We’re here to present the design proposals drawn up by Architects for Social Housing for the regeneration of Central Hill Estate to the Central Hill Resident Engagement Panel.
We also make our presentation – or rather re-present our proposals – to the residents of Central Hill Estate, whose exclusion from the decisions that will ultimately determine what happened to their homes and their lives has led the resident members of the Resident Engagement Panel to resign until a meeting is called involving all residents.
We also make our presentation to the neighbours of Central Hill Estate from the Crystal Palace community, who, despite being outside the red line Lambeth Council has drawn around the estate, will be significantly and negatively affected by the Council’s plans for its demolition, should it be realised: by the environmental impact of the demolition of 456 homes; from ten years living next to a building site; from ten years of lorries, bulldozers and cranes driving up and down their narrow streets; from the increased burden on their schools, nurseries, clinics, roads and what’s left of their libraries; and from the increased rents and cost of living that will follow the gentrification of their area by the building of high-cost, luxury housing in their place.
We also make our presentation to residents from the five other council estates currently threatened by Lambeth Council’s regeneration plans, since the fate of Central Hill, as of that of Cressingham Gardens, will have consequences for their own struggle to save their homes.
We also make our presentation to the supporters of the Save Central Hill Community, not only from the neighbourhood of Crystal Palace, but from across London, who are fighting to save their own estates or those of other campaigns faced with the London-wide assault on council housing that is being driven through Labour Council estate regeneration schemes.
We also make our presentation to every London resident, and indeed everyone in England, who is likely to be effected by the destruction of social housing by the cross-party collaboration between this Conservative Government and the Labour Party – not only the residents of social housing threatened with eviction, decanting, increased rents, reduced rights, homelessness or the unregulated private rental market; but also those residents already forced to pay some of the highest rents in the world on that rental market, which will be forced still higher as the 3.9 million households in England currently living in social housing see their homes either sold to private buyers or demolished to make way for luxury apartments.
Finally, we also make our presentation to the would-be home buyers whose faint hope of owning their own home will be altogether erased by the speculation in London’s real estate that is driving the estate demolition programme, the aim of which is not to re-house council tenants and leaseholders, but to replace council housing with housing investment opportunities that few Londoners, let alone working class Londoners, will be able to afford.
It is to all these residents, whose homes are threatened by the estate regeneration process, that Architects for Social Housing addresses its proposals. We hope you will support them in the fight by Central Hill residents for their homes, and adopt the principles we put forward in your own struggle for security of tenure and dignity of life.
Because of the broad reach of our presentation, I want to start with the context in which ASH is presenting its designs, which is much wider than the regeneration of a single estate whose ultimate fate, however, it will determine. It is within this wider context, which is that of London’s housing crisis and the role of estate regeneration in implementing the social cleansing of London’s council estates, that our design proposals for Central Hill estate have been developed.
1. Design Proposals by Architects for Social Housing
I want to begin with why we’re here today. On Saturday, 20 February, Architects for Social Housing presented its design proposals for Central Hill estate at an exhibition and meeting held in the Goodliffe Hall, part of Christ Church in Gipsy Hill (above). We were there at the invitation of the residents of Central Hill estate, who has asked us to come up with architectural alternatives to the demolition of their estate at the hands of Lambeth Council.
The Save Central Hill Community campaign has been fighting since February 2015 to save their estate and the community it houses. ASH were invited to join them last June, since when we have been holding design workshops with residents and asking them what they want for the estate. Residents have voted overwhelmingly against demolition and for refurbishment, and in response we have come up with design proposals that we believe will save the estate from Lambeth Council.
Since the Day Centre in which we’re gathered this evening, despite being located on Central Hill Estate, has not been made available for residents’ use, the vicar of Christ Church, Jonathan Croucher, who is also Chair of the Residents Engagement Panel, generously offered the church hall for our use, and ASH exhibited its architectural proposals at a public event open to all. Our designs propose alternatives to demolition, with infill and build-over options that will increase the housing capacity of the estate by up to 250 homes, generate the funds to refurbish the existing 456 homes, and – most importantly of all – keep the existing estate community together while also providing housing for newcomers.
