

ASH’s design proposals for the West Ken and Gibbs Green People’s Plan is a model for how estate regeneration should be done. In post-Brexit UK, we believe this is an example of how London should show its respect for its poor and working classes, whose needs have been ignored for so long.

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The People’s Plan is also a better deal financially for the local authority, whose deal with Capco was woefully (some would say, criminally) bad. We hope that by seeing what this alternative has to offer, the local Labour Council, London Mayor and the Secretary of State will support the residents’ application for a Right to Transfer the estates into community ownership, with the only genuinely sustainable, financially viable and socially just future for the residents of West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates.

Geraldine Dening
Architects for Social Housing

Download the full PDF of ASH’s feasibility report here: WKGG_report_rev3

The article based on our response in the Architects’ Journal can be read here: AJ article 8 August 2016

 

Central Hill: The Alternative to Demolition

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These images were presented to the Central Hill Estate Residents Engagement Panel on the 17 May, 2016. The proposals take on board comments from Lambeth’s planning   department, as well as comments from residents, neighbours and other architects following our previous exhibition on 20 February, 2016, as published:

(https://architectsforsocialhousing.wordpress.com/2016/02/23/central-hill-estate-design-proposals/)

The award winning Central Hill estate is a unique and highly successful piece of architecture and landscaping that is home to an established community, many of whom have lived here since it was built in the early 1970s by LCC architect Rosemary Stjernstedt under Ted Hollamby.

ASH’s proposals illustrate the potential to add around 222 new homes on Central Hill Estate, without demolishing a single home.

The proposals here reinforce the ideology and intentions of the original architecture of the estate, whilst allowing for the full refurbishment of the existing homes and public realm – bringing them up to a ‘decent standard’, and thus addressing any current concerns about their homes voiced by residents.

Lambeth’s arguments for the demolition of the estate do not stand up to scrutiny in any way other than increasing the density and land value of the estate. We believe this alone cannot justify the demolition of the 456 existing homes, and the uprooting of a long-standing community.

This is an initial feasibility study, and there are many possible design solutions to the fundamental proposition that architectural alternatives to demolition exist. What is presented here is an outline proposal to demonstrate the numbers of additional homes that could be gained on the estate.

The scheme has been costed by an independent quantity surveyor, and planning advice has been sought to ensure that all proposals correspond to local and national planning policies. Structural advice has also been sought to establish the feasibility of roof extensions.

If you would like to sign the petition supporting these proposals, see the ASH Petition

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Site Strategy

The new buildings fall into two categories: infill and roof extensions.

Infill

The infill homes are situated on currently underused spaces around the estate, which were identified by residents on walkabouts during the summer of 2015.

Many of the new infill buildings are located around the periphery of the estate. This addresses a common criticism of estates (and Central Hill in particular): that they don’t have clearly defined edges, or straightforward relationships to the traditional street patterns surrounding them. The infill architecture therefore creates material and formal links between Central Hill and the surrounding area; both knitting it into the traditional street fabric and distinguishing clear entry points, whilst also reinforcing the existing architecture and distinct sense of place.

The saw-tooth form of the fringe housing roofscape is intended to make reference to the Gipsy Hill part of the estate, while maximising the light into the remaining estate, and providing a durable low-maintenance roof.

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The roof extensions are limited to one-storey extensions on the tops of some of the 1 bed ‘Prospect’ blocks and on the outer ring of low-rise housing, in order to minimise the effects of the reduction of light and obstruction of views on the rest of the estate.

The roof extensions are placed intermittently, with an undulating roof line, to ensure a rhythm of light penetrates the houses below.

Where light and privacy is a concern, distances between old and new buildings are a minimum of 12m. The 45 degree ‘rule of thumb’ has been applied to all new buildings to ensure that the right to light of the existing buildings is not affected.

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Public Realm and Street Surfaces: Accessibility

One of the criticisms of Central Hill is the steepness of the site and the difficulties navigating the pedestrian routes. We would propose a new street surface throughout. New ramps and lifts designed to serve the new housing along Central Hill (road) would also form part of the proposed communal circulation strategy, providing new access routes into the estate.

Perceived Safety and Natural Surveillance

Lighting on the estate is currently extremely poor, and good uplighting would address many of the concerns people have walking around at night. The new roof extensions on top of the existing low-rise blocks would also increase ‘eyes on the street’ and improve the natural surveillance of the pedestrian ‘ways’ which traverse the site. Another proposal discussed with some residents last year was the possibility of reducing the heights of the garden gates which would enable greater visibility from the kitchen and front garden into the street. Another possibility is to lower the heights of garden storage units to allow for better surveillance of the streets here. Trellises could be installed for growing plants but would still allow for a more open relationship to the pedestrian streets.

Bio-Diversity

Central Hill’s existing ‘natural’ landscape is unique, diverse and rich, catering for a wide range of birds and wildlife. ASH’s proposal intends to respect and retain as many of the existing trees and habitats as possible. Green roofs have been proposed to be added to the remaining flat roofs of the existing low rise houses which would enhance the existing eco-system.

We also propose to reinstall the original ‘green fingers’ which were intrinsic to the original design, and which have been destroyed in the recent years – with green roofs on the bin stores, trees outside doorways, and ivy and other climbing plants on the retaining walls.

Design: Context, Form and Materials

Cities are not homogeneous places, but the places of cumulative memory. Our proposal celebrates the existing architecture and community while also offering the potential for a significant number of new homes. The distinctive character of Upper Norwood/Crystal Palace is rooted in the diverse and eclectic range of styles that have appeared as the area has evolved. From Victorian mansions, to 1960s towers and the award-winning Central Hill Estate, the ongoing palimpsest at Central Hill is entirely in keeping with the history of the area.

We would look to use materials and forms which would create close relationships between the old and new; in particular making use of similar white flint lime bricks in the new infill housing, and echoing the existing Gipsy Hill housing with saw-tooth zinc roofs on the new builds. Pitched roofs also relate to the surrounding vernacular.

Community

Our proposal supports and retains the community and environment which has matured and bonded over the last 40 years. The role of the existing community in the formulation and execution of the regeneration of Central Hill is a fundamental aspect of this proposal. The engagement of this longstanding community in the process to date has enhanced community cohesion, and a sense of ownership of these proposals has evolved. This will contribute to the continued success of the estate, and have an impact on the effective use, maintenance and safety of the communal spaces.

Environmental Sustainability

The retention of the existing buildings is a huge environmental benefit. The amount of embodied carbon which would be unnecessarily released through the demolition of the existing masonry buildings and the concrete foundations is a pending environmental disaster. The life-cycle carbon impact of the demolition scheme must taken into account as this goes entirely against Lambeth’s own sustainability policy.

