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.

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In Defence of Central Hill

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In June 2015, Architects for Social Housing (ASH) were contacted by residents of Central Hill, a council estate in Crystal Palace. They has started the Save Central Community campaign that February, and were fighting to save their homes from demolition at the hands of Lambeth Council, who had formally added the estate to their regeneration programme in December 2014.

Contrary to Lambeth’s slur campaign, the estate is extremely well designed. The streets, houses and green open spaces work in conjunction with the rolling landscape, the light and the different degrees of privacy, from south-facing front courtyards to balconies with views across London. It is no surprise that this is a coveted spot. Land values are correspondingly high, and are the main reason for the proposed demolition of a unique and innovative piece of urban design that should be a model of social housing and community living.

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ASH Meeting on Central Hill

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This meeting of ASH was devoted to Central Hill estate in Crystal Palace, for which ASH is currently assembling a team to design an architectural alternative to demolition.

The focus of the meeting was the presentation by ASH member Viola Petrella of her extensive work on Central Hill. Coming out of her consultations with the Central Hill community, she put forward proposals by residents for how to contest the demolition of their estate, as well as possible initiatives to make the estate a better place in which to live. The discussion these proposals generated between residents and ASH members generated further ideas about how we can save Central Hill estate and its community.

The above diagram is a summation of her approach. Where other architectural practices, including those working on Central Hill (PRP Architects), come into estate regeneration with a fixed set of objectives – which is the demolition and rebuilding of the existing estate – and then use the consultation process to generate the reasons and excuses to achieve this, the ASH model starts by asking the community about their needs and wishes, and uses these to generate objectives and initiatives to bring this about. As the diagram illustrates, it is a process that moves from inside to the outside, from the community to genuine estate regeneration – one that leaves the existing community intact.

Architects for Social Housing

Home: Pin it Down!

ASH consultation workshop at the launch event of The People’s Plan, feasibility study for refurbishment and additional buildings for West Kensington & Gibbs Green estates, as part of their application for the Right to Transfer.

Residents were grouped into the building type they lived in, high-rise, 4-5 storey blocks, terrace houses, etc, and its location on the estates, plus, where appropriate, with a translator, and asked to talk about what they did and didn’t like about where they lived and why, their thoughts about the estate in general, problems they wanted addressing (access, safety, rubbish disposal, maintenance), plus opportunities for new developments (where new homes might be built, community halls restored, play areas recovered).

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Knight’s Walk Redevelopment: Recommendation to Cabinet

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After nearly a year of consultation with the residents of Knight’s Walk, Lambeth Council last week announced the redevelopment plan they will be recommending to Cabinet.

Knight’s Walk is a collection of mostly bungalows, originally built for the elderly and disabled, that are a part of the Cotton Garden Estate in Kennington. Designed by LCC architect George Finch and built between 1969-1972, the estate is currently being put forward for listing by the Twentieth Century Society.

When Lambeth Council first announced their intentions to the residents of Knight’s Walk, total demolition was the only ‘option’ being proposed. As with so many estates facing so-called ‘regeneration’, this made the ensuing consultation process all but meaningless.

Then this March Architects for Social Housing (ASH) joined the ‘Hands off Knight’s Walk’ campaign. Since then we have attended every meeting with Lambeth Council and Mae Architects, the practice that had been brought in to draw up the plans for demolition and then conduct the sham consultations with residents.

In response to the lack of options on the table, ASH, in collaboration with If-Untitled, first proposed then drew up two alternative plans to demolition. Employing the principle that infill and overbuild offer better answers to the housing needs of Londoners than demolishing existing council housing, our proposal not only met the Council’s demands for new homes, but also left the existing homes standing.

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In addition to two mid-rise buildings located, respectively, on an existing garage site and on Kennington Lane, we proposed building two additional floors on top of the existing bungalows. Together these generated an additional 80 homes. Moreover, we estimated that not having to rebuild the 33 existing homes that were slated for demolition, or to recompense the 7 freeholders, would save the Council around £10 million. This equates to the construction of 70 new council homes, effectively paying for the entire project. Despite this, our proposal was not adopted.

The redevelopment Lambeth Council has decided to propose to Cabinet is in fact a new partial demolition titled Scenario 2D, a hybrid of several proposals Mae had previously put on the table. It consists of the demolition of just over half of the existing homes (18 out of 33), which will be replaced, and the total construction of 82, with a net gain of 64 additional homes (16 less than the ASH proposal). Of these, 25 are proposed at council rent, 39 for private rent. However, these figures are only indicative, and subject to what the council calls ‘further detailed analysis’.

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At the meeting last week, ASH asked the Cabinet Member for Housing, Matthew Bennett, the following question: ‘When the new Housing Bill is passed, neither property developers nor councils will any longer be obliged to include homes for social rent within their affordable housing quotas, but can confine themselves to building starter homes for up to £450,000. As a Labour council, will Lambeth do more than what Tory policy obliges them to, and formally commit to building 50 per cent homes for council rent on the Knight’s Walk redevelopment scheme? If not, what percentage will Lambeth Council commit to?’

Councillor Bennett’s answer was: ‘We will build as many council rent homes as possible. A minimum of 40 per cent, hopefully more.’ As the figures for Scenario 2D confirm, this is already 10 per cent less than the proposals the council presented at a public consultation a mere two weeks previously, for both partial and full demolition, in all of which 50 per cent of the new homes were for social rent. What will it be by the time they’ve finished?

