Central Hill: A Case Study in Estate Regeneration

Architects for Social Housing (ASH) is pleased to announce the publication of a book-length report based on our work on the alternative to the demolition of the Central Hill estate in Crystal Palace. Titled Central Hill: A Case Study in Estate Regeneration, the report includes not only our designs for the estate’s refurbishment and increase in housing capacity by up to 50 per cent without the demolition of a single existing home, but also our account of why and how these proposals were rejected by Lambeth council, which in March last year announced its intention to demolish Central Hill estate. But despite this decision, which is opposed by 77 per cent of the residents, and which is being repeated on hundreds of estates across London, the refusal of London councils to consider estate regeneration options other than demolition has begun to weaken.

Last November ASH was invited to present our designs for Central Hill and the five other estates we have worked with to the Haringey Council Housing and Regeneration Scrutiny Panel, who are looking into alternatives to the Haringey Development Vehicle, the future of which is now in doubt. Then this February the Labour MP for Hammersmith and Fulham, Andy Slaughter, speaking in the House of Commons, said that ASH’s design alternatives for the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates ‘shows how new development ought to be done’. Most professionals involved in housing will recognise that there is a sea change in attitudes towards London’s estate demolition programme – partly, no doubt, in the wake of Brexit and the consequent fall in the market for the luxury developments being built in their place; but also because of increased awareness of the central place the estate regeneration programme occupies in London’s housing crisis, in which it plays the paradoxical role of both primary mechanism and proposed solution. ASH believes that there is the beginning of the search for an alternative to the current model, one that sees regeneration not in terms of demolition and redevelopment but of maintenance of existing stock and sustainable increase in housing provision.

However, there is nothing, either in current government legislation or in the housing policies of the Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat parties, that will stop councils from following the same practices Lambeth council employed to push through their plans to demolish Central Hill estate against both the wishes of residents and the demonstrable social, financial and environmental benefits of the design alternatives. The Greater London Authority’s recently published Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration fails to deliver either target requirements for councils in terms of retaining and building much-needed homes for council and social rent, or the financial support residents need to propose alternatives to demolition, whether refurbishment or infill or both. Central Hill: A Case Study in Estate Regeneration is not only a presentation of what these alternatives can be, but also an example of why and how legislation needs to change for these alternatives to become the enforceable default option for local authorities and housing associations when undertaking the regeneration of a housing estate.

Architects for Social Housing is holding a launch for this report on Thursday, 26 April, from 7-9pm. The venue is the Residents’ Hall of Cotton Gardens estate, the low-rise component of which, Knight’s Walk, has also been consigned to partial demolition and redevelopment by Lambeth council, also against the wishes of residents. We are extending an invitation to a representative from the Lambeth branch of the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green parties, as well as any independent candidates standing on this issue, to come and make a short statement about the concerns raised by the ASH report, and specifically about how to bring about the required changes to existing policy on estate regeneration in local authorities, the GLA and central government.

Please join us for the launch of the ASH report, and add your voice to this debate on issues that will have consequences for the local elections the following week and in the years beyond. Copies of the report’s chapters can be downloaded from the individual links below or as a single pdf titled Central Hill.

Table of Contents

1. The Alternative to Demolition
2. Criteria for Estate Demolition
3. Deliverability of the Proposal
4. Transparency
5. The Community

If you would like ASH to come and talk to your department, group or organisation about this report, please contact us at info@architectsforsocialhousing.co.uk.

Simon Elmer and Geraldine Dening
Architects for Social Housing


‘ASH are at the forefront of exposing the sheer folly of housing estate demolition in London. How, in an age when we are so concerned about environmental sustainability, do we even consider creating even more waste and carbon pollution through unnecessary demolition? How, in an age when we are so worried about the decline of social cohesion, do we even consider breaking up successful local communities? As this report shows so expertly, creative refurbishment is the way to improve housing conditions for millions of those living in our great city. It deserves to be read carefully and urgently, and then adopted by politicians and public servants on all sides of the political spectrum.’