There is the possibility for the implementation of renewable energy sources, such as solar/PV panels on top of all new roofs, and wind turbines on the boiler towers.

New Building Sites

Site 1. The Old Boiler House

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Site 1a

28 homes of which all are wheelchair accessible (46% currently specified)

Site 1 retains the chimneys of the old boiler house, establishing a new entrance to the estate. The existing boiler house structure is retained (as far as practical) and the lower double-height space occupied by two floors. The lower floor could be renovated for commercial or workshop use (subject to resident and local neighbourhood consultation) – or simply parking – and cycle and bin storage for the new housing above. Two lifts facilitate an additional 7 floors of wheelchair accessible housing provided above, with the 7th floor set back to reduce its impact on the surroundings.

A 45 degree Right to Light exercise has been undertaken which illustrates that the new buildings will not have a significant impact on the closest adjacent buildings. Planning have made comments indicating that a more slender plan might be preferable, and we would reiterate that plenty of other design solutions are entirely possible. We have illustrated the example of occupying the maximum footprint of the boiler house, generating an equal mix of 1B2P and 2B4P units, and ‘standard’ and wheelchair accessible units.

Workspaces

The proposal for workshops in this location was the result of community consultation. The Designation of Crystal Palace as an ‘Enterprise Centre’ would support this application.ASH_CH_05_2016_report3

Site 1b

4 no 1B2P flats over parking (Or 2 no 3B6P maisonettes over parking – subject to a detailed survey of existing parking provision) form a street frontage to Lunham Road.

Site 2, 3, 4. Communal Facilities and Existing Green and Play Spaces.

ASH_CH_05_2016_report4The existing community facilities currently occupy a large amount of area within the centre of the estate. ASH proposes that the existing communal facilities are demolished, and re-provided (day care centre, nursery, and community hall) along the edge of the estate along Lunham Road. This would allow an increase in the size of the green space, and improved play facilities.

Alongside this, the existing housing office is to be demolished and moved on to the main road – also freeing up green space.

Above these new community spaces new housing is to be provided.

2 lifts and deck access enable this to be wheelchair accessible, allowing for 38 new flats of varying sizes in total.

The deliberately fragmented nature of development is a key feature of the existing estate which our proposals seek to emulate. Blocks here are discontinuous in plan to reflect the houses opposite, and the heights of these blocks are varied in order to create a punctured skyline when viewed from the estate, ensuring that everyone from the estate retains views of London across and between the new undulating roofscape. This also minimises the reduction of light to the existing houses on the Northwest side of Lunham Road.

Site 5. Access from Central Hill Road

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12-14 new flats with 2 lifts of which 100% currently specified as wheelchair accessible

Central Hill is steep – and, towards the top, considerably higher than the access road of Oakwood Drive. In order to address the difficulty of disabled access into the estate at this point, this block could incorporate a double lift core – to not only enable wheelchair accessibility to the whole block, but also to the rest of the estate below

This block, like all the buildings along Central Hill (road), is nestled well within the trees. It would have little impact on the houses on the other side of the road, and negligible impact on the neighbouring blocks on Central Hill itself – being predominantly adjacent to flank walls.

Site 6, 7, 8, 9. Fringe Housing

The new housing along Central Hill continues the theme of accessible housing and increasing permeability into the estate. We propose terraces of houses elevated above the access road (Oakwood Drive). If refuse and / or fire access is needed along here, this can be accommodated. However, with our suggestion to review the current refuse strategy, the soffit might be able to be reduced from 4.5 m. We are also under the impression that necessary fire access is achieved without the use of this access road, but this would need to be checked.

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The housing proposed consists of maisonettes on the lower 2 floors, and one bed flats above. Access to the maisonettes is achieved via walkways directly off the main road (with associated individual bins and cycle storage), and deck access and amenity space to the top flats can be provided either to the North or South. The roofs are either proposed as shown with sawtooth profile, or pitched down towards the North to reduce their impact on the one bed Prospect extensions. The distance between the existing and proposed windows are a minimum of 12-13 metres apart.

At various points along the main road, we propose ramps to enable disabled access into the site. Stairs would also be introduced at regular intervals, improving the estate’s porosity and permeability.

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Site 10 and 11. A Gateway to the Estate

On the site of the existing hostel (which we believe to be only partially occupied in a temporary manner) we are proposing the construction of a new 5-7 storey block of flats (site 10), and a smaller block closer to the low-rise housing to the north (site 11). The site is adjacent to wide roads, so the buildings would not have any detrimental impact on any of the existing neighbouring houses. We would propose that the form and material of the new buildings emulate those of the existing buildings, to establish a sensitive relationship with their surroundings.

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Site 10 is designed to ensure minimal loss of trees, and the creation of a communal garden for the flats, as well as individual back gardens for the ground floor maisonettes.

Two lifts would allow this whole block to be wheelchair accessible, with maisonettes on the ground floor accessed directly from the street, enabling an architectural transition from the urban grain of the street to that of the estate. Roofs could be pitched to correspond with the roof extensions to the adjacent existing flat blocks, or green roofs (or a combination of the two).

The existing hostel facilities (8 hostel dwellings) could be provided within this block, or elsewhere within the estate.

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Site 12. New Edge Block

A small 3-4 storey block of flats is proposed above the existing parking (assuming the parking is required to remain). This height of this has been reduced to minimise its impact on the neighbouring buildings. Although it would not noticeably affect the light conditions, a taller building might be less appropriate in this location.

Site 14. Police Station

A block to the rear of the existing police station was a preliminary proposal which has since been discounted partly due to the fact that it is not within the boundaries of the existing estate.

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Site 13. Maisonettes

A pair of maisonettes are proposed to the north of Hawke Road, in the garden of Pear Tree house. The impact of this on the adjacent existing homes is to be minimised.

Site 18. High Limes

Buildings refurbished and extended. 6 new flats in the new block, 3 new flats on top of the existing ones.

We propose a new flat block to the west of the 1 bed studio block. New housing is proposed on top of the existing block, similar to Site 15 above. The addition of a lift here would enable the existing flats to have step-free access.

There is the potential to provide additional community space on upper ground floor above the parking entrance, and the lower ground access to parking and refuse is to be retained.

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Sites 15. 1-Bedroom Roof Extensions on the Prospects

One additional floor is proposed on top of the existing 1 bed flat blocks, adding 43 additional homes. Access is achieved by extending the existing staircases. The present water tanks are to be incorporated into the proposals, but the way in which this happens requires more detailed survey information not available to us at this time.

Material and construction. These are to be made of prefabricated timber (or similar construction) and craned on to site. The zinc pitched roof allows light to pass through to the flats to the north, and simultaneously requires lower maintenance than a flat roof.

Structurally, the 3-4 storey blocks are deemed by Arups (the engineers of the original estate) to be capable of accommodating an additional storey.

