The Carpenters Estate: A Fresh Start or Business as Usual at Newham Council?

Photograph by Alessia Gammarota

On the 27 October 2018, at a meeting between members of the Focus E15 Campaign and Rokhsana Fiaz, the Mayor of Newham, and members of her new administration, it was agreed that Architects for Social Housing would make a presentation to Newham council on the financial, social and environmental benefits of estate refurbishment and infill versus the costs of demolition and redevelopment. This presentation would present the findings from our report, The Costs of Estate Regeneration, which we had published in September and have since been presenting to various organisations across London. These included the inaugural Festival of Maintenance held at University College London; at a meeting of the Tulse Hill branch of the Labour Party; at a GovDesign meeting on Repair, Renovation and Maintenance; and to Len Duvall, the Greater London Authority Member for Greenwich and Lewisham and Leader of the Labour Party in the London Assembly. We have also been invited to present its findings to the Government’s Planning Advisory Service forum on Planning, Housing and Affordable Homes, which will be attended by council leaders, regeneration and planning officers from Brent, Havering and Merton in London, Milton Keynes, South Cambridgeshire, Manchester, Salford, Stockport, Southampton, West Dorset and other local authorities.

At the Newham council meeting the Mayor stated that she would be making a public announcement about the Carpenters estate in early December. We were pleased to note the Mayor’s commitment to consider all the options for the regeneration of the estate before proceeding, but concerned that the information on the costs of refurbishing the estate on Newham council’s website was inaccurate. On 8 November we wrote to Deborah Heenan, the Major Projects Director at the London Borough of Newham, to propose a meeting at which we could present our more accurate findings and discuss the possibilities available to the future of the Carpenters estate that are both financially viable to the council as well as socially and environmentally beneficial to residents and constituents.

Following on from our subsequent telephone conversation on 21 November, I wrote to Ms. Heenan explaining that it would be very useful for us if, prior to our meeting with Newham council, we could have clarification on a number of issues for which the information has not been made public. ASH has developed design alternatives to demolition for 6 housing estates in London, and on every one we were able not only to increase their housing capacity by around 50 per cent, but also to increase the supply of homes for social rent, rather than demolishing and replacing them with market sale, shared ownership, rent to buy and other forms of so-called ‘affordable’ housing required by the huge costs of demolition and redevelopment in today’s market. In order to better advise the new Mayor on the possibilities of refurbishment and infill on the Carpenters estate, therefore, we requested the following information.

1. New Development

On page 52 (numbered page 44) of Newham council’s Agenda for the Cabinet meeting of 15 November 2018 there is a map of the Carpenters estate (see site plan below). The entire estate, plus some of the land and buildings around it, is outlined in pink, and the land west of Gibbins Road and north of Kennard Road is block coloured in pink. On the map is a key, and beside a pink square it says: ‘Worshipful Company of Carpenters’. On the telephone I asked Ms. Heenan whether the Carpenters Company, a City of London Livery Company, owns the land on which the estate is built and/or the land around it coloured in pink, and she said no, that most of the land is owned by Newham council, some by the London Legacy Development Corporation, and some by Transport for London. We asked, therefore, whether she could clearly identity:

  1. Who owns the land the Carpenters estate is built on?
  2. Who owns the land (marked in pink) to the west of Gibbins Road and north of Hutchins Close?
  3. Who owns the land (not marked in pink) west of Rowse Close?
  4. Who owns the land on the south side at the west end of Warton Road?

Newham council, Agenda Cabinet meeting, 15 November 2018

I asked whether Ms. Heenan had looked at the proposal for infill development on these sites put forward in the Greater Carpenters Neighbourhood Plan and the accompanying option estimates by AECOM engineering firm that were published in October 2017 (see site plan below), and she said she had. Although they lack the architectural designs for such infill development, these seem to ASH to be financially viable and socially beneficial solutions to both the refurbishment of the Carpenters estate and the lack of housing Newham residents can afford to live in, so we also asked to know:

  1. What is the council’s response to these proposals?
  2. What reason, if there is one, has the Mayor given for not adopting them?