Professor Murray Fraser
Professor of Architecture and Global Culture and Vice-Dean of Research
Bartlett School of Architecture, Faculty of the Built Environment
University College London

‘With Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, now complying with Jeremy Corbyn’s policy that no estate should be subjected to so-called “regeneration” without a ballot of the residents, which must show there is support for such upheaval, there is now hope that the outstanding and popular housing and community of Central Hill may be saved. Having worked in the Lambeth Architect’s department, which I joined shortly after Rosemary Sjernstedt (the architect/designer of the estate) left, I am appalled at the council’s apparent determination to destroy the best of the building legacy created in the borough’s once famous department between 1964 and the early 1970s. I want to state my enthusiastic support for the work that ASH has done in analysing and challenging Lambeth council’s proposals and demonstrating that an alternative approach is technically and financially feasible, which could still increase the housing numbers on the site but avoid the social and environmental damage. Lambeth council has to date blanked any invitation to open debate on the comparative merits of their proposals on the grounds of “commercial confidentiality”. This feeble get-out has to be dropped if any meaningful ballot is to take place.’

Kate Macintosh
Architect of Dawson’s Heights estate and Macintosh Court

‘It’s hard to overstate how vital ASH’s work has been for the growing movement of people, and politicians like me, who are challenging the orthodoxy around regeneration. They show in striking and practical ways that there is an alternative to razing our estates to the ground and destroying our communities. By working closely with residents they have not only produced better plans than the top-down councils and developers, but have also inspired those campaigning to save their homes to fiercer action, making them even more determined to win and see their alternative vision built. This case study is a hugely important resource for all of us looking for a better way.’

Siân Berry
Green Party Member of the London Assembly

‘A very valuable document to have in the coming months.  Overwhelming pressure from Londoners in response to the Mayor’s draft Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration was evidently strong enough to force him to reinstate the requirement for ballots. While the mayor has delayed his response on this in such a way as to waive-though a large number of schemes before the ballot requirement takes effect, this is a sign that public opinion is beginning to influence policy. Sustained pressure from tenants and other residents, from London organisations and principled professionals will be needed and ASH’s report will be a great help.’

Michael Edwards
Honorary Professor, Bartlett School of Planning
University College London

‘ASH’s excellent work demonstrates rigorous political and economic analysis of existing policy documents and reports, drawing out issues of social justice. This is not unusual for an activist group, but ASH’s practice goes further, and combines critique with propositions, showing that another world is possible, one that prioritises refurbishment over demolition, and provides social housing for existing communities.’

Professor Jane Rendell
Director of Architectural Research, Bartlett School of Architecture
University College London

‘Central Hill: A Case Study in Estate Regeneration is a timely and rigorously assembled study that shows how and why architectural design must to be part of the argument for creating alternatives to the predominant ways of implementing regeneration in contemporary London. All too often, the critique of regeneration is undertaken through academic scholarship that does not yield concrete proposals, while architects are caught up in logics of commercial practice, becoming complicit in socially exclusionary development processes. ASH’s approach to the Central Hill estate marries the critical and the propositional, seeking to enact change in ways that do not harm its residents but rather build on the existing resources of established communities, the qualities of existing architecture, and that recognise the importance of place-attachment and established social bonds to well-being today and in the future. In contrast to the mainstream tabula rasa approach to estate regeneration then, the only dismantling that ASH carry out is of the tenuous case for redevelopment as a strategy for delivering socially or environmentally sustainable benefits, and of the ways in which viability arguments are constructed in order to promote such strategies over less costly renovation and infill options. ASH’s work also points to the importance of understanding regeneration as a moral issue, rooted in the question of how social needs, power and/or greedy capital figure in the motivations of authorities, developers and financiers for instigating change. All in all, this study makes a powerful and valuable contribution to debates across the urban disciplines about the relationship between politics, ethics and the socio-materiality of cities.’

Dr. Juliet Davis
Architect and Reader in Architecture and Urbanism
Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University

‘The dismantling of the UK’s once flagship social housing programme has been presented as inevitable, not optional and fiscally sensible, rather than a ticking time bomb for taxpayers. We have been led to believe that the costs of maintaining and even expanding the UK social housing stock are greater than those incurred by its privatisation. In reality, however, selling off affordable homes adds £4 billion to the Housing Benefit bill, and is fuelling a sharp rise in homelessness and poverty. Architects for Social Housing provide the evidence needed to prove that there is another way: spotlighting the sell-offs and offering actionable strategies for saving the housing stock.’