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Site 161-2 Bed Roof Extensions to Low-Rise Maisonettes

Adding 22 additional homes. 16a is built on top of 3 person 4 bed homes, 16b on top of 3 bed 5 person homes, and 16c, on top of the 4 bed 6 person homes.

Access to these new prefabricated flats (construction as above) varies for each block, but typically is via a new stair either central to the blocks or to one side. The individual flats are accessed via a deck to the north side, and overlooking into gardens below can be moderated by the use of deep planters if necessary. Roof gardens are accommodated for each property – the orientation of which could be to the north or south, or in some cases both. Views from these can be moderated by the use of deep planters as before.

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Again, the water tanks on the roofs of the existing buildings are to be incorporated into the proposals.

The zinc sawtooth / pitched roof form both relates to the Gypsy Hill side of the estate, while letting a rhythm of light through to the flats behind and below, and, again, simultaneously requires lower maintenance than a flat roof.

Two storey options have been explored, but structural analysis is yet to establish the capacity of the existing buildings for the additional storey.

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Structure to roof extension. Additional floors to the existing low-rise maisonettes need further calculations to confirm application.

Arups have considered a number of building types ie 2 storey (ground, 1st + roof), 3 storey (ground, 1st, 2nd & roof) and 4 storey (ground, 1st, 2nd, 3rd & roof).  In each case they have assumed a section as per the IStructE article whereby the building is stepped from the back to the front.  When reviewing loads they have considered only the front or rear portions, so there is some conservatism in the central portion, albeit not much.  They have assumed that there is not much by way of superimposed dead load on top of the concrete slabs at each level (ie no screed).  If there is any screed, this will make the numbers below slightly better (ie it will reduce the percentage increase in load for the additional storey).

In each case they have considered adding a single level timber pod at roof level.  They have assumed that the pod will weight a maximum of 1.5kN/m2 on plan, including the walls, and that it will effectively span from wall to wall.  They have not checked whether the existing roof slabs (which would almost certainly have been designed for a lower imposed load than the floor slabs) have enough rebar to carry the required residential loading.  They have the rebar drawings so this is a check that someone could (and indeed should) do if they were to take the review to the next level, and they had permission from the building owner to obtain the drawings.

Below is a table which shows the percentage increase in working load (dead load plus live load) at the top of the piles and the base of the cross walls due to the extra floor. The old Building Control rule of thumb says that if loads are increased on foundations by less than about 10 per cent then all will be OK. This assumes of course that the structure is in good condition to begin with and not showing any signs of distress. So, without looking in more detail at pile loads and capacities, they might conclude that adding an extra floor to a 2 storey building could be challenging, but adding to a 3 storey or more building should be possible. It obviously gets easier as the existing building gets taller.  Again, we have pile drawings with design loads on so someone could do a more detailed check and they might manage to justify that the extension on the top of the smaller buildings is OK too.  They are much less concerned about the increase in load at the base of the walls as the stresses are relatively low. A structural engineer should be appointed to undertake a proper review of the drawings before any commitment is made to increasing the height of the existing blocks.

Height of existing building Percentage increase in load at top of piles for 1 extra floor* Percentage increase in load at base

of walls for 1 extra floor*

2 storey 14% 19%
3 storey 10% 12.5%
4 storey 8.5% 10.5%
* Assumes lightweight timber pod

Refurbishment Strategy

Beyond the environmental advantages, which are enormous, the refurbishment of the existing homes is considerably cheaper than demolition and reconstruction. The homes are structurally sound, and could easily last another 60 years. The current problems which need to be addressed are typically mould and leaky roofs. All the roofs on the outer ring will be replaced as part of the new roof extensions, and it is suggested that green roofs be installed across the remaining low rise flat roofs. All that remains is to deal locally with cold bridging problems which, on closer inspection, is most likely to be dealt with by applying external render to the slab edges.

The existing buildings have cavity walls, so blown-in insulation is an option if necessary.

The tops of walls need to be adequately protected from water ingress, and the glazing to the balconies needs to be replaced. Roofs to balconies will need to be re-made throughout. The key to quality construction is to ensure good workmanship and warranties to the work throughout.

Following conversations with various residents of the estate over the last year, we know there are problems with the existing homes, such as mould and condensation. These are common problems, caused often by badly designed and fitted windows, and are very easily remedied by well-designed and careful refurbishment. The solutions are improved ventilation strategies, better double glazing and local insulation to cold bridges. We are currently working on a similar scheme in West London, where we are proposing precisely this solution to the same problems. In no respect are these problems justification for demolishing an entire estate.

We also propose to renovate the existing walkways to improve the surfaces, with a new lighting strategy, and to replace the wonderful planting throughout the estate that was part of the original scheme (as mentioned earlier)

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Landscape Strategy

Central Hill currently has the key role of a green corridor between Ravenscourt Park and Crystal Palace. Demolishing the estate would separate the two green areas and have a detrimental impact on the well-being of local wildlife as well as that of the residents.

In spite of the negative representation of the estate by PRP architects, who were appointed by Lambeth Council to come up with the redevelopment plans, Central Hill is a beautiful place to walk through and both residents and neighbouring communities recognise the value of their estate’s green spaces. Residents’ participation in the Open Garden Estates event in June 2015 demonstrates this, as does the daily use of the playgrounds and alleys by children.

Over the summer of 2015 ASH worked closely with Central Hill residents to come up with proposals for improvements to the landscape of the estate. The proposed interventions, which were developed in open consultation with residents, are light additions that tap into Central Hill’s great potential. These include new designs for balconies and patios, the introduction of a marketplace in the main square, vegetable gardens and playground improvements, and proposals for the reuse of the recycling castles, some of which the residents are already putting in motion.

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Priced Schedules

Robert Martell and Partners very kindly agreed to undertake a pricing of ASH’s design proposals. This currently only contains the new build proposals because Lambeth Council’s own surveyor has already made a proposal for the costs of refurbishment based on their own survey. Due to lack of funds we have been unable to undertake our own survey of the same degree of detail, so have simply accepted Lambeth’s costs for refurbishment at this time. According to Lambeth’s surveyor the refurbishment will cost around £18.5m, of which £6.2m are internals that should be covered by the decent homes funds.

Below is the summary of the costed schedules:

Central Hill cost summaryGD.xls

Conclusion

ASH’s proposal is the most cost effective, social and environmentally sustainable future for Central Hill Estate, and one that respects the unique architecture and landscape of the existing estate. Above all, it allows the existing community to remain in their homes. Please show your support for this proposal and Save Central Hill Community.