Presentations were also given by the Chair of the Central Hill Tenants and Residents Association, Nicola Curtis, who sits on the Residents Engagement Panel, and by members of ASH. Afterwards, the meeting opened to heated discussion from the floor that lasted for well over an hour. Finally, residents and community members were asked to write down their comments and opinions about the proposals and stick them on the design boards as part of ASH’s ongoing consultations with the Central Hill community, and we have subsequently take these on board.
As reported in the local paper, News From Crystal Palace, the meeting was attended by over 120 residents of Central Hill estate, members of the Crystal Palace Community, supporters from Cressingham Gardens and other Lambeth estates threatened with demolition. Despite this, not one of Lambeth’s 63 Councillors attended, not one even of the ward councillors for Crystal Palace, including the Cabinet Member for Housing, Councillor Matthew Bennett, who also sits on the Residents Engagement Panel.
2. The Residents Engagement Panel
On the Tuesday prior to our presentation, the Central Hill Tenants and Residents Association had been informed that the exhibition of proposals for the demolition and redevelopment of their estate that had been announced by Lambeth Council for that Saturday had just been cancelled, and the decision to demolish their estate put back from April to June. This was the third time (at least) that the date has been rescheduled.
When residents asked why, the only reason Lambeth gave is that they were ‘not ready’. Architects for Social Housing asked the TRA whether Lambeth Council were now reconsidering the infill and refurbishment options they have taken off the table, and were told ‘no’, they are still looking exclusively at demolition options.
Three weeks prior to this, on 31 January, an article by the widely respected architect critic and journalist, Rowan Moore, criticising Lambeth’s plans for Central Hill, had appeared in the Observer, and judging by Councillor Bennett’s response this may well have contributed to the Council’s sudden unreadiness to present their design. On 3 February Councillor Bennett wrote on Twitter – the favoured form of social media for his announcements on residents’ homes – about precisely the wider context in which I am presenting ASH’s proposals, though with very different conclusions. With the title ‘But if they are broken?’ – a terminology popularised by David Cameron and the Tory Party when speaking of working class communities – Councillor Bennett wrote:
‘For the wider debate about the housing crisis, about the quality of people’s homes, the strength of their community and how this city builds the homes we need, it would be enormously improved if we focused a little less on the whimsy of architecture journalists and a little more on the housing needs of real people.’
Two weeks before that, the ‘real people’ on the Residents Engagement Panel had voted for Architects for Social Housing to exhibit our proposals to residents alongside those by PRP Architects, the practice employed by Lambeth Council. Fiona Cliffe, whose job description is Capital Program Manager, Estate Regeneration Team, Business Growth and Regeneration Delivery, London Borough of Lambeth (and I 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 Advisors, who also sit on the Resident Engagement Panel, argued that a precedent had been set by ASH’s previous work on Knight’s Walk estate in Kennington. This seems to have worked, as having cancelled their own exhibition, Lambeth Council then invited ASH to present our proposals to them at a closed meeting to which only members of the Residents Engagement Panel would be invited. We refused, saying we had no intention of conducting business with Lambeth Council behind closed doors. Too much of that is going on already.
Since then, we have lost track of the number of times dates for this meeting have been set and broken, with the result that it has taken three months for this presentation to occur. Even then, this weekend we were informed that the booking we had in the Goodliffe Hall for the past two weeks was now in conflict with another booking.
All of which raises the question of to what extent the Lambeth Council, the self-titled ‘co-operative council’, and its members on the Residents Engagement Panel, are genuinely open to consulting or co-operating either with residents of Central Hill or with the design proposals by Architects for Social Housing that those residents have invited us to present.
