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 . . .

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The Guinness Partnership: Letter from a resident of Northwold Estate

‘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

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Adrian Mitchell
Senior Development Manager
The Guinness Partnership
Bower House
1 Stable Street
Hollinwood
Oldham OL9 7LH

8 August 2016

Dear Adrian,

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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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  • 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Yours sincerely

A resident of Northwold Estate

Below is the reply received from The Guinness Partnership:

The Future of Northwold Estate

Northwold Estate, in the London Borough of Hackney, was recently informed that the Guinness Partnership, one of the largest housing associations in Britain, and which took over the running of the estate from the Labour Council seven years ago, were now looking at options for its regeneration. These are:

  1. Infill, building new flats on unused land on the estate;
  2. Partial demolition and redevelopment of the estate;
  3. Full demolition and redevelopment of the estate.

The first consultation, which is being conducted by the firm of Newham Francis in collaboration with TM Architects, was held on 28 July, with a second held shortly afterwards on 17 August. A total of 130 residents from the roughly 1,700 that live on the estate attended these events. Despite this, residents have been informed that the Guinness Partnership will be presenting its proposals for their estate at the end of September, a mere two months from the initial consultation.

Continue reading “The Future of Northwold Estate”