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Geraldine Dening
Architects for Social Housing

Resistance by Design: West Kensington & Gibbs Green Estates

The regeneration of London’s council estates is by now widely regarded as the answer to the housing shortage that is driving up the cost of living in the capital beyond the means of most Londoners, both renters and home buyers alike. However, in one of the contradictions that is driving London’s housing crisis, this solution has been used to justify demolishing the only homes to have escaped this escalation in house prices and destroying the communities they house, all in order to increase their housing capacity. ‘Densification’ is the typically ugly watchword on every property developer’s lips. But the argument for and against the demolition of London’s council estates should not rest on the ability of developers to increase their housing capacity but on the identity of the residents that will be housed in their replacements. Despite empty promises to the contrary, every new development scheme reduces the rights and increases the rents of the existing tenants, typically to prohibitive levels, while leaseholders are invariably offered less than half the cost of the new homes in compensation for their demolished current ones. Behind all the brave talk of single-move decanting and rapid re-housing of residents in shiny new units, regeneration schemes are little more than a crude grab at some of the most valuable land in the world in order to profit from London’s hugely inflated housing market.

It is no surprise, then, that the increase in the number of homes has been made the deciding factor in whether or not estates should be regenerated, when that increase is the measure of the profits their demolition and redevelopment will generate. In this numbers game, increase in private buyers, increase in private renters, increase in property sales value, increase in developer profit margins – with the corresponding decrease in council management costs, decrease in council maintenance costs, decrease in developer construction costs, and decrease in council tenants’ rights – are the arguments that add up. The use value of the properties as homes, the class identity of the occupants housed, the quality and longevity of the communities they form – all these have no measurable, quantifiable value in the real estate market. A home is an asset, a community a consumer market, a housing estate an investment opportunity for capital, and the people whose homes stand in its way are, in these terms, expendable. It is in these terms that the homes and lives of the residents of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates have been measured, counted and valued by property developers Capco, and declared by them to be worthless.

1. The Right to Transfer

In July 2015, Architects for Social Housing (ASH) was contacted by West Kensington and Gibbs Green Community Homes, a community-run management team set up by residents in 2011. West Kensington and Gibbs Green are two adjacent estates in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, which in May 2014 elected a new Labour controlled Council. Together, the estates contain 760 homes and nearly 2,000 residents. 600 residents are members of Community Homes, and represent two-thirds of the estate homes. They asked ASH to suggest possible architectural practices that might be interested in drawing up plans as part of a feasibility study identifying infill options and other housing and community opportunities for the estates. This was to be part of their application for a Right to Transfer from the local authority to a community owned, resident controlled housing association.

On their behalf, ASH contacted several practices that worked in the regeneration of council estates. However, every one of them declined the commission. The reasons they gave for doing so were various – because they were too busy, because they lacked the necessary experience, because the fee was too low, because they were already working with the local authority and it would potentially jeopardise their relationship with a client, or because they were already working for Capco, the property investment and development company behind the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estate regeneration.

On 11 August 2015, West Kensington and Gibbs Green Community Homes served legal notice on Hammersmith and Fulham Council proposing the transfer of their homes under section 34a of the Housing Act 1985. The legislation required to do so had finally been implemented at the end of 2013 after years of lobbying the Coalition government, and the notice only served after many months delay at the request of what was then the Conservative Council. In fact, as far back as January 2010, residents of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates had written to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, asking him to write the regulations requiring local authorities to cooperate with transfer requests.

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In response to the Right to Transfer, Hammersmith and Fulham Council, who had excluded estate residents from their meetings with Capco, said that the land the estates are built on had already been sold that April to the developers subject to vacant possession. Presumably it was for this reason that the Conservative-led Council had asked Community Homes to delay putting in their transfer request. Community Homes responded that, since the estate was still being run by the local authority, the sale of the land could not have gone through as claimed. Either way, having first taken legal advice, the now Labour Council wrote to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, whose present incumbent is Greg Clark, requesting that he refuse the Right to Transfer. The important point in all this is that the change from a Conservative-led Council to a Labour-led Council had made no difference either to Capco’s plans or to the willingness of the local authority to listen to residents’ opposition to them.

On 26 August, Community Homes gave ASH the brief to produce a fee proposal for a feasibility study for their Right to Transfer. We submitted this in September. On 23 October residents presented their case to the Secretary of State, laying out their alternative plan to the planned demolition of their estates; and at the end of the month ASH, which is a working collective, assembled its own team and began work on the feasibility study.

2. The People’s Plan

On 12 November Community Homes launched The People’s Plan, their proposal to become a community-run housing association. As part of the launch, ASH conducted their first consultation workshop for refurbishment, infill, and extensions on the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates. Residents were grouped into the building type they lived in – high-rise, 4-5 storey blocks and terrace houses, as well as its location on the estates – and asked to talk about what they did and didn’t like about where they lived and why, as well as their thoughts about the estate in general, problems they wanted addressing (such as access, safety, rubbish disposal and maintenance), plus what opportunities they saw for new developments (where new homes might be built, community halls restored, play areas recovered). Facilitators from ASH and Community Homes chaired the discussion and recorded comments. Residents were encouraged to write their views down on tags: red for problems, blue for things they liked, and green for solutions, and to pin them on the accompanying map of the estate. More than 60 residents turned up, and the very lively conversations went on for over three hours.

Four further consultations followed. Two walking tours guided by residents were conducted around the estates on 18 and 19 November, including invitations into their homes; a landscape and refurbishment workshop was held on 24 November; and a new buildings workshop on 1 December. Approximately 150 residents participated in these consultations. The responses were compiled in a large plan of the two estates titled ‘What You Have Told Us So Far’, which took the form of a textual map of the residents’ thoughts and feelings about particular places. In contrast to the God-like vantage point of most architectural plans put forward by developers in order to justify the demolition of what they see exclusively as concrete buildings, the ASH map sought to represent the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates as a living community of people with voices and opinions about the homes and spaces in which they live.

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The conduct of these consultations is at the heart of ASH’s strategy. The first time council residents realise their estate has been earmarked for regeneration is often after they have gone through the Council’s consultation process. This is typically conducted under the misleading promise of refurbishing their homes, an option which is then found to be financially ‘unviable’. However, in the case of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, even this option was never put on the table by the Conservative Council, which went straight for full demolition and redevelopment. What consultation they have conducted has been about the replacement apartments.

As was the case with the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, the consultation process is also usually the first time residents make contact with ASH. By then, however, which typically occurs several years into the regeneration process, much of the information subsequently used to justify the demolition of their homes has been gathered. When consultation practices come into estate regeneration with a fixed set of objectives, supplied in advance by the client, for the demolition and redevelopment of the existing estate, the consultation process is used to generate the reasons and excuses to achieve this. At ASH, by contrast, we start by asking the community about their needs and wishes, and use these to generate objectives and initiatives to bring them about. As such, it is a process that moves from the inside outwards, from the community to genuine estate regeneration – and one that leaves the existing community intact. In the case of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, residents have consistently voted against demolition and for the refurbishment of their homes. In a 2012 consultation conducted by the Council in March 2012, an overwhelming 80 percent of residents voted against the demolition of the estate. It is this majority decision, reached democratically and transparently by the community rather than imposed from outside and above by secret committee, that our designs have sought to realise.