Last Monday, 9 May, at Lambeth Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee for the Cabinet decision to demolish Cressingham Gardens, one of the reasons given for rejecting the 326-page People’s Plan was that the Council received it too late. We suspect that a similar strategy of delay is behind the protracted booking of this meeting tonight. As confirmation of this, at 4.30pm today we received an e-mail from Ms. Cliffe declaring, with that arrogance with which she has conducted all her correspondence with us, that we had ‘one hour’ to present our proposal. We have in fact told her for several months now that our presentation will take two hours, and two hours is what we will take to deliver it tonight.
In the almost year that we have been working with the Save Central Hill Community campaign, ASH has never once been invited to any of the Council’s meetings with the Steering Group, nor been shown any of the designs by PRP Architects that have been presented to residents without the means to show them to other residents. This is an issue that has been repeatedly raised by Central Hill residents, who have been banned by Lambeth Council from using their own community hall, and therefore do not have the venue in which the Resident Engagement Panel can communicate what information they have been shown. In this context, I feel justified in using the same dismissive epithet used by Monday’s Committee Chair, Councillor Edward Davie, when he spoke of Cressingham Gardens’ People’s Plan, and call this the ‘so-called’ Resident Engagement Panel.
3. Lambeth Council Comments on the ASH Proposal
Finally, two weeks ago, on 5 May, Fiona Cliffe wrote in an e-mail to resident members of the Resident Engagement Panel:
‘I sent over to you the commentary on the proposals we had downloaded from the ASH website, and have asked that we have their response to the issues before we meet. Fundamental to the delivery of their proposals will be the cost and funding of both the new build homes and also the refurbishment costs for the estate.’
The comments to which Ms Cliffe refers in this e-mail were, as she said, made on images of our designs for Central Hill on the ASH website. However, these images, which are reduced from A1 and A0 size prints (33 and 47 inches long), are about 5 inches across on a laptop screen, and cannot be downloaded, so the best Lambeth Council could have used to comment on them is a screen shot. This was deliberate on our part. ASH’s proposal for Central Hill estate is not a set of images but a presentation supported by detailed plans that cannot be read on a 5-inch image. So the extent to which the authors of the comments on them are valid is one we challenge.
Moreover, the ‘Planning Comments’, as the first two pages of these comments were titled, were not signed, which again casts doubts on their validity. But we are also aware that several other comments have been made publicly about ASH’s designs. We know, for instance, that Councillor Bennett is not averse to making architectural comments on ASH’s plans in various journals, comments that amply demonstrate the limit of his knowledge of even the basics of architecture. Following our presentation to residents on 20 February, Jerry Green, the journalist from News From Crystal Palace who covered the meeting, asked Councillor Bennett, in an interview with him on 9 March, what he thought of ASH’s alternative plans for Central Hill estate:
Councillor Bennett: ‘They haven’t sent them to us. We’ve asked them and as soon as we’ve seen them we’ll look at them in exactly the same way as every other proposal has been considered, but they need to send them to us first.’
Jerry Green responded: ‘ASH’s proposals add 250 homes to the estate without demolishing any existing homes.’
To which Councillor Bennett retorted: ‘We’ve had experience elsewhere in the borough of proposals coming from ASH which can look very positive, but when you test them and dig beneath the surface they don’t always stack up, so we need to assess them and look at them and see if they are as positive as they are claiming. At Knights Walk, Kennington, they put forward proposals that put forward a tower on open garden space which planners said couldn’t be built on. Another tower was considered much too tall and involved building over the top of existing bungalows in a way that when assessed would have delivered a lot of single aspect homes.’
Jerry Green sent these comments to us for a response, and we explained that although one of ASH’s design options for Knight’s Walk did propose a tower on the green space, and that the planners rejected this, another option, which slightly less additional homes, but also without demolishing the existing ones, did not. We also clarified that none of our designs were for single aspect homes – a term Councillor Bennett, perhaps understandably in one so young, doesn’t understand.