Dr. Harriet Harriss
Senior Tutor in Interior Design and Architecture
Royal College of Art

‘The work that Architects for Social Housing has done with the residents of Lambeth, including those on Central Hill estate and in Macintosh Court, is exactly the type of bottom up-problem solving that the Green Party espouses. ASH’s work is consistently well-researched, and their expert help and advice has fed into Lambeth Green Party’s housing policy with real examples of what works for communities. Unlike the dominant model of ‘regeneration’ currently operating in several London boroughs, including Lambeth, that uses spin and propaganda to confuse and bully residents into submitting to plans, the Green Party and ASH work alongside communities in a genuinely collaborative way. They look beyond the status quo to find innovative solutions to increase the supply of good-quality, genuinely affordable council housing. Therefore we are very happy to endorse this Case Study in Estate Regeneration.’

Pete Elliott
Co-Convenor, Lambeth Green Party

‘As the debates rage between local and national governments, political parties and politicians about how we solve a broken housing system, a housing crisis or a political argument relating to who should be allowed to live in a city, the residents who live in social housing all over the UK appear to be insignificant. Architects for Social Housing have put the voices and the thoughts of the residents of the Central Hill estate, a community facing demolition, at the forefront. The report argues that residents do not want demolition of their homes and ASH has worked alongside them in finding real solutions through refurbishment. This is an important document which those who believe it is their decision what happens to this community need to read.’ 

Dr. Lisa Mckenzie
Lecturer in Sociological Practice
Middlesex University London

‘I am currently leading a research project on community-led social housing regeneration and I find Architects for Social Housing’s approach excellent and very necessary. Their work on Central Hill demonstrates a co-design approach to regeneration that carefully engages with the community and understands the value of the human capital and the existing built environment. Theirs is not an opposition to regeneration, but a thorough work that demonstrates through urban design evidence that an alternative approach to regeneration – which includes the demands and needs of the residents, and which does not demolish a valuable piece of architecture or displace a community – is possible.’

Dr. Pablo Sendra
Lecturer in Planning and Urban Design
Bartlett School of Planning, University College London

‘ASH’s Central Hill case study is an exemplary document, which not only tells us how it’s done, by pointing out and clearly describing the tactics and strategies of design within an engaging, elegant and economical narrative, but makes it look relatively easy. It also celebrates the values of the estate’s original design, to realise a significant return on Lambeth council’s original investment in realistic optimism and the resulting infrastructure of social good. Alas, it also bears witness to the malfeasance of a local authority which should have the interests of its communities at heart, and the case study is likely, tragically, to be the only product of its own project. What opportunities for constructive dialogue will have been wasted due to pig-headedness, financial self-interest or a heady combination of the two? It’s also a fine prospectus for ASH itself. As a piece of work that can be judged on its own usefulness and its own merits, it’s a primer for a collective that appears to be too busy ‘doing’ (often ‘fighting’) to reflect and produce self-promotional literature on its own account. Their promotion happens by word-of-mouth and their efforts are instead concentrated on producing, with evident love, a selfless guide to challenging the pervasive “decant, demolish, privatise, rebuild and profit” narrative with the genuine regeneration of social housing.’

Michael Jardine
Architect, HUB Architects Ltd

‘When buildings age and neighbourhoods change, are there alternatives to the wholesale destruction, dispossession and displacement of communities who live there? Of course there are alternatives, and the architectural community is obliged to conceive and achieve them. The earnest proposals put forward by Architects for Social Housing are not radical in any way, except for the fact they address the very roots of challenges their true clients face. Their realistic proposals to refurbish, grow, and densify Central Hill estate, without displacing current residents, are common- sense responses, professionally considered and powerfully presented. What may appear radical to some is that the architects’ proposals are not contrived with the aim of pleasing those who lay claim to power, but serve instead the common interest of those who live in and around the estate. How shocking is that? Common sense- proposals conceived for the common good, in ways that can enable a community to begin again, with dignity, and which would benefit the city as a whole by refusing to engage in the violence of predatory eviction and erasure. The citizens of London would be foolish not to embrace this ethically and ecologically responsible scheme, and to support ASH in their urgent effort to sustain vulnerable but viable communities, rather than destroying them for the sake of novelty and voracious greed. Very few architects have the courage to speak truth to the abusers and hoarders of wealth and power, and the modesty to listen to those who have been denied a voice, but who most know what it is they desire and need.’

