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

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

p1150780

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.

p1150748

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.

p1150751

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:

p1150752

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.

p1150754

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:

p1150755

  • 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.

p1150756

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.

p1150757

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.

p1150759

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.

p1150762

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.

p1150763

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.

p1150760

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.

p1150765

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.

p1150766

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.

p1150772

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.

p1150771

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.

p1150767

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.

p1150746

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.

The declared aim of the regeneration is to ‘build more homes’ and ‘create mixed communities’. However, leaving aside the fact that housing estates are already some of the most mixed communities in London, we know from the example of the full demolition and redevelopment of the Loughborough Estate in Brixton what protocol the Guinness Partnership is likely to follow.

Leaseholders will be offered compensation for their homes and encouraged to move off the estate rather than go through the ten years it will take to decant residents, demolish the existing homes and build the new ones. If they still wish to return to the new development, the compensation they can expect to receive in return for their demolished homes will barely be enough to allow them to enter into shared equity or joint ownership, effectively turning homeowners into renters.

Secure tenants, meanwhile, who are currently being told that they will be rehoused in the new flats within two years – a blatantly false statement – will find that when the time comes they will be offered nothing more than the Right to Return to the new developments if they can afford the hugely increased rents. Large numbers will accept offers to be re-housed elsewhere in the borough, or more likely further out, and their current homes will either be left empty, filled with new tenants on assured short-terms tenancies, or, as was widely practiced on the Loughborough Estate, occupied by property guardians. As a consequence, when the time finally comes to establish the tenancy mix in the new development, the number of flats set aside to accommodate residents on secure tenancies will have been drastically reduced.

Even then, what tenants haven’t been told by the Guinness Partnership is that under the Government’s Housing and Planning Act 2016, there is now no longer any requirement for new housing developments to contain any homes for social rent, and that, as a consequence, Labour Councils across London are replacing their promises to do so with so-called ‘affordable housing’. As is increasingly widely known by now, this means up to 80 per cent of market rate, and in Hackney the average rent for a 1-bedroom flat is currently £1,500 per month, over £1,900 for a 2-bedroom flat, and nearly £2,700 for a 3-bedroom flat. These figures, however – which are totally unaffordable for the majority of tenants on Northwold Estate – are only the average rent, and considerably less than the prices they can expect to be offered on the luxury flats the Guinness Partnership want to build. This, and not the lies with which they are being placated, is the real, financial context of tenants’ and leaseholders’ Right to Return to the new development – which is the only right they will be guaranteed.

Faced by these facts, all of which add up to a programme for the social cleansing of the Northwold estate community, a group of residents – both leaseholders and tenants – have started a campaign to defend their homes and their community from the Guinness Partnership and Hackney Labour Council. Refusing the options they have been offered without prior consultation, their demand is for:

  1. The maintenance of the existing estate;
  2. The retention of the borough’s rapidly dwindling stock of social housing;
  3. The continued residency and tenancy status of the existing community on Northwold Estate.

Please give your active support to the Northwold Estate campaign: @savenorthwoldE5

p1150671

p1150676

Initially built in 1938, Northwold Estate now contains 580 council flats, of which 140 leasehold were purchased through the Right to Buy before the estate was bought by the Guinness Partnership, providing homes for around 1,700 residents. Despite a lack of maintenance since the refit in the early 2000s, the buildings are structurally sound and the homes in a decent state of repair.

p1150677

p1150686

Additional mansion blocks, updated in style but in keeping with the look of the overall estate, were added in the 1950s, increasing the number of council homes for Hackney’s largely working-class population.

p1150682

p1150680

The external lifts were added in the 1980s, and new playgrounds in some of the forecourts allow children to be watched over by parents from the kitchen windows of the flats above. Despite this, these flats do not meet modern home standards, and therefore cannot be gutted and refurbished as luxury apartments. So despite the appearance of choice, full demolition and redevelopment – which is also the most profitable course of action for developers – is the only option the Guinness Partnership will be genuinely considering, as their employment of TM Architects indicates. However, like the hundreds of thousands of Georgian and Victorian conversions in which millions of Londoners live, this failure to meet modern housing standards does not mean the estate that 1,700 residents call home is no longer ‘fit for purpose’. Nor does it justify its demolition in the middle of a housing shortage of homes in which Londoners can afford to live. On the contrary, what are not ‘fit for purpose’ are the hostels, bed-sits and other forms of temporary accommodation to which the bulk of the estate’s tenant households will be decanted with the promise of their return.

p1150683

p1150672

As part of the managed decline of the estate, vacant lots have been fenced off and used for rubbish collection, while garages, once in 24-hour use, have been run down into a state of disuse. Following the Housing and Planning Act, these now qualify as ‘brownfield land’, meaning any developer that proposes a housing development on the land will automatically be granted planning permission in principle.