Undeterred, however, two days later another interview with Councillor Bennett appeared in the Architects Journal, where the journalist, Keith Cooper, reported:
‘Bennett is sceptical that ASH’s alternative for Central Hill will pass muster, based on its previous effort to halt demolition at Knight’s Walk, one of the six Lambeth sites due for redevelopment. “ASH came in pretty late with a presentation that wasn’t costed and involved building a tower on green space. To be blunt, it was not something an architecture practice would want to put its name to.”’
ASH does not have the financial means or time to pursue a legal case of defamation against Councillor Bennett, whose attempts to slur ASH’s professional competence appeared in a journal that has the widest circulation of any architectural magazine in the UK. But it is regrettable that Lambeth Council should have chosen a person of such character to be their Cabinet Member for Housing, someone who, as a resident of Cressingham Gardens testified, announced the demolition of her home on Twitter, and whose recent contemptuous dismissal of Lambeth residents campaigning to save the borough’s libraries – a campaign that was widely praised and supported in our national press and media – will be familiar to everyone here:
‘While they knock back wine in the library, almost 5000 homeless Lambeth children go to bed in temp accommodation.’
Only last week, at the Cressingham Gardens Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Councillor Bennett proposed the introduction of protocol measures in meetings against any residents who disagreed with the plans to demolish their homes, calling them ‘trouble-makers’ who used ‘violent and intimidatory tactics’ to ‘bully’ other residents. This, we should recall, was another way to excuse his dismissal of a People’s Plan that has the backing of over 80 per cent of Cressingham Garden residents.
As I said, it is regrettable that Lambeth Council has placed the homes of thousands of Lambeth residents in the hands of someone with such contempt for the opinions of residents. But in any case, ASH considers Councillor Bennett a hostile member of this Panel who has taken every opportunity to demonstrate that he has rejected our proposals in advance of them being made here today.
4. PRP Architects Comments on Ash Proposal
But this is not all. Further commentary on ASH’s design proposals, titled ‘Architectural Comments’ – comments which, again, are based on 5-inch images taken from our website – were made by PRP Architects, who have been employed by Lambeth Council first to conduct consultations with residents last year, then to draw up the plans for the redevelopment of the estate following the demolition of their homes.
PRP famously began their consultation by posting – again on Twitter – a photograph of the estate taken at night with the misspelt statement:
‘Consultation in South London. Would you walk down this alleyway!’
Their redevelopment plans, which were apparently not ready to be presented alongside the regeneration plans of ASH, were ready two weeks later, when they were presented to residents, again in this hall, between 10 and 3pm on Saturday, 5 March.
Among the 23 panel and one large model telling residents why every one of the 456 homes on Central Hill must be demolished, an entire paragraph was given to the consideration of their refurbishment, as follows:
We find it highly unprofessional, not to mention odd, that an Architectural practice that has been commissioned by the council to design the redevelopment of residents’ homes on the ruins of their current ones should be regarded as a neutral, disinterested or objective commentator on the alternative plans by an architectural practice such as ASH that, for them, is simply a competitor in the market. But in any case, we hope their consideration of our proposals for the refurbishment of residents’ homes receives more consideration than their weighty 22-word thesis on the homes and lives of the more than a thousand residents whose homes they want to demolish for profit.
To this end, PRP Architects, like Councillor Bennett, have not let pass any opportunity to dismiss ASH’s designs and proposal – all, once again, on the evidence of 5-inch screen shots. On 24 March, only two weeks after Councillor Bennett’s comments, Brendan Kilpatrick, the joint Managing Director of PRP Architects, was quoted in the journal Building Design as saying:
‘He dubbed an alternative proposal by pressure group Architects for Social Housing (ASH) to increase density at Central Hill without any demolition as a “noble idea but not really practical”. Kilpatrick said any scheme had to generate enough income to pay for itself – and that ASH’s would not do that. He said PRP’s aim was to keep all the residents on the estate.’