The Great Carpenters Neighbourhood Forum subsequently stated that the London Legacy Development Corporation has made revisions to its Local Plan which require a minimum of 2,300 homes (gross) in the Greater Carpenter area. They also asserted that Newham council is not the planning authority for the area. We therefore asked for clarification on the following questions:

  1. Are both or either of these statements true?
  2. If they are not, who is the planning authority for the Carpenters estate?
  3. If they are true, how is this in accord with the Mayor’s stated intention that she would be bringing all the land within the London Borough of Newham back under the planning authority of the council?

AECOM, Greater Carpenters Support, Site Options Report, October 2017

In assessing the possibilities for infill development without demolition, it is, of course, essential that we know what the council owns or has planning authority over, as well as the status of the current commercial, business and storage facilities on these sites. When we visited Rowse Close (Site E in the site plan above), P. A. Finlay & Co. was clearly still in business, as was the taxi office next to it; in addition, there were two Acme Studios that looked like they were being rented out as artists’ studios, plus a derelict-looking building between them. On Hutchins Close and Gibbins Road (Site B) there were a range of businesses, including a Building Crafts College. While on Warton Road there appeared to be a derelict building (Site F) on the corner of Bridgewater Road, with a row of sport courts to the west leading up to the railway line. We therefore asked for clarification on the following:

  1. What is the council’s relation to these businesses and the buildings they currently occupy?
  2. What is the possibility of the land they stand on being used to build more development, if necessary with the re-provision of the existing businesses and/or community facilities (on Sites A and D)?

2. Section 106 Agreements

Any regeneration scheme has to be financially viable, taking into account the council’s restored ability to borrow against its assets, cross-subsidising from the profits made from building market properties, government funding for affordable housing provision, and contributions from private developers as a result of Section 106 agreements with the council on other developments in the borough. Walking around the Carpenters estate with residents we identified a large number of high-rise residential developments and commercial buildings in the immediate vicinity, most of which were recently completed or are in the course of being built. These include (the numbers of storeys are our rough estimates):

  • Edge Apartments, the 11-storey hotel located between Deptford High Street, Jupp Street and Lett Street;
  • Duncan House, the 16-storey mixed-use 44 residential apartments and 511 student rooms for the University of East London located between Deptford High Street, Jupp Street and Lett Street;
  • Stratford Velocity, the mixed-use 15-storey hotel and 5-storey residential apartments on the corner of Deptford High Street and Ward Street, where a 3-bedroom flat was recently let for £1,950 pcm;
  • Travelodge Stratford, the 11-storey hotel between Deptford High Street and Jupp Street;
  • Aspire Point, the 445-room, 25-storey student accommodation for Queen Mary University between Deptford High Street, Carpenters Road and Jupp Street;
  • Holiday Inn Express, the 6-storey hotel on the corner of Carpenters Road and Deptford High Street;
  • Stratford Gate, the 26-storey residential development by London & Quadrant housing association on the corner of Deptford High Street and Warton Road;
  • Ruby Court, the 10-storey residential development by Notting Hill Genesis housing association on the corner of Deptford High Street and Warton Road;
  • Halo Tower, the 42-storey private residential development on Deptford High Street, where a 1-bedroom flat is renting for £1,600 pcm;
  • Saphire Court, the 8-storey residential development by Notting Hill Genesis housing association on Warton Road;
  • Hunsens Grand Icona, the 13-storey hotel on Warton Road.

Given the appalling record of homelessness in Newham, where over 13,600 people and 1 in every 25 constituents is sleeping rough or living in some form of temporary accommodation, it is extraordinary that, among these luxury hotels, high-value private residences, up-market student accommodation and housing association properties for shared ownership, there isn’t a single block of council housing for social rent. We’re sure the new administration at Newham council would agree that these developments do not represent a model by which the new Mayor of Newham will build the housing in which constituents on the council’s housing list or in temporary accommodation can afford to live.

However, the Section 106 agreements with these private, high-value and mostly recent developments must have generated considerable funds for Newham council. Since all these developments immediately border, and in most cases loom over, the Carpenters estate, we’re also sure the new Mayor will agree that the financial contributions these private developers, hoteliers and housing associations made to Newham council’s provision of affordable housing should be spent on the Carpenters estate and the residents who live in their shadow.