On 15 December, drawing on these varied and extensive consultations, ASH held an exhibition of a range of architectural proposals for the estate, to which residents came and offered further responses and comments. This feedback was listened to, further changes were made, and on 19 January, at a meeting with the Community Homes Board of 14 residents and 4 housing sector experts, we presented our final proposals. In response to these designs, a resident of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates said: ‘There’s not one aspect that wouldn’t be an improvement and better than demolition.’

3. The Master Plan

Capco is the abbreviation for Capital & Counties Properties PLC, one of whose businesses, EC&O, owns the Earl’s Court and Olympia venues. Earl’s Court Properties Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Capco, submitted the planning application on the West Kensington and Gibbs Green sites in June 2011, and outline planning consent was granted by Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s Planning Application Committee in September 2012. In January 2013 the Council signed a Conditional Land Sale Agreement to include the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates in the redevelopment of Earl’s Court, and that April the Government gave its consent to the transfer of the estates to Earl’s Court Properties.

Capco has proposed a £12 billion scheme to demolish the 760 homes on the existing estates and replace them with a total of 7,500 units spread across the entire Earl’s Court and Olympia site, with over 800 being built on the Seagrave Road development to the south, which they have now renamed Lillie Square. Following Capco’s own viability assessment, which has been criticised by the District Valuer Service for grossly underestimating the developer’s future profits, 89 percent of the 6,740 additional homes will be sold privately at full market rate. Only 11 percent, a meagre 740 new homes, are earmarked as ‘affordable’ housing – which means sold or let at up to 80 percent of market value – with none set aside for social rent. The remaining 760 new homes are allocated to replace the demolished homes on the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates. The construction timetable aims to re-house residents within ten years.

However, the Government’s 2015 Housing and Planning Bill, when it becomes law, will remove agreements made under Section 106 of the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act to build any affordable housing, either for sale or for rent, and replace them with an enforceable duty to build Starter Homes capped in Greater London at £450,000. Moreover, this cap, which already requires an annual salary of £77,000 and a deposit of £97,000, is only provisional, and may be amended by the Secretary of State for different areas in the capital. Hammersmith and Fulham is the fourth most expensive borough in which to own a property in London, with house prices an average of £950,000. So, bad as the current deal sounds, if Capco’s plans come to fruition it’s highly unlikely that any of the new apartments on the new development will sell for anything below half a million pounds, and most for far more.

As for the 760 homes allocated to re-house existing residents – the land for which Hammersmith and Fulham Council will have to lease back off Capco – residents will only qualify for them if they have lived in their current properties for at least 12 months before the July 2011 deadline. This excludes anyone who submitted a Right to Buy application after June 2011, when Earl’s Court Properties submitted their planning application. Qualifying leaseholders and freeholders will receive an offer to purchase their properties, but the decision to sign these contracts must have been made within 12 months of June 2011. Qualifying leaseholders will receive what an ‘independent evaluator’ decides is the full market value of their homes, plus 10 percent home loss compensation capped at £47,000; but they must use these funds to purchase a property on the new development. If they cannot afford to purchase the new property outright the Council will hold the equity, and providing this equates to a minimum of 25 percent they will not have to pay rent on the council’s equity. Otherwise, people who are now homeowners will find themselves renters, the exact opposite of the Government’s crusade to turn ‘generation rent into generation buy’.

Capco masterplan

However, these figures are from a council brochure sent to residents in July 2013, some 20 months ago now. Since then, residents have heard nothing about their re-housing. What they have been told in a letter sent to them by Stephan Cowan, the Leader of the new Labour Council and member of the right-wing Labour cabal Progress, is that there is now ‘no legal way’ to get back the land that was sold to Capco by their Conservative predecessors. This hasn’t stopped either Capco or Hammersmith and Fulham Council from repeating their hollow mantra about ‘consulting the community’. Despite this, neither the evaluations of leaseholders’ homes nor the prices of the replacement properties have been forthcoming. But the fact that provisions have been put in place for re-housing them in properties costing more than four times the purchase price of the existing homes is an indication of both how much residents are likely to be offered in compensation and how much the new properties will cost. In confirmation of which, properties in phase 2 of the Lillie Square development, which is scheduled for completion in 2017, were advertised at £800,000 for a 1-bedroom apartment, £1,200,000 for a 2-bedroom, and £1,700,000 for a 3-bedroom.

The 171 estate leaseholders that purchased their homes under the Right to Buy may have the ‘right to return’ to the new apartments that will replace their current homes, but that doesn’t mean they will have the financial means to do so. Whether by independent evaluators or compulsory purchase orders, sales are typically forced through at considerably less than 50 percent the price of the homes built to replace them. Residents of the 58 housing association homes that were built within the past twenty years will face the same choice when those homes are destroyed, but on the additional condition they become council residents. And under new legislation in the Housing and Planning Bill, council tenants currently with secure tenancies who are fortunate enough to be offered a new home on the redevelopment 5 or 10 years after they have been decanted, may by then find themselves offered new tenancies of between 2 and 5 years; or, as is already occurring in other Labour Council regeneration schemes, fobbed off with assured tenancies for increased rentals and reduced rights, including no Right to Buy, no Right to Transfer, and no Right of Succession to the tenancy for their children.

Equivalent deals struck on the Heygate and Aylesbury estates by Southwark Labour Council show that, once evicted, few if any of the council tenants, let alone any of the leaseholders, will ever return. Subsequent viability assessments invariably increase the quota of homes nobody but property investors will be able to buy, as the prices on the Lillie Square development demonstrate. The 20 percent profit margin demanded by developers on the properties they build always takes precedence over the council’s duty to house the people whose homes they have demolished to make way for what are no more than assets on London’s real estate market. In actuality, the returns are far, far greater.

But that, precisely, is the point. Capco isn’t investing £12 billion in this project out of a desire to re-house London’s council tenants, but to accrue the profits in a UK property market that has expanded by £400 billion in the past two years alone. It is this financial motivation, which relies for its realisation on the demolition of people’s homes and the social cleansing of the communities they house, that ASH’s designs are designed to resist, by proposing architectural alternatives to demolition that keep those communities intact. For once residents move out of their homes, decanted to the four winds with the promises of developers and councillors whispering in their ears, what rights and leverage and bargaining power they once had are gone with them.