Noble aims, indeed, but hardly compatible with the needless demolition of residents’ homes and their replacement with homes for increased rents, or the transformation of leaseholders into shared owners or even, as Councillor Bennett suggested last Monday, housing benefit claimants. Yet despite this, another director of PRP Architects, Manish Patel, was quoted on 11 March, again in the Architects Journal, as saying:
‘Regeneration is very, very hard for people and there are some voices that come through in the consultation process that play on people’s sensitivities. When community groups come from outside, their voices can sometimes be a bit louder than those of residents living on the estate. Some tenants, she says, had been “unnerved” by “scaremongering” on social media like Twitter and by residents from other estates. She adds: “The most important opinions are those of people who live on these estates.”’
We agree with Ms Patel. Regeneration is very hard for people when regeneration means the demolition of their homes, and when groups such as PRP Architects come from outside with a remit to play on people’s sensitivities, and use scaremongering tactics such as those used by her own practice on Twitter. We also agree that the most important opinions are those of residents, and we hope that both PRP Architects and Lambeth Council will start to listen to those of the residents on Central Hill estate.
That said, we wonder why, since Brendan Kilpatrick, Manish Patel and Councillor Bennett clearly all take such interest in the validity of ASH’s designs, they did not turn up to see the presentation of our proposal on 20 February. This was a date they had presumably left free for their own exhibition, which they cancelled at such short notice, and at which, when it was finally held in these rooms two weeks later, there were considerably fewer in attendance than the 120 that turned up to see our exhibition, and half of those were Lambeth councillors and employees (above).
However, far more important than this smear campaign conducted in the architectural press by Lambeth Council and PRP Architects, or the attempt to dismiss our proposal before it has been presented, is Ms Cliffe’s statement to resident members of the Resident Engagement Panel that (and I quote this again):
‘Fundamental to the delivery of their [i.e. ASH’s] proposals will be the cost and funding of both the new build homes and also the refurbishment costs for the estate.’
In answer to this statement, which she puts forward with the absoluteness of all threats, we would like to make clear that the ‘fundamentals’ of our proposal lie somewhere very different. This does not mean our proposal will not address the cost and funding of our proposals. We will. We will even answer the ‘comments’ by the anonymous author or authors, and by members of another architectural practice that are no more than mercenaries employed by the Council to do the dirty work of social cleansing the Central Hill community.
But our proposal is founded on very different values. Before we get on to presenting our design proposals for Central Hill estate, let me say what those values are, as it is these that are, to use Ms Cliffe’s terms, ‘fundamental’ to the delivery of our design proposal, and it is these we advocate to the consideration of the residents of Central Hill estate, those both present and not present on the Resident Engagement Panel.
5. Homes for Lambeth
We were not surprised to learn, at the Lambeth Cabinet meeting on 22 March to announce the decision to demolish Cressingham Gardens, that Lambeth Council had called on the technical expertise of the real estate firm Savills in order to set up Homes for Lambeth. But we were surprised to learn, shortly afterwards, that the Chairman of this housing association that would have no employees but farm its functions out to private contractors was to be none other than Councillor Bennett.
I raise this point, not merely to question the conflict of interest in the Cabinet Member for Housing with ultimate responsibility for the demolition and redevelopment of tens of thousands of Lambeth residents’ homes also being chair of the housing association that profits from building their replacements, but to take the opportunity to pose again the question I asked at last Monday’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee into the demolition plans for Cressingham Gardens Estate, a question which has direct relevance to the future of Central Hill Estate residents.
My question, which was never answered, but which I repeated to the Committee Chair several times, and was asked again by Councillor Scott Ainslie who had called the scrutiny meeting, and even by one of Progress’s own members on the committee, was as follows.