We therefore asked to know:

  1. What were the Section 106 agreements for granting planning permission for each of these developments?
  2. How much of those funds remain in the council’s coffers?
  3. If those funds have already been spent, on what have they been spent?

3. The Carpenters Estate Residents

In the statement about the Carpenters estate in the Agenda for the Cabinet meeting of 15 November 2018 it says that there are a total of 710 homes on the estate, that 395 of these have been emptied, and that 315 are still inhabited. It also says that, of these resident households, 105 have secure tenancies, 55 have non-secure tenancies, and 155 are leaseholders or freeholders. We therefore asked for clarification on the following:

  1. Where are these households living on the estate?

We understand that the three point-blocks have been largely decanted of residents. In a document produced by the London Legacy Development Corporation in 2015 it reports that in the 434 flats in James Riley Point, Lund Point and Dennison Point, there were 36 leaseholders and 15 tenants still resident, meaning there were 383 flats standing empty. We also asked to know:

  1. As of January 2019, how many households are still living in each of the three point-blocks (James Riley Point, Lund Point and Dennison Point) and what is their tenancy status (leasehold, secure, assured, short-term or property guardian)?

4. Refurbishment of the Carpenters Estate

The Newham council webpage on the Carpenters estate, under the title of The road to regeneration, contains a number of statements justifying the decanting of residents from – and the subsequent decisions to demolish – first James Riley Point in 2004 and then Lund Point and Dennison Point in 2008. These included:

  • That the cost of refurbishing each point-block was estimated in 2004 at £25 million;
  • That the Greater London Authority was approached for funding for refurbishment in 2006 and 2007 but it considered this to be ‘too expensive’;
  • That the presence of asbestos ‘underneath’ the concrete exterior meant the point-blocks would have to be empty during refurbishment work;
  • That leaseholders would face refurbishment costs of £120,000 per property, more than the estimated value of £110,000 per property at the time;
  • That the exterior of the block required significant work, and this offset the benefits of installing new kitchens and bathrooms;
  • That structural work to the block would risk exposing the asbestos that has now been ‘contained’ in the concrete;
  • That the costs of refurbishment presented to the Tenants Management Organisation between 2004 and 2009 was considered by them to be prohibitive.

Photograph by Alessia Gammarota, 2017

Very little of this sounds accurate to us. The £25 million for each block works out at around £173,000 per dwelling, three-and-a-half times more than a recent estimate to bring the Aylesbury estate in Southwark up to the Decent Homes Standard plus. Ranging from £20,000 for 1 and 2-bedroom homes to £25,500 for a 3-bedroom home, this standard includes new kitchens, new bathrooms, new heating systems, new boilers, re-wiring, new windows and external doors and new painting finishes. Full refurbishment, however, also includes external mechanical and electrical works, including new pipework, gas installation, door entry systems, fire-stopping and repairs to communal areas; external refurbishment costs and external works and preliminaries, including new roofing and scaffolding. In other words, an estate refurbished to this standard will be in better condition than it ever was and have better facilities than it ever had. To this, of course, needs to be added professional fees and a 10 per cent contingency fund, all of which adds an additional £28,500 cost per dwelling. Based on prices in December 2017, therefore, the final estimate for the refurbishment of an entire estate up to the Decent Homes Standard plus was £50,000 per home.

Anyone who lives there or has visited it will know that the Aylesbury estate is one of the most run down and neglected estates in London, whose managed decline – in preparation for its current demolition – Southwark council has overseen since its ‘regeneration’ was initiated in 1999. In this respect it matches the treatment of the Carpenters estate by Newham council, which initiated its own ‘regeneration’ in 2000. These independent estimates, therefore, by a quantity surveyor with 25 years’ experience, are as high as they’re likely to be on any estate in London, and in fact considerably higher than the Southwark council’s own estimate, which they made in 2014, that the cost of refurbishment was between £30,000 and £40,000 per dwelling inclusive of all other works.