4. Resistance by Design

In July 2010 Greg Clark, the current Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, but then the newly appointed Minister for Decentralisation, wrote in the Catholic Herald:

‘For too long, those with the best ideas, striking energy and the most innovative responses to social and other needs have either not been taken seriously enough, or have been held back by rules decreed by well-meaning Whitehall departments that often make no sense on the ground.’

On our walking tours around the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, residents pointed out possible areas of improvement to the existing landscape. Drawing on this local knowledge, which far surpasses that of property developers, consultation agencies and architectural practices, ASH identified key areas that will greatly improve the public realm through the addition of new homes and community facilities. For example, there are opportunities in the 1-bedroom flats in the tower blocks for winter gardens that will bring these flats up to current space standards. On Lillie Road to the south of the estates, where there is a single storey community hall and long derelict children’s centre, we have proposed the construction of an additional 60 new homes, with the potential for community and other spaces on the ground floor around a new urban square. And our refurbishment of the existing blocks aims to significantly reduce energy use, so we have proposed that solar panels and improved insulation be added to the majority of the existing buildings.

Crucially, a certain percentage of the new homes will be for private sale, and the funds used to pay for the work – both the new builds and the refurbishment of the existing homes and landscape. While we admire their vision and design solutions for communal living, ASH does not wish to embalm these housing estates in the formaldehyde of history. Our proposals both increase the number of homes on the existing estates as well as generate the funds to refurbish and renovate the homes they already house.

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ASH’s designs propose between 200 and 300 new homes on the two estates, an increase of between 26 and 40 percent, depending on how many new homes the residents are willing to accommodate and need to generate sufficient funds for refurbishment. These range from 1-bedroom flats, including disabled accommodation, to 2-, 3- and 4-bedroom flats and houses. Refurbishment of the existing homes will include additional insulation to walls and roofs, improved ventilation systems, new lifts to existing blocks allowing additional floors to be built on top, and new fob access to communal areas. Community spaces will include new communal halls, a new housing office, a relocated football pitch, improved landscaping including allotments, underused garages converted into workshops, facilities for the elderly, a new community hall, improved adventure playgrounds with climbing walls and skateboard parks, a nature trail, an outdoor gym and a market square over existing parking, improved communal gardens, a community greenhouse, new roof gardens on top of many of the existing blocks, reconfigured parking and pedestrian routes, and the reinstatement of a concierge office in every block. All these can be achieved and paid for without demolishing a single existing home or evicting a single family.

The design proposals by ASH are exemplary of the Secretary of State’s stated commitment to decentralisation and localism. They will bring a new boost to the local area through a variety of community enterprise initiatives. New workshops will bring local people into the estate and potentially offer apprenticeships and work to the estate’s youth population. They involve the community in taking responsibility for the construction of their own future. And they retain the character of the local area against the homogenisation of hastily and often poorly designed new-build developments.

But the most important factor in favour of our proposals is that they retain the element that is so often forgotten and passed over in considering the viability of regeneration schemes for housing estates. This is, of course – though it needs repeating more and more insistently – the people for whom these homes were made and who, through decades of living together, have built a strong, mixed community reflecting London’s demographic – the residents of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates that Capco’s master plan threatens with social cleansing from the area.

5. Homes for Londoners

Last month the Labour Party candidate for London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, announced to the press that if elected on 5 May he would review the Earl’s Court masterplan, which includes the regeneration of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, ‘as he has serious reservations about the overall direction the scheme is taking’. It is perhaps coincidental that this followed the recent drop in share prices for Capco from £4.72 in August 2015 to £3.27 in March 2016, and their fears that the market for luxury homes in London is falling following a drop in sales for the apartments in Lillie Square. On top of which, Gary Yardley, Capco’s managing director for the Earl’s Court development, complained last November that following the elections the previous year, Stephan Cowan, the Leader of the new Labour Council, had not spoken to him for nine months.

Then this February, in its end of year report for 2015, where they look at ‘Political Climate and Public Opinion’, Capco identified the principle threats to its plans: these lie with changes in legislation following the London mayoral elections, and opposition and challenges by public interest or activist groups – the impact of which, they conclude, will expose them to risk of litigation, prosecution for non-compliance, the distraction of their management and damage to their reputation. Perhaps most revealingly of all, they included among their ongoing attempts to mitigate such damage not only, as one would expect, engaging with key stakeholders and politicians and monitoring changes in policy and legislation, but also, they write, ‘monitoring intelligence on activist groups.’ It seems the London mayoral candidate is not the only one to have serious reservations about the direction Capco’s scheme is taking.

Homes for Londoners

Sadiq Khan’s announcement came only days after the publication of his Manifesto For All Londoners, where, under the title ‘Homes for Londoners’, he placed housing at the heart of the London mayoral contest and promised, if elected, to build what he calls ‘genuinely affordable homes’. Unfortunately, he does not define what constitutes ‘genuinely affordable’ and for whom, or disclose where he will find the land on which this new housing will be built. But alongside his commitment to introduce a London Living Rent based on one third of average local wages, and to oppose Government legislation to raise rents for council tenants to market rates and sell off high value council homes – all of which are welcome – Sadiq Khan also lays out the conditions under which council estate regeneration will proceed under his mayorship – which is, of course, the undisclosed source of this land. He will, he writes in the Manifesto:

‘Require that estate regeneration only takes place were there is resident support, based on full and transparent consultation, and that demolition is only permitted where it does not result in a 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.’

Ahead of his review of Capco’s plans for Earl’s Court and Olympia, we remind the Labour candidate for London Mayor that none of these conditions have been met in the regeneration plans for the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates. Indeed, we challenge Sadiq Khan to identify any London council estate community that 1) supports the demolition of their homes, and 2) thinks that the consultation process has been either full or transparent. We also remind him 3) that council housing is not social housing, and that the replacement of secured tenancies by assured tenancies on increased rents with reduced rights is itself a loss, and one unnecessary to genuine estate regeneration; and 4) that notwithstanding the ‘or’ that elevates this condition to the over-riding one, the exhaustion of other options must require more than the profit margins of property developers established by their own viability assessments, as has occurred in every estate regeneration scheme in London that has resulted in demolition, and that all options must include, as their priority, the continued existence of the community the estate houses. Finally, we point out 5) that a right to return to homes a resident can afford neither to rent nor to buy is no right at all, and as empty a guarantee as the promise of a fair deal. Residents have already heard such promises in the mouths of our current London Mayor and Housing Minister, and know what they’re worth; they don’t want to hear them repeated by a future Labour Mayor of London.

The demolition of one of the greatest sources of homes for social rent in the middle of a housing crisis can only be an additional cause, and never a solution, to that crisis. Anyone genuinely concerned with turning the tide of that crisis should make the continued existence of London’s council estates their first priority. As we have demonstrated, infill between, extensions on top of, and the refurbishment of the existing homes on London’s council estates offer genuine solutions to the capital’s housing needs at a time when the very existence of council housing in England is under threat from both the Conservative Government’s Housing and Planning Bill and Labour Council estate regeneration programmes.