On the Lambeth Council’s own website it says that in order to be sold, Homes for Lambeth would require the unanimous vote of the Lambeth Cabinet, the unanimous vote of the Homes for Lambeth Board, and the two-thirds majority of Lambeth Council. Now, since the Cabinet, including its whip and deputy whip, is dominated by members of Progress, the right-wing group within the Labour Party that dominates Labour Councils across London, and is driving its policy of council estate demolition; since the Lambeth Labour Council itself is dominated 60 to 3 by Labour councillors, and those who depart from the Party line are seriously disciplined, as evidenced by the recent whipping given to Councillor Rachel Heywood over her comments on the Council’s cuts to libraries and estate demolition programme; and since Councillor Bennett is the only member of the Homes for Lambeth Board we know of besides the likely representatives from Savills, my question is this:
Beyond the consciences of a Cabinet that has consistently refused to listen to the opinions of residents, of a Council that, whether in its cuts to libraries, the redevelopment of the Brixton Arches, or the demolition of six housing estates, is unified in pursuing a policy of the social cleansing of the borough, and of a Board composed of people who stand to benefit financially from the complete privatisation of Homes for Lambeth – beyond this collection of people who are actively pursuing the privatisation of Lambeth’s public realm, what guarantees do the residents have that Homes for Lambeth won’t be sold?
I ask this not merely out of an interest in the covert business dealings of Lambeth Council, but because of its direct impact on the residents of Central Hill Estate, and the likelihood of them being re-housed in anything like similar or genuinely affordable homes on the land their current council homes currently sit on. And to answer this question, which Lambeth Council have refused to answer, we should consider the role of Savills not only in setting up Homes for Lambeth, but in the demolition of council estates across London.
6. The Role of Savills in Lambeth Council’s Regeneration Programme
In January of this year, Savills submitted a research report to the Cabinet Office, Completing London’s Streets: How the regeneration and intensification of housing estates could increase London’s supply of homes and benefit residents. In it they estimate that London has around 8,500 hectares of land currently occupied by local authority estates, and containing around 660,000 households. Of these, they recommend that 1,750 hectares be regenerated according to what they call their ‘Complete Streets’ model (above). It is indicative that Savills refers to these homes in terms of the land they occupy rather than the people they house, as the regeneration model they propose is exclusively for the total demolition and redevelopment of existing council estates at higher densities. By their own estimate, however, each hectare of land in local authority housing estates holds 78 homes, making a total of around 136,500 households. They don’t say how many people these figures equate to, but at a rough estimate of three residents per household, Savills’ report recommends the demolition of the homes of over 400,000 Londoners.
The basis of Savills’ report is the assertion that London’s council estates can and should be ‘densified’, a claim we hear repeatedly made by Lambeth Council. On the 136,500 homes they propose demolishing, Savills claim they can build between 54,000 and 360,000 additional homes. The selling point for Savills’ recommendation, and why it is so appealing to Lambeth Council, is their argument that the regeneration of housing estates using the Complete Streets model not only delivers more housing, but also creates what they call ‘value uplift’. Through the implementation of this model, they write, ‘underperforming, undesirable and low value’ locations – terms that will be familiar to residents of Central Hill – will be transformed into ‘actively sought-after, high-performing and higher value’ real estate.
Estate regeneration, under this radical restructuring, will become an active means of gentrification, raising house prices across the wider area according to what Savills calls a ‘multiplier effect’. To this end, the new homes built on the demolished council estates must necessarily be high cost if they are to serve their main function: this is the social cleansing not only of the estate demolished to make way for them, but also of the local community and neighbourhood around the new development. Savills even propose an investigation into whether this multiplier effect might be quantified in what they call a ‘value capture mechanism’, which they consider conducive to implementing estate regeneration on a ‘pan-London’ basis.
Savills go on to argue that such long-term projects must transcend local and national government policy cycles. Since local authorities, they say – and here we must agree with them – lack the leadership and technical skills necessary to manage large-scale regeneration, Savills argues that they will require the help of long-term investors. These will propose options to the local communities, draw up proposals, and then implement them with the backing of government legislation, whose job is to remove ‘policy, legal, fiscal and institutional barriers’ to the emergence of this new market.