Ted Landrum
Architect and author of Midway Radicals & Archi-Poems
Department of Architecture
University of Manitoba

‘As many of London’s council-built housing estates are currently threatened with demolition, ASH have produced a timely report, Central Hill: A Case Study in Estate Regeneration. Based upon ASH’s “resistance by design” principles, the report provides a detailed architectural, financial and environmental critique of the current dominant policy practice of estate-regeneration as demolition. In so doing, the report makes a compelling case as to why an alternative to Lambeth council’s demolition-centred approach to Central Hill (alongside five other threatened estates) might be preferable – not least from the standpoint of estate residents – and how such an alternative could be realised. It’s often said by proponents of estate demolition that housing activists have no alternative to the hegemonic model of “doing estate regeneration”. This report demonstrates in forensic detail what such an alternative could look like in practice, that is given the right political will to implement it.’

Dr. Paul Watt
Professor of Urban Studies
Department of Geography
Birkbeck, University College London

‘Coops for London believes that that the solution to the housing crisis lies with a community-led approach with a focus on homes not units. We are increasingly concerned that recent estate regeneration projects have not considered the needs of resident tenants and leaseholders sufficiently. We therefore wholeheartedly support initiatives like those of ASH that sees regeneration, as they write “not in terms of demolition and redevelopment but of maintenance of existing stock and sustainable increase in housing provision”.’

Jessica Jacobs and Emily O’Mara
Co-founders of Coops for London

‘I cannot praise the work of ASH enough, their tenacity and the detail of work in their project is exemplary. Their use of space is intelligent and carefully thought out and their figures speak for themselves. If we had more ASH’s in the social housing arena we wouldn’t have a housing problem. They present an alternative to estate demolition that should not be overlooked. I am in total support of them and their report Central Hill: A Case Study in Estate Regeneration.’

Nikita Woolfe
Director and Producer of Concrete Soldiers UK

‘ASH are community focused practitioners who have developed an exemplary approach to the issue of estate regeneration. Where local authorities have significantly failed is in not really listening to or respecting the wishes of a community that has formed on a housing estate. Most regeneration schemes are therefore imposed on residents who have little or no benefits, with the worst-case scenario of massive disruption and displacement. Demolition should always be a last resort, after infill and refurbishment and maintenance options are all fully explored. The Central Hill case study produced by ASH is a powerful critique of developer- and market-led estate regeneration schemes, which lack vision and offer little prospect for affordable housing.’

Constantine Gras
Artist in Residence
Lancaster West Estate

‘I’ve no doubt this publication will be an important contribution towards supporting residents in resisting the injustices of displacement and dispossession that result from estate demolition and redevelopment.’

Jessie Brennan
Artist and author of Regeneration! Conversations, Drawings, Archives and Photographs from Robin Hood Gardens

‘The rush to exploit the capital potential of social housing seems to have obliterated any rational thought or morality in the politicians and local authorities responsible. The ASH scheme represents a worked-through plan to return to a sane, rational housing regeneration policy that primarily respects the wishes and very real investments of the communities of people who are the residents.’

Dr. Stefan Szczelkun
Artist and author of The Conspiracy of Good Taste

‘This work is extremely useful for raising clear and simple arguments against social clearances disguised as urban “regenerations”. The chapter on Community, in particular, brilliantly demonstrates with beautiful and accessible images the dishonest propaganda of promoters of estate demolition. Thank you for demonstrating that there are alternatives!’

Nicolas Fonty
Architect and Urban Designer

‘In this important report ASH demonstrate how one of London’s seminal post-war housing estates can be densified and refurbished to offer a low-cost and environmentally sustainable alternative to demolition and re-building, while keeping together the strong bonds of family and community built up over several generations. ASH’s thesis is strong and clear, it is well-researched, fully costed and borne of wide consultation, receiving backing from 77 per cent of the residents.  This report must be seen by those responsible for providing housing, as it offers them a brilliantly simple and affordable means to house 40 per cent more people on the site, in better conditions, for half the cost of new-build. But it must also be seen by those architects and others who are complicit in the needless destruction of communities, for this report sets a new baseline for intelligent, holistic design they will likely be ashamed to read. An intelligent, sensitive, thorough, powerful, brave, important and joyful body of work.’