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Given that, at the beginning of the regeneration consultation process (which is neither a regeneration nor a consultation), the total demolition of Knight’s Walk was the only option being proposed by Lambeth, this is a considerable victory for the 9 council tenants and 6 freeholders whose homes will be saved.

However, for those residents whose homes are to be demolished under this scenario, this is not good news.  By forcing Lambeth to consider other options, ASH has helped to save 15 homes; but will the 17 council tenants and 1 freeholder whose homes will be bulldozed under the present scheme be rehoused on Knight’s Walk? None of the promises Lambeth has made are guaranteed in any way, as they are all subject to the same viability assessments as any other project.

In order to borrow the money to build, Lambeth has announced that it will create a Special Purpose Vehicle called ‘Homes for Lambeth’ in order to attract investors. This means that, since only councils are legally allowed to offer secure tenancies, existing tenants with secure council tenancies will only be offered an enhanced form of assured lifetime tenancy when they move into their replacement homes. New council tenants will be offered the same.

Moreover, the new tenancy will exclude the ‘Right to Manage’, which allows tenants to take over the running of their homes, and the ‘Right to Transfer’, used to trigger the transfer of homes to a housing association. Perhaps most worryingly, under such private financial investment, the extent to which the land will remain in public hands remains to be seen.

Since the homes of 6 of the 7 freeholders will be left untouched by the proposal, the £3-4 million saving on not having to buy out freeholders, plus the deterrent of drawn-out legal opposition to Compulsory Purchase Orders, seems to have been the casting vote in the Council settling on Scenario 2D. However, since ASH was set up to defend and build council housing, not knock it down, we will continue to campaign with the residents and tenants of Knight’s Walk to keep Lambeth to their promise.

We must ensure that the 17 council tenants and 1 freeholder whose homes have been sacrificed will be rehoused in the new development, and that their temporary decanting, with the promise of only a single move, is used to build the 25 additional homes for council rent that Lambeth has promised.

ASH will continue to apply pressure on Lambeth to ensure that displaced residents will be rehoused on the new development, and that, as Councillor Bennett has promised, ‘a minimum of 40 per cent’ of the new homes will be for council rent, ‘hopefully more.’ Watch this space to see if Lambeth Council honours its promises.

Link to article in Building Design

Architects for Social Housing

Knights Walk Public Consultation: Alternative Proposals

ASH’s latest proposals for Knights Walk, in collaboration with If-Untitled, were presented at a public consultation meeting in the Cinema museum off Renfrew Road on 22 September, 2015. Audience included residents, neighbours, Matthew Bennett (Lambeth’s cabinet member for Housing) and Neil Volkes (Lambeth Head of Regeneration) as well as the usual suspects of Leslie Johnson and Joanne Simpson from Lambeth, Doug from MAE, and Naomi from Soundings.

Following MAE’s presentation of their proposals (from partial infill to full demolition) we presented our two latest infill and build over proposals, both of which retain ALL the existing homes, with the addition of an extra 39 no 3 bed homes (30 of which sit on top of the existing bunglows), and a further 35-45 new homes in two buildings on Renfrew Road and Kennington Lane respectively (options A and B). A total of around 80 new homes.

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Not having to rebuild the existing 33 homes (which are in perfectly good condition, and fantastic designs) – at approximately £150,000 each (say)- comes to a saving of around £5m. If Lambeth are obliged to buy out the current freeholders, this could add a further £3-4m, resulting in a saving of a whopping £8-9m which could be used to fund the construction of over 50 council homes elsewhere – or could enable the construction of a much greater percentage of council rent homes on this site (or pay for the refurbishment of the whole of Cressingham Gardens!)

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Lambeth are currently exploring these options alongside those proposed by MAE. Their investigation over the next few weeks will include costs and structural investigations, which will enable the proposals to be evaluated by the Cabinet in November. We are hoping to obtain our own structural advice over the next week (if possible) because we are determined to get a really clever (and simple) structural solution. It is a slightly more complex condition (and potentially more expensive in some places – but not necessarily throughout), but its certainly achievable (and, due to the savings through non demolition – potentially genuinely viable).

If anyone is in the Kennington area on thursday, the exhibition will be up in the community hall at Cotton Gardens Estate, and all comments on the various schemes much appreciated!

There will be a final presentation on 13th October by Lambeth of the outcomes of their investigations, followed by their recommendation to Cabinet in November

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Workshops at Central Hill

On 29 July, ASH members met with residents of Central Hill to discuss what is happening on their estate at the moment, and how we can help them.

As there have been no designs presented to the residents yet – unlike Cressingham Gardens and Knight’s Walk – we are not yet responding to any concrete proposals for the estate, so we spent the time getting to know the estate’s make up and how it works, and discussing the concerns the residents had with the current consultation process they are participating in.

The residents elected a steering group back in June whose job it is to meet with the council, and report back to the residents. The first concern they had which they addressed to the Council – but received no reply – is how the steering group should communicate with the remaining residents of the estate. The residents of Central Hill currently have no community space where they can meet. For our meeting they managed to book the back room in the local Gypsy Hill Tavern, but there is currently nowhere they are able to meet with the whole estate or even a large number of residents. Clearly, this is a significant impediment to the consultation process, and is something which is common to many of these estates whose community spaces are increasingly run down, sold off, or not accessible.

Architects for Social Housing