In case we haven’t guessed whom they have in mind for this role – to take just four examples: Savills produced the viability assessment on the Heygate Estate redevelopment that convinced Southwark Labour Council to accept that out of the 2,700 new apartments only 79 will be for social rent; Savills were subsequently commissioned by Southwark Labour Council to produce a financial and sustainability analysis to decide the future of the remainder of the borough’s council housing; Savills are currently auditing the financial model for Hackney Labour Council’s regeneration programme which threatens 18 council estates with demolition; and Savills have, of course, been appointed to manage Homes for Lambeth, the Special Purpose Vehicle being set up by Lambeth Labour Council in order to demolish and redevelop 6 council estates, including Central Hill Estate.
If further proof were needed that here are the authors of London’s housing policy, and the architects of the programme of mass estate demolition being pursued by Labour Councils across London, Savills are also advising the London Housing Commission, and the housing policies of our new London Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan, whose manifesto promise to build 50,000 new homes a year on demolished council estate land, are based on the figures and proposals in Savills’ report.
This movement of professional estate regenerators between London boroughs is not limited, however, to real estate firm Savills. The Strategic Director of Regeneration in the Borough of Lambeth, Sue Foster, one of five Lambeth officers on a salary in excess of £150,000 (in her case nearly £180,000), has been invited hot from her success in the demolition of Hackney’s estates to oversee Lambeth’s demolition of its own council housing stock. And she has brought with her Neil Vokes, Lambeth’s Assistant Director of Housing Regeneration, who sits with us here this evening on the Resident Engagement Panel. Although we do not have the exact details of Mr. Vokes’ salary, I would guess that Mr. Vokes is one of the 32 Lambeth Council officers earning over £100,000. Clearly, like Councillor Bennett, he has a lot at stake in seeing that Savills’ demolition plans are carried out under the guise of regeneration. But since his time is clearly so valuable, I will come to my question, which I pose not to him but to the residents on the Residents Engagement Panel.
Given the nature of Savills plans, what is the likelihood that Homes for Lambeth, a housing association that is being set up by Savills, will not be designed to pursue this aggressive policy of the demolition of council estates and their redevelopment as upmarket homes far beyond the means of the current residents? Because unless Councillor Bennett’s skills as a property developer are considerably greater than those as an architectural critic, it is Savills, and not Lambeth Council, that will be running Homes for Lambeth. Or, indeed, what is the likelihood that Homes for Lambeth will not be sold to one of the existing large housing associations – Peabody, Notting Hill Housing or London and Quadrant seem to be the favourites of other Labour Councils – and that the replacement homes that have been promised by Lambeth Council to residents, tenants and leaseholders alike, will never materialise?
To answer this, I draw your attention to the instance of Lambeth’s current promises – promises not guarantees – to residents of Knights Walk, a part of Cotton Gardens Estate, which is being partially demolished to make way for new homes. Having consistently promised to make 50 per cent of the new homes for social rent as late as two weeks before the final recommendation to Cabinet in October 2015, that final decision saw the promise quietly reduced to 40 per cent. And even these figures, they make clear in their proposal, are only ‘indicative’, and subject to what the council calls ‘further detailed analysis’.
Let me repeat: this reduction in homes for social rent by 10 per cent occurred between the final consultation with Knight’s Walk residents and the Council’s final recommendation to Cabinet. What chance is there that whatever half-promises that same Cabinet makes to Central Hill residents now will be honoured in the ten years’ time it takes to compulsory purchase leaseholders, evict tenants, decant them to temporary accommodation, demolish their homes, build the new developments, and then re-house them on the new Homes for Lambeth housing association development in what we can already hear being marketed as ‘a vibrant new community in leafy Crystal Palace with unparalleled views of London and quick and easy transport connections to the City?’
Or, will residents find themselves socially cleansed from yet another up-and-coming neighbourhood of London according to the ‘value-capture mechanism’ Savills have so accurately anticipated the benefits of in actively gentrifying an area, through driving up the house prices beyond the reach of the local community, let alone the residents whose homes have been demolished to make way for them?
