Prior to the launch of the ASH report on Central Hill, which we’re holding in the Residents’ Hall of Cotton Gardens estate in Kennington on 26 April, we thought we’d catch up with what’s happening on Knight’s Walk, the low-rise component of Cotton Gardens that was specifically designed by London County Council architect George Finch for elderly residents or residents with disabilities – and the news isn’t good.
In December 2014 Lambeth council placed Knight’s Walk on its six-estate ‘regeneration’ programme and the following February the residents were presented with three options, all of which were for full demolition. In response, residents invited ASH to start working with their campaign in March, when we set about producing design-alternatives to demolition which forced the council to look at other options and ultimately helped save half the estate from demolition. In November 2015, Lambeth council proposed to cabinet the partial demolition of Knight’s Walk according to option Scenario 2D drawn up by Mae Architects. This would entail the demolition of just over half of the existing homes – 18 out of a total of 33 – and the development of 82 new and replacement properties. 1 of these was to be a replacement freehold property and 17 would be replacement homes for council rent; while of the 64 proposed additional properties, 25 were to be for council rent, and 39 for private rent. These figures, however, were described in the proposal as ‘indicative’, and subject to what the council called ‘further detailed analysis’. This was where things stood when ASH last wrote about the Knight’s Walk redevelopment scheme, in which we ended with the warning: ‘Watch this space to see if Lambeth council honours its promises!’
‘Residents came up with the People’s Plan, which shows the professionals how new development ought to be done. At the outset, Community Homes brought more than 100 residents into workshops and site visits with architects.* Residents and architects together identified space for up to 327 new homes and devised plans for improvements to their homes, streets and community spaces. The plans were costed and valued, and residents were able to show that they could help to pay for improvements and subsidise the building of new homes at social rent levels through sales. Residents from 65 per cent of households provided written feedback on these proposals, and 90 per cent of respondents said that the plans were “excellent” or “good”, and “better” or “far better” than the Capco scheme.’
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‘Ultimately, I think it’s better to be as transparent and as open as possible, but that does slow things down. But it also means that as we start the consultation residents know that we have looked at all options, that they’ve been robustly tested and scrutinised, and that’s why we can say with confidence that rebuilding is the best option for the residents of Central Hill.’
– Matthew Bennett, Lambeth Cabinet Member for Housing (October 2016)
‘Where estate regeneration takes place there should always be full and transparent consultation. Initial engagement should clearly state any non-viable or undeliverable options which have been discounted and why, and these decisions should be open to scrutiny by residents and other stakeholders.’
– Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London (December 2016)
‘When councils come forward with proposals for regeneration, we will put down two markers based on one simple principle: regeneration under a Labour government will be for the benefit of the local people, not private developers, not property speculators.’
– Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party (September 2017)
In May 2016 Architects for Social Housing (ASH) presented its design alternatives to the demolition of Central Hill estate to Lambeth Labour Council. The result of a year’s work in consultation with the estate residents, our alternative proposed building up to 250 additional dwellings on the estate, partly infill development on land identified as free by the estate residents, partly roof extensions on the existing properties, a proportion of which would be for more council housing, a proportion for private rent and sale, and use the proceeds to fund the refurbishment of the existing estate, whose maintenance the council has neglected for years. We had previously exhibited these designs at a meeting attended by over 120 Central Hill estate residents that February, when we had received their full support; and the campaign to save Central Hill from demolition continues to use them in the defence of their homes. Despite this support, the conditions under which we presented our proposal to Lambeth council three months later were hostile at best, with the venue changed at the last moment to a room without projection facilities; the Chair of the Residents Engagement Panel absent without explanation; not a single Lambeth councillor bothering to turn up, including the local ward councillor and Cabinet Member for Housing, Matthew Bennett; and Lambeth’s Assistant Director of Housing Regeneration, Neil Vokes, leaving for an apparently more pressing engagement after only half an hour.
We weren’t in the least surprised, therefore, when the following month Lambeth’s Capital Programme Manager, Fiona Cliffe, the only Lambeth employee to attend our presentation, issued a terse statement on the council website declaring our proposals to be ‘financially unviable’. In the absence of any invitation to respond, or indeed any communication whatsoever from the council, in September 2016 we wrote our own detailed rebuttal of the miscalculated figures, inaccurate assessments, false claims and deliberate misunderstandings on which this decision had been made. High in the list of mysteries of how the financial unviability of our scheme had been arrived at were the withheld figures on which the calculations had been based that showed every single one of ASH’s site proposals result in a negative Net Present Value, making it impossible, apparently, to build anything at all that didn’t require the demolition of every one of the 456 homes on Central Hill estate. In order to acquire these figures, therefore, we sent Lambeth Labour council a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. Little did we suspect that this would begin an exchange of letters that continues to this day, some 15 months later, and which would extend to include the Information Commissioners Office and the London Assembly.