Sam Causer
Architect and Director
Studio Sam Causer

‘We need to actualise cities “ecosophically”, gently, without cutting them open or ripping their heart out. It is about letting the city be, doing a lot with very little, where its needed, case by case, room by room, apartment by apartment, building by building, garden by garden, street by street, connection by connection, so the city can offer the expected benefits to those who inhabit it. We need to invent a strategy of urban thinking, a blend of architectural practice and urbanism in a common continuum, the same discipline, anchored in the immediate, of both short and long term, avoiding lunar visions of masterplans. Let’s start from what is: peoples’ interiors, the issue of housing, the issue of labour, of enjoyment, of cultivation, of the issue of housing. Let’s offer to each of them: quantities, facilities, services, the necessary light to contemporary life. Let’s add benefits to what’s already beneficial. Let’s be wise and only answer simple questions. What is already there? What should be done to facilitate and actualise each thing? The question of inhabiting is primary and should not be treated lightly; on the contrary, it should employ all means, connections, knowledges, experiences, competences and shapes to answer the essential question about the use of the world, its inhabitability. . . . These ideas, which I wrote down in 2007 for the study PLUS, are as applicable to London in 2018, where their principles – encapsulated in the motto: “Never demolish, never remove or replace, always add, transform, and reuse!” – are being put into practice by Architects for Social Housing, whose report, Central Hill: A Case Study in Estate Regeneration, I agree with and support.’

Frédéric Druot
Architect and Director
Frédéric Druot Architecture

‘ASH have done so much to protect housing estates from demolition by affirming their architectural, social and political heritage and value. Moreover, they have demonstrated with their designs that much of the rhetoric which condemns them as incapable of being effectively maintained or refurbished is based on misguided policy and questionable intentions. This latest report on the stunning Central Hill Estate is a case in point.’

Jamie Burton
Barrister, Doughty Street Chambers
Expert Group for Housing Rights Watch

‘Let’s assume that there is still some morality, some sense of humanity, and some belief in civil society in our politicians, planners and, yes, even in our developers. Let’s also assume that they are open enough to see the merits of convincing arguments that present alternatives to their policies on London’s social housing. Let’s ask them to look at simple and practical design proposals that avoid demolition and redevelopment and the upheaval and destruction of communities. Now let’s ask them to read Architects for Social Housing’s report on Central Hill: A Case Study in Estate Regeneration.’

Mark Crinson
Professor of Architectural History
Department of History of Art
Birkbeck, University College London

‘The report on the future of Central Hill in Lambeth by Geraldine Dening and Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing is in my experience a unique piece of work. It sets out to demonstrate how a council estate with a stable community that mainly wants to stay can be improved; its facilities expanded; and the supply of social and affordable housing increased at a far lower cost than the cost of demolition and rebuilding. It also sets out clearly the environmental and social arguments for doing this and it demonstrates the intrinsic value of social housing. Having worked in Lambeth on some of its most difficult estates, and having uncovered very similar arguments to those used in this report, I strongly recommend it to policy makers, architects, developers, social landlords, and community leaders who are committed to a better future for social housing.’

Professor Anne Power
Head of London School of Economics, Housing and Communities
Honorary Fellow of RIBA
Chair of National Communities Resource Centre at Trafford Hall

If you would like to add your endorsement of the ASH report, please do so in the comments section below.

Architects for Social Housing is a Community Interest Company (no. 10383452). Although we do occasionally receive minimal fees for our design work, the vast majority of what we do is unpaid and we have no source of public funding. If you would like to support our work, you can make a donation through PayPal:

4 thoughts on “Central Hill: A Case Study in Estate Regeneration

  1. This piece of work could not be more timely: I am convinced there is no bigger issue for this election, and crucially over the 4 years until the following one. Much of the ward I represent – Coldharbour in central Brixton – is comprised of social housing and it is this, not the fashionable watering holes of the town centre or the architecturally anomalous and substandard blocks of private and UN-affordable housing, that make it such a joyous and extraordinary place to represent with its wonderful communities, and a fitting locus for the battles for social justice it has witnessed. These estates, which include Loughborough, Southwyck House (or the ‘barrier block’) and Angell Town, along with democratically significant buildings including Brixton Recreation Centre and the real markets, are undoubtedly at huge risk in the immediate future under the administration’s policies and priorities. Having fallen out with said administration over this, and over the plan to put fee paying gyms in libraries, over the ruination of so many small businesses in the town centre, and much else besides I am standing as an Independent after 12 years as a Labour councillor. I’ll see Brixton brought to the ground over my dead body, but I’d rather try more conventional means of protest first. A piece of work like this must be essential reading for everyone who values strong and sustainable communities, adn real places and societies in which to live. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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