This is the context in which Architects for Social Housing makes it design proposals: not as one among several regeneration schemes, not even as the only refurbishment scheme among plans for demolition; but as the only proposal that will keep the existing Central Hill community intact and in control of their own lives. The alternatives are designed to do one thing: get residents out of their homes, with the only ‘Right to Return’ that of their financial ability to afford the deliberately increased prices of the luxury developments that will be built in their place.
Much has been made by Labour Councils of the recently passed Government’s Housing and Planning Act, on which they have been quick to blame the social cleansing of council estates they have in fact being pursuing independently for the past two decades. At the Cressingham Gardens Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Councillor Bennett said that under the Act’s new legislation secure tenancies will no longer exist, and that Lambeth Council, by offering residents what they call ‘assured life-time tenancies’, are taking the best option to counter this attack by Central Government on council housing.
This is a lie. Under the new legislation, secure Council tenancies will not be passed onto children, as they once were, and new council tenancies will only be for between 2-5 years. But existing secure council tenancies remain just that: secure tenancies. They are residents’ last line of defence against eviction from their homes. That is why Labour Councils everywhere are so threatened by the obstacle they present to their redevelopment plans. Unlike the assured tenancies they offer, from which residents can be evicted on as little as 8 weeks late rent, secure tenancies require the reasonable judgement and discretion of a court in order to evict the tenant, and the onus is on the Council to argue why they should be evicted. None of that has changed.
If residents give that security up, it is highly unlikely they will ever return to the estate in the ten years time it will take to build their replacements. The offers residents have received from Lambeth Council to ‘bid’ for a home within the borough will soon become a compulsory offer to accept temporary accommodation outside the borough. In the three years up to April 2015, nearly 50,000 London families were moved by councils, and mostly Labour Councils, outside their borough, some to outer boroughs, some outside the capital altogether. At the moment, this is a policy used by Labour Councils on people in temporary accommodation or who become homeless. But that is exactly what residents will become when they give up their existing secure tenancies for the empty promises of an utterly unscrupulous council that has demonstrated at every turn, every meeting, every consultation, every review and every decision that it is not to be trusted.
Their figures for Central Hill Estate have not yet been made available, but Lambeth have revealed that rents on the new developments at Cressingham Gardens Estate will be between 10 per cent for 4-bedroom homes and 25 per cent for 2-bedroom homes over current rates. The new homes to which leaseholders have a Right to Return will start at around £435,000 for a 1-bedroom flat, going up to £860,000 for a 4-bedroom flat, with the compensation they are likely to receive from their current homes around £250,000 for a 1-bedroom home going up to £470,000 for a 4 bedroom home. The sums may be higher in Brixton than they are in Crystal Palace, but the relation between them is indicative of what will be on offer. In effect, Lambeth Council will be almost doubling house prices on Central Hill Estate.
Homeowners now will have to come up with 60 per cent of the equity on the new Homes for Lambeth developments, or share equity with their new landlords, whomever that may be by the time the new developments are built. Secure tenants now, as Councillor Bennett indicated last week, will be offered the solace of housing benefit . . . This shambles is what Lambeth are promising residents now. And there is nothing, beside the opinions and consciences of the Council and its Cabinet, to stop them changing those promises in the future.
In conclusion, we remind the council officers on the Resident Engagement Panel that Lambeth Council’s commitment to the residents of the council estates that voted them to office must be measured in different terms to those used by a property developer or housing association; they must be different to those used by Ms Cliffe when she talks about the cost of the new build homes in ASH’s designs and the cost of refurbishing the homes the Council has neglected for so long, but characteristically makes no mention whatsoever of the cost, both financial and psychological, to the people who live in the homes Lambeth proposes demolishing.
We urge the Resident Engagement Council and the residents of Central Hill Estate to adopt and support ASH’s plans for the infill, refurbishment and genuine regeneration of their estate, and the continued existence of the Central Hill community it is home to. Against the greed and lies of those who seek to destroy it for their own political and financial gain, long may it flourish.
Architects for Social Housing