The figures for leaseholders are even higher than those quoted for the renovation of Balfron Tower in Tower Hamlets, which was quoted at £140,000 per flat, with the building being gutted, stripped back to its frame and rebuilt to standards in line with its Grade II listing and intended market sale as luxury housing, something that is not comparable to the refurbishment of the Carpenters estate for existing council tenants. But in any case, as we’re sure the council is aware, finding the funds to refurbish the estate is not a simple equation of charging leaseholders for major works, as the council’s webpage suggests.

As for having to remove residents from their homes to ‘seal’ the asbestos, our own estate recently had this done prior to the installation of new heating, and none of the residents were decanted. And while we recognise the risk of structural work ‘exposing’ the asbestos, the demolition of these three 21-storey reinforced concrete point-blocks will undoubtedly do that to a far worse degree than any remedial work. The general view about asbestos in post-war housing is to leave it alone; and the consequences of demolishing these three point-blocks is hardly in line with either the Newham Mayor’s or the London Mayor’s commitment to environmental sustainability and reduced air pollution. It certainly isn’t in accord with current thinking in the maintenance industry and among design professionals about environmental sustainability, reducing carbon emissions and re-using material.

On the same council webpage about the Carpenters estate it says that it is ‘not acceptable to expect residents to live in deteriorating accommodation’. We strongly agree with this statement; yet when we were shown around Lund Point by residents, entire corridors were barred from entry on floors on which all the residents had been evicted. On occupied corridors individual flats were barred with metal doors. On the top floor, which was rented out to the BBC during the Olympic Games in 2012, the false roof –presumably through which they ran electrical wires –had not been removed since. We were told by residents that the bathrooms and toilets in the barred flats had been smashed by the council to dissuade Newham’s homeless from occupying them. On Dennison Point the ground floor had been deliberately exposed to the weather when it could easily have been sealed. Yet despite this sorry and frankly disgraceful tale of council neglect of buildings in which its constituents and tenants still live, there was nothing to our eyes that appeared to justify the huge figures being quoted by the council as the reason not to refurbish these homes and bring them back into use. The frame of the building appeared to be in good condition, as one would expect of a reinforced concrete building, and the interior of the flat into which we were shown and in which a tenant was still living was in good condition. Indeed, its generous space standards would put most of the new private developments in Newham to shame.

As we said to the Mayor at the meeting in October 2018, while the demolition and redevelopment of these point-blocks will take more than a decade and most likely twice that long to complete, their refurbishment would bring them back into use as much-needed homes for social rent for the 28,000 constituents on Newham’s housing waiting list within a few years.

We asked to see, therefore, the following:

  1. An unredacted breakdown of the cost estimates for the refurbishment of the three point-blocks by Newham’s quantity surveyor;
  2. The funding conditions under which the GLA considered the cost of refurbishment too expensive in 2004, with a comparison to the funding revenues available in 2019;
  3. The engineer’s report on the removal of asbestos from the blocks;
  4. The unredacted viability assessment for the refurbishment not only of the three point-blocks but for the entire Carpenters estate;
  5. The report on what exterior work needs doing to the point blocks;
  6. The engineer’s report on the structural soundness of the three point-blocks and what remedial work needs to be done;
  7. The breakdown of the costs of refurbishment presented to the TMO in 2004 and 2009.

5. The Costs of Demolition

In the Initial Demolition Notice for the Carpenters estate dated 21 February 2018, the intention of the previous administration of Newham council was to demolish the 168 homes in Lund Point, the 132 homes in James Riley Point, the 134 homes in Dennison Point, flats 52-62 on Doran Walk, flats 1-27 (excepting 1A and 1B), 2-60 and 62-138 on Biggerstaff Road, and flats 26-38B on Warton Road. We’re concerned that, judging by the various public statements made by the new Mayor, in which she repeatedly refers to the ‘redevelopment’ of the estate, it sounds as if the new administration is still intending to demolish at least the three point-blocks, and probably much more. On the council webpage titled ‘Carpenters Estate regeneration latest news’, dated 4 December 2018, it states: ‘The rehousing and property purchase programme continues in its current phases (James Riley, Dennison and Lund Points, 28-74 and 80-86 Doran Walk, Biggerstaff Road and 26-38B Warton Road).’ I can’t think of any other reason for this than in preparation for their demolition and the redevelopment of the cleared land (outlined in red below).