We therefore urge both Sadiq Khan and Greg Clark to honour their commitments to transparency, fairness, innovation and decentralisation, and give their backing to ASH’s proposals. Above all, we remind them of their commitment to the residents of London’s council estates, which must be measured in different terms to those used by a property developer. Parallel with the Labour candidate’s plans to build homes that Londoners can genuinely afford to rent and buy, ASH’s designs for the genuine regeneration of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates is a genuinely sustainable and financially viable response to the housing crisis, and a model of home and community building that we believe can be exported across London.

Architects for Social Housing

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Central Hill: Design Proposals

1. Continuation not Demolition

Central Hill is an extremely well-designed estate whose masterplan, drawn up by LCC architect Rosemary Stjernstedt, is a model of community living and estate planning. Completed in the early 1970s, it consists of 456 structurally sound flats that are home to an established and strong community of over 1,000 people.ASH’s proposals aim to respect and continue the existing architecture, both its social vision and design intentions. These include the democratic access of all residents to views over London and the accompanying sunlight, the cleverly designed and well-proportioned interiors, the numerous outdoor and communal spaces, the car-free places where children can play in safety, and the many green ‘fingers’ that run through the estate, linking it to the surrounding neighbourhood of Crystal Palace and its parks. Far than demolishing the estate, ASH believes we should be exporting Central Hill as a model of council housing that can meet London’s housing needs.

The aims of our design proposals are threefold: 1) The continuation and improvement of the existing estate, with an increase in the number of homes; 2) The generation of the funds to pay for its refurbishment; and 3) The continued existence of the community it houses.

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2. Estate Overviews

In consultation with residents at workshops held over the last 9 months, ASH has identified 14 possible Infill sites where we believe we can add extra homes without demolishing any existing residences, while respecting the existing architecture and green spaces. In addition, we have also identified sites and methods for building Roof Extensions on top of some of the existing homes around the outer edges of the estate, respecting the existing views across and within the estate.

In the Overviews and Plans below, Infill sites are shown in yellow, and Roof Extensions in pink.

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3. Plans: Infill, Roof Extensions and Landscape

We have identified opportunities for building up to 250 additional homes on Central Hill estate without demolishing any of the existing homes. This is almost as much as Lambeth Council’s lowest full-demolition option of around 310 new homes, and considerably more than PRP Architect’s infill option of 83 new homes, which has been discarded by Lambeth Council.

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4. Site Overviews

 

On the Old Boiler House – A New Entrance to the Estate

Site 1. The Towers are a beacon that celebrates the history of Central Hill estate. In our proposal, the existing boiler structure is retained, and the ground and first floors are converted into workshops for commercial use. A new 6-storey residential block of flats is built on top, and a new 4-storey terrace is added on Lunham Road

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On Lunham Road and Pear Tree House – New Communal Spaces

Site 2. The Central Communal green space is improved and increased in size.

Site 3. The existing community hall is demolished, and all communal facilities are reprovided in the new buildings around the edge of the estate, with new housing above.

Site 4. The existing housing office is demolished, and reprovided at the base of a new building, with new flats above.

Site 13. Six new maisonettes are proposed in the garden of Pear Tree house

Site 18. The existing public square is to be refurbished. There is potential for the existing underground parking to be opened up, and new uses such as youth facilities provided in the adjacent spaces.

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Behind the Trees – A New Tall Building

Site 5. This 6-storey building is hidden behind the trees with direct access from the main road.

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On Central Hill – New Fringe Housing

Sites 6-9. This new housing along Central Hill respects the existing tree line, and maintains light to the existing 1-bedroom flats through a roof which resembles the Gypsy Hill part of the estate. Small walkways will connect the houses to the main road, with level access providing homes for the elderly and those with disabilities with direct access to the main road. Gardens are proposed above the parking between these new buildings and the existing 1-bedroom flats.

We propose that some of the new buildings resemble the architecture of the Gypsy Hill part of the estate in material and form. In particular, the adoption of their pitched roofs will reduce the impact of the new homes on the existing buildings, as well as allowing views through them. This is part of our commitment to honour and continue the architecture of the existing estate.

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On the Hostel – A New Gatehouse to the Estate

Site 10. A new 4-6 storey block could replace the existing hostel which would be reprovided as part of the new proposed scheme. The new buildings would reinforce the edges while keeping as many of the existing trees as possible.

Sites  11 and 12. New maisonettes and a new 4-5 storey block form a strong edge and corner to the estate. The use of concrete and white brick ties the new buildings in with the existing ones.

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On the Former Police Station – A New Tower

Site 14. We propose building a new Tower to the rear of the existing police station site. This could be an exciting new addition to the area with some of the best views in London. The front of the police station could remain a community space.

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On Existing 1-Bedroom Homes – New Roof Extensions

Site 15. Around the edge of the estate some housing is proposed on top of some of the existing homes, but only where they don’t affect the existing view within the estate. On top of the 1-bedroom flat blocks we propose to extend the existing stairs to an extra flat on top. These would be constructed of lightweight prefabricated timber elements and craned into place. These new homes would have zinc, pitched roofs for both durability and to address the problem of leaking caused by flat roofs.

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On Existing 3-4 Bedroom Homes – New Roof Extensions 

Site 16. On top of some of the 3-4 bed homes we propose adding an extra floor or two. These would be accessed off new stairs at the sides, constructed of lightweight, prefabricated timber elements, and craned into place. Structurally, without yet having carried out a detailed survey, our surveyor has said that, given the robustness of the existing buildings and foundations, it is safe to assume that the existing homes are perfectly capable of carrying another floor or two if built of lightweight construction. As a confirmation of this, on top of some of the existing homes there are concrete water tank housings.

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5. Strategies: Refurbishment and Landscape

 

Refurbishment Strategy

We know there are problems with the existing homes, such as mould and condensation. But these are common problems, in this instance caused by Lambeth Council renovations in the form of badly designed and fitted windows, and are very easily remedied by well-designed and careful refurbishment. ASH are working on a similar scheme in West Kensington, where we are also proposing infill and refurbishment, and some of these buildings have similar problems. The solutions are improved ventilation strategies, better double glazing and local insulation to cold bridges. We believe it is reasonable to assume the same strategies are applicable here. In no respect are these problems justification for demolishing an entire estate, as is argued by Lambeth Council.

We also propose to renovate the existing walkways to improve the surfaces, with a new lighting strategy, and to replace the wonderful planting throughout the estate that was part of the original scheme, but which has recently been ripped up by Lambeth Council as part of a policy of managed decline.

Environmentally, the proposal to demolish all 456 perfectly good homes would release tonnes of embodied carbon back into the atmosphere unnecessarily, and is contrary to Lambeth’s own sustainability strategy.