This is the story of Lambeth Labour council’s refusal to supply the information on which their plans to demolish Central Hill estate rests and the excuses they have invented for not doing so, each of which flies in the face of the promises of transparency in estate regeneration made by the London Mayor, the Leader of the Labour Party, and indeed by themselves. Lambeth describes itself as a ‘co-operative council’, and in their brochure congratulating themselves on being the first such council to be so they list among their many examples of co-operative behaviours their commitment to ‘follow up requests for information’. Then again, Lambeth Labour council has recently responded to a People’s Audit that found evidence of ‘extensive financial mismanagement and a systemic lack of financial governance’ by appealing to the Conservative government to restrict public scrutiny of local government finances in the future; so let’s have a look at how the co-operative council has responded to more than a year of FOI requests. Like everything to do with London’s estate demolition programme, its a long story composed of numerous sub-plots, all of which lead to a bureaucratic dead end. Writing it – a task I have put off for many months – increasingly reminded me of The Castle, which I have therefore adopted as a title; and as in Kafka’s great unfinished novel, the longer we have approached our destination, the further away it has got.
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 . . .
‘A conservative estimate for the embodied carbon of Central Hill Estate would be around 7,000 tonnes of CO2e, similar emissions to those from heating 600 detached homes for a year using electric heating, or the emissions savings made by the London Mayor’s RE:NEW retrofitting scheme in a year and a quarter. Annual domestic emissions per capita in Lambeth are 1.8 tonnes. The emissions associated with the demolition of Central Hill Estate, therefore, equate to the annual emissions of over 4,000 Lambeth residents.’
‘Everyone has the right to respect for her private and family life, her home and her correspondence.’
– Article 8, European Convention on Human Rights, Human Rights Act 1998
Senior Development Manager
The Guinness Partnership
1 Stable Street
Oldham OL9 7LH
8 August 2016
It was good to meet you two weeks ago at the Northwold Estate residents’ consultation meeting on 28 July. In the last few years The Guinness Partnership has become increasingly faceless and remote, so some face-to-face contact was much appreciated.
I am writing because I have a number concerns about the consultation, as well as some other questions to which I require a response. I am copying in Newman Francis, the ‘community development’ consultancy, but addressing this letter primarily to you, as it was The Guinness Partnership that commissioned the consultation.
From your letter dated 1 July, as well as my conversations with you and others that evening, The Guinness Partnership is clearly stressing that the consultation is genuine, that residents’ views will be fully taken into account, and that we will be kept informed at all stages. I have doubts that this is truly the case, and have many concerns about the process, which I have numbered as follows:
1. The turnout at the consultation was not representative of the residents of the estate. There were perhaps 50 people present, while the estate is home to well over a thousand residents. I do not believe, therefore, that either Newman Francis or The Guinness Partnership made sufficient effort to ensure maximum, representative turnout.
2. In my block of 20 flats alone, only two households turned up. Epping House is a fairly typical block – with 15 socially rented flats, 5 leasehold flats, 2 of which are let by absentee landlords – and therefore a microcosm of the Northwold Estate. I believe this low turnout was for several reasons, including the following:
Several households have residents with various physical or mental disabilities. I do not believe any of these residents were enabled to attend the meeting.
Several households are of residents who do not speak or read English. The Guinness Partnership should have provided the literature in the main community languages that are spoken on the estate, as well as an interpreter to enable them to participate and have their say.
One resident has difficulty reading. I don’t believe she was enabled to attend.
I believe one of my neighbours is currently in prison. I don’t believe he will have been consulted.
No letters, leaflets or invitations were put through residents’ doors regarding the consultation event. Instead, there was merely an A5 poster Sellotaped to the outside of the communal door area. This is not used by three of the ground floor flats, and, as noted above, is not accessible to a large number of residents. ALL residents should have been personally invited to attend this important event. At least one of my neighbours said that they didn’t attend as they didn’t think it sounded important, so greater emphasis on the implications of the consultation is also required.
The meeting was held in the summer when many residents are away.
Residents with children may not have been able to attend in the evening.
Residents who work evenings may not have been able to attend.
As a social landlord and a registered charity that provides homes for some of the most disadvantaged members of society, you will be an expert in the kind of demographic living in your properties, so you will be well aware of all of these barriers to participation. I would like to know what The Guinness Partnership and Newman Francis plan to do to provide proper access to consultation for all residents of the estate in advance of the next meeting on 17 August, so as to not discriminate against anyone on grounds of disability, culture, language, literacy or family circumstances.
3. At the consultation meeting a great deal of stress was placed on the idea that the ‘development’ of the estate is not intended to be a form of social cleansing – unlike other estates redeveloped by the Guinness Partnership, such as the Loughborough Estate in Brixton, which attracted huge criticism of your housing association when residents were evicted to make way for luxury and ‘affordable’ flats priced at 80 per cent of market rent. It was stressed, to the contrary, that all residents are to be ‘encouraged’ to remain or be re-housed on the estate, however it ends up being redeveloped. Yet the housing association will obviously have to build a significant number of flats for sale to pay for the building of the new homes. How, then, does The Guinness Partnership propose to attract people who are able to pay over half a million pounds for a home to an area with a high level of social issues, including unemployment, overcrowding, crime, mental health problems and anti-social behaviour? In other parts of London where estates have been demolished and redeveloped, social cleansing has occurred, and people with social issues have been evicted in order to sell luxury apartments to those who can afford them. I would like to know how The Guinness Partnership aims to address this danger on the Northwold Estate.