p1150693

p1150690

The balconies of the mid-rise blocks have recently been painted white, a ruse often employed to convince residents that their homes are safe from the bulldozers.

p1150691

p1150695

This garden courtyard between several blocks was recently closed on the grounds that it encouraged ‘anti-social behaviour’. Under the Antisocial Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014, this now encompasses anything that ‘has caused, or is likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress to any person, or is capable of causing a nuisance or annoyance to a person.’ Despite this, when we visited the estate these children had climbed the fence and were enjoying the garden – an act of civil disobedience which, whether it causes a nuisance or not, we recommend their parents follow.

p1150701

p1150697

In a tactic employed on every estate across London facing ‘regeneration’, the community hall, which overlooks this playground, has been closed to residents – though it may still be booked on extortionate commercial rates. This effectively deprives the community of a place to organise resistance to the Guinness Partnership’s plans to demolish residents’ homes and drive them out of Hackney.

p1150699

p1150702

Northwold Estate has been designed as an urban village of mid-rise blocks around a large central square, precisely the type of architecture being promoted by the Government’s narrative of City Villages: More Homes, Better Communities. But it would seem that some villages and communities are considered better than others.

p1150703

p1150707

The estate plan is like a jigsaw of interlocking blocks, with smaller courtyards opening onto larger ones, giving each block an individual identity and unique relationship to the larger whole. Far from facing demolition, Northwold Estate should be adopted as a model for the kind of social housing London so desperately needs.

p1150706

p1150709

The external walkways act as balconies onto the interior courtyards, with plenty of space for parking, and numerous trees growing around the estate, providing an important environmental resource against air pollution.

p1150712

p1150714

A measure of the Guinness Partnership’s commitment to estate maintenance is the state of its Housing and Repairs Desk. No maintenance has been carried out for over 15 years. Like the garages and bin yards, this land has been fenced off from residents and can now be categorised as brownfield land. When planners draw their red lines around estates they want to demolish, the existence of red-lined blocks of land within the estate grounds acts as encouragement to the investors who will fund their demolition project.

p1150716

p1150718

The detailing in the brickwork of the estate demonstrates an attention to detail and pride in craftsmanship glaringly lacking from the generic, brick-clad facades of the ‘luxury housing’ being built on the demolished council estates of London – as a visit to the Guinness Partnership’s redevelopment on the former Loughborough Estate will confirm. ‘Glorified rabbit hutches’ was one tenant’s opinion of the new homes he’d been re-housed in.

p1150732

p1150719

Even on a high-density estate like Northwold, the inventive transitions between courtyards and blocks provide areas for formal and informal playgrounds where kids can play in safety away from cars and the street. It’s unlikely, of course, that any but the wealthiest parents will be able to afford the price of the luxury apartments the Guinness Partnership wants to build in their place. The bulk of the properties will be real estate investments by nom-domicile buyers and buy-to-let landlords.

p1150722

p1150729

The huge back gardens are home to mature trees planted 80 years ago when the estate was first built, none of which will survive its demolition and redevelopment, further depleting the environment.

p1150724

p1150725

The transition between the estate and the surrounding neighbourhood is managed through a row of lower blocks that harmonise well with the terraces opposite, and lead onto a grid of village-like side streets that combine car and pedestrian use.

p1150726

p1150728

The large sports facilities, which are used not only by children from the estate but by local football teams, will all be lost to a redevelopment whose bottom line is to maximise profits for investors by building the highest density of luxury apartments on as much land as possible.

p1150730

p1150733

Like all the land Northwold Estate stands on, the maintenance depot belongs to Hackney Council, and is part of the demolition plans of the Guinness Partnership. The housing association has the full co-operation of the Labour Council, which has already overseen the demolition of 18 council estates in Hackney with the loss of 915 homes for social rent and the construction of 3,343 flats for sale or rent at the full market price.

p1150734

p1150735

In an image of the estate’s future, this bland, generic block (above), built on former brownfield land, is private accommodation; and the estate pub (below), another community centre closed down, has been turned into private flats.

p1150739

p1150742

This crumpled piece of A5 paper, stuck to the outside of the notice board for Epping House, was the extent of notice residents received for the ‘consultation’ conducted by the firm of Newham Francis; while inside the cabinet a poster warns tenants that subletting their flats is now ‘illegal’, punishable by a two-year prison sentence and a fine of up to £50,000, and encourages them to end their tenancy.

Architects for Social Housing has been invited by residents to help them with their campaign to save their homes and their community. We will keep supporters abreast of events and how they can lend their support to campaign initiatives. The future of Northwold Estate is in all our hands.

Architects for Social Housing