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Landscape Strategy

Central Hill currently has the key role of a green corridor between Ravenscourt Park and Crystal Palace. Demolishing the estate would separate the two green areas and have a negative impact on the well-being of local wildlife as well as that of the residents.

In spite of the negative representation of the estate by PRP architects, who were appointed by Lambeth Council to come up with the redevelopment plans, Central Hill is a beautiful garden to walk through. Residents recognise the value of their estate’s green spaces. Residents’ participation in the Open Garden Estates event in June 2015 demonstrates this, as does the daily use of the playgrounds and alleys by children.

Over the summer of 2015 ASH worked closely with Central Hill residents to come up with proposals for improvements to the landscape of the estate. The proposed interventions, which were developed in open consultation with residents, are light additions that tap into Central Hill’s great potential. These include new designs for balconies and patios, the introduction of a marketplace in the main square, vegetable gardens and playground improvements, and proposals for the reuse of the recycling castles.

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6. Costing and Conclusion

Lambeth Council’s own surveyor has estimated the cost of refurbishment at £18.5 million, around £40,000 per home. In contrast, replacing the estate’s 456 existing homes has been estimated by one of Lambeth’s own architects at £225-240,000 per home. That’s around £120 million before a single new home has been built in a reportedly broke Borough supposedly trying to reduce its housing waiting list.

At an average of £240,000 per home, the construction cost of ASH’s proposed 250 new homes is £60 million. To this we would need to add £18.5 million for refurbishment, and an additional £3.5 million for community facilities and landscape improvements, a total of £82 million. Based on Lambeth Council’s own sale values on new 1-4 bedroom homes for the redevelopment of Cressingham Gardens estate (1-bedroom £435,000 to 4-bedroom £863,000), ASH’s proposal would require the sale of approximately 125 homes, or around 50 percent of the new builds, to generate the necessary funds. The remaining 125 homes would all be available for council rent. With the 136 leaseholders currently on the estate, that would make a total of 261 leaseholders and 445 tenants, with 63 percent for council rent. By comparison, Lambeth are promising, without guarantees, only 40 percent social rent on their redevelopment at Knight’s Walk. And whatever percentage of the new homes they would actually end up offering existing tenants, by Lambeth’s own guarantees these would be assured, not secured, tenancies.

Given these figures, ASH is convinced that Infill is the best future for Central Hill estate, providing the ‘more and better homes’ that Lambeth needs and improving the estate for the community that lives there. We believe this is the only genuinely sustainable and viable option for Central Hill estate – environmentally, socially and economically.

Say no to the demolition of your home; no to decanting to temporary accommodation; no to waiting in line to apply for rehousing; no to waiting five years to see if Lambeth Council lets you back onto the new estate; no to new assured tenancies with no rights and increased rents; no to waiting to see what the Housing and Planning Bill does to the length of your new tenancy; no to compulsory purchase orders on your home; no to legal inquiries with Lambeth’s lawyers; no to the threat of enforced evictions; no to remortgaging to meet the doubled cost of your new home; no to watching your life’s savings halve in value; no to a ten year re-building plan; no to broken Council promises under new Government legislation; no to handing over of London’s council housing to private investors; no to doubling the burden on local schools, hospitals and roads; no to the environmental impact from the destruction of 456 homes; no to ten years of lorries driving up your roads; no to being priced out of your area; no to losing your view to the highest bidder; no to the gentrification of your neighbourhood; no to the social cleansing of your community. Say yes to infill, roof extensions and the refurbishment of your homes.

We hope you will support our proposals.

Good News on Central Hill

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On Tuesday evening the Central Hill Tenants and Residents Association was informed that the exhibition of proposals for the demolition of their estate announced by Lambeth Council for 20 February has been cancelled, and the decision to demolish their estate put back from April to June. This is the third time the date has been rescheduled.

When residents asked why, the only reason Lambeth gave is that they are ‘not ready’. Architects for Social Housing asked the TRA whether Lambeth Council are now reconsidering the infill and refurbishment options they have taken off the table, and were told ‘no’, they are still only looking at demolition options. So perhaps the fact that an article on Lambeth’s plans for Central Hill appeared in last Sunday’s Observer, or that our own photo blog on the estate received over a thousand views in one day, contributed to their sudden unreadiness.

Two weeks ago the Resident Engagement Panel voted for ASH to exhibit our proposals to residents alongside those by PRP Architects, the practice employed by Lambeth. Fiona Cliffe – who signs her letters with the diarrhetic job title of ‘Capital Program Manager, Estate Regeneration Team, Business Growth and Regeneration Delivery’ (note the absence of any reference to ‘housing’) – responded by saying that she would consider it.

In support of the resident’s vote, Central Hill’s Independent Resident Advisor argued that a precedent had been set by ASH’s previous work on the Knight’s Walk estate in Kennington. Now, having cancelled their own exhibition, Lambeth Council has invited ASH to present our proposals to them at a closed meeting to which only resident members of the Regeneration Steering Group will be invited.

ASH has no intention of conducting business with Lambeth Council behind closed doors. In the seven months we have been working with the Save Central Hill Community campaign we have never once been invited to any of the Council’s meetings with the Steering Group, nor been shown the designs by PRP Architects. And the Council has already stated in a letter that the business structure of Lambeth Homes, the Special Purpose Vehicle through which they intend to pursue their redevelopment plans, is not capable of funding the refurbishment of the estate.

Lambeth’s own surveyor has estimated the cost of refurbishment at £18.5 million, around £40,000 per home. In contrast, replacing the estate’s 456 existing homes has been estimated by one of Lambeth’s own architects at £225-240,000 per home. That’s around £120 million before a single new home has been built in a reportedly broke borough supposedly trying to reduce its housing waiting list.

If Lambeth Council has something to hide, Architects for Social Housing does not. As promised, we will be going ahead with the exhibition of our architectural proposals to save Central Hill estate from demolition and keep together the community it houses. Since Lambeth has prohibited residents from using their own estate community hall, the vicar of Christ Church has generously offered up the local church hall for the use of the Central Hill community. The exhibition will still be held on Saturday, 20 February, but at the new time of 2-5pm. The address is 1 Highland Road, Gipsy Hill, London SE19 1DP.

ASH invites all the residents of Central Hill estate to come and see our designs, talk to us about what we are proposing, and ask us questions about the threat to their homes and what we can do to save them. If Lambeth Councillors wish to see our proposals, they too are welcome – but at a public event open to all. We also extend our welcome to residents of other estates threatened by Lambeth Council’s aggressive and socially cleansing regeneration plans, and to any other estates across London facing demolition and eviction.

The future of Central Hill estate lies in the hands of its residents, not in those of Lambeth Council. Please join us.