4. Likewise, Rossington Street, which cuts through the estate, is one of Hackney Borough’s least well-kept streets, with poor paving and road surfaces, which attracts abandoned cars and fly tipping. What conversation is The Guinness Partnership having with Hackney Labour Council about this road – as again, it will not be attractive to prospective buyers of luxury apartments.
5. As a leaseholder, I would like to receive in writing what my position is in relation to the redevelopment of the estate, what my options will be should my home be demolished, and what The Guinness Partnership’s policy is with regard to leaseholders.
6. As a leaseholder, I would like to have in writing a guarantee that, if my home is demolished, I will be paid the full market rate, as you said in conversation with me; that is to say, that I will be paid the amount I would get for the flat if I were to sell it on the open market today, and not when the demolition of the estate has been announced, plus a compensation fee for the disruption and trauma its demolition and my eviction will cause to my life.
7. TM Architects, who were also present at the consultation, admitted to me that their map exercise with the stickers was in no way going to inform their plans. To me this shows that the meeting was not intended to be a consultation, but merely a public relations and damage limitation exercise. Please explain exactly what the architects will be taking into account when drawing up their designs.
8. When do residents of Northwold Estate get sent a copy of the report of their feedback from the consultation? It’s very important that all who gave up their evening to attend are able to check whether their views are represented accurately and in full in this report.
9. The landscape architects had some wonderful ideas and enthusiasm about making the estate more attractive and green. After over 15 years of neglect by The Guinness Partnership, the grounds are in desperate need of attention and could be really attractive. And in order to attract wealthy property-buyers, obviously much time, effort and money will have to go into improving the whole site. However, I didn’t get a satisfactory answer as to how these new grounds will be maintained. Please provide this, including the cost implications to residents.
10. I asked TM Architects if they had been inside anyone’s home while researching for their designs, and they replied ‘no’, as if this had never occurred to them. It is vitally important that the architects, the Guinness Partnership developers and the consultants see how people live in their homes, and how the layout and other aspects of the flats work for them. I chose my flat because of the excellent design: its layout, storage capacity, light and the wonderful views across the estate, its numerous trees and the skies beyond. In the Newman Francis questionnaire, on the comments boards and in conversations, residents were not invited to talk about their homes, merely the communal areas. It is our homes that are important to us, and any new flats that are built on the estate must be to the same good design and excellent layout as these masterpieces of 1938 social architecture. The architects were talking about ‘efficiency’ of space: this is extremely offensive when talking to residents about their homes and therefore their lives.
11. The flats and buildings are structurally sound, well designed and 100 per cent fit for purpose. I would like to know, therefore, how destroying such high-quality dwellings can be justified when there is nothing wrong with them. Likewise, Northwold Estate is pleasantly spacious, while still providing hundreds of homes in a small urban area. Cramming more homes in will be to the detriment of the estate’s layout and its spacious feel.
12. The comments boards at the consultation invited criticism of the bin areas, communal areas, children’s play areas, parking spaces and landscaping. All of these aspects of the estate have been neglected of maintenance for many years since the refit of the early 2000s, so of course there is much to criticise. However, the structure and layout of the estate is not at fault: it is the neglect and drastic reduction in caretaking and cleaning that are the causes of what problems there are. It is clear to me that the criticisms gathered in the consultation will be presented to us as being ‘solved’ by the new design. But did anyone criticise their actual home? I didn’t see a single post-it note mentioning anything being wrong with the homes or buildings on the estate, yet these are what will be most fundamentally changed in the demolition and redevelopment of Northwold Estate.
My home is more than just a roof over my head. I did not buy it as an investment but as a place of sanctuary and creativity, and as an affordable way to live on my own when private renting became far too expensive. I selected a former social flat as it was within my means – which will be the case for all the leaseholders on the estate. I would much rather be a social tenant than a ‘homeowner’, but this is not an option for me. I have invested a great deal of money, time and creativity into making my home the place it is, and I am extremely concerned that it may be taken away from me, that I may be forced to leave the estate, the area, or even London. If I have to leave London, it will also mark the end of the career I have built over 20 years. I would like, therefore, to invite The Guinness Partnership, Newman Francis, and TM Architects to come and visit my home. I’d be very happy to show you all round and explain why it is so much more than a roof over my head. This is how all residents feel about their homes.
A resident of Northwold Estate
Below is the reply received from The Guinness Partnership:
Capital Programme Manager
24 June 2016
‘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.