As our report on The Costs of Estate Regeneration has shown, the cost of demolishing three 21-storey, reinforced concrete point-blocks alone – which will be enormous financially as well as adding further delay to the 15 years their homes have already been left empty – together with the cost of merely replacing the 434 demolished homes they contain – which at a rough estimate could be up to £150 million – let alone the rest of the homes in the outlined areas, will determine the tenancy type of the homes that get built in their place, and place in question the Mayor’s pledge to residents that 50 per cent of the new homes will be for ‘genuinely affordable’ rent.

Given the terminological obfuscation with which UK housing policy is plagued, it is unfortunate that we have to remind the Newham Mayor that ‘genuinely affordable’ is neither a tenancy category nor a rent level, that there is an often prohibitive difference for council tenants between their existing Social Rent and the London Affordable Rent with which it is being replaced following redevelopment, and that the catch-all category of so-called ‘affordable housing’, within the funding guidance of the London Mayor’s Affordable Homes Programme from which Newham council has received £107.4 million in order to build more ‘council homes’, includes London Living Rent, a rent-to-buy product for households earning up to £60,000 per annum, and Shared Ownership, a scheme available for Help to Buy for households earning up to £90,000 per annum.

We asked to see, therefore, the following:

  1. A financial estimate of the cost of demolishing the three point-blocks;
  2. A time estimate of how long it would be before redevelopment is completed;
  3. A cost estimate of replacing the 434 demolished homes in the point-blocks;
  4. An estimate of the cost to Newham council of rehousing the residents decanted from the towers up to and during the demolition and redevelopment of the replacement homes;
  5. An estimate of the environmental cost, in both embodied carbon and carbon emissions, of the demolition and redevelopment of the three point-blocks;
  6. An impact assessment of the effects this will have on the health of the remaining residents of the Carpenters estate, as well as on the 445 children, who live both on and outside the estate, who attend the Carpenters primary school, for the duration of the demolition and redevelopment.

As we wrote to Ms. Heenan, we understand that this is a lot of information, but on the telephone she spoke several times about ‘challenging’ ASH on the figures in our report, and for this to be a constructive and informed discussion, rather than one in which Newham council tries simply to deny and discredit its findings, it is essential that Newham council lets us know their figures, on which the decision to demolish or to refurbish the point-blocks and possibly the rest of the estate will be made.

Photograph by Alessia Gammarota, 2017

6. A Culture of Demolition and Redevelopment

In response to our request for this information, on 28 November Ms. Heenan suggested that ASH meet her after Christmas 2018. She also asked where we got our information about the Carpenters estate from, and informed us that some of the information we had requested would need to be shared with residents’ groups before the council shared it with anyone else. She has not supplied us with any of the information requested in these 29 questions.

In response we thought we’d do some research on Ms. Heenan, whose recalcitrant attitude towards us has been so at odds with the Mayor’s public commitment to transparency and her pledge to consider all options for the Carpenters estate before proceeding. Deborah Heenan is listed on this London Assembly webpage as the Major Projects Director for the London Borough of Newham, and at the meeting with the Mayor she told us she has been given the brief for the regeneration of the Carpenters estate. However, in her in LinkedIn profile, where she describes herself as a ‘specialist in housing and urban regeneration driving through innovative approaches to development’, she’s also listed as the Chief Executive Officer of Forward Swindon, an Arms-Length Management Organisation handed responsibility by Swindon Conservative council for regenerating Swindon town centre, a post she’s held since 2014. Since 2012 Ms. Heenan has also been the Director of Wichelstowe, the largest housing scheme on public land in the UK, which is being developed by Taylor Wimpey, the largest builder in the UK. Between 2007 and 2008 she was also Strategy Director at Berkeley Homes, the largest builder in London, which is currently 10 years into the 20-plus year demolition and redevelopment of the Woodberry Down estate in Hackney. So Ms. Heenan is very much a professional working in residential property development, and has presumably been brought in by the new Mayor to re-start the Carpenters estate scheme after it stalled for lack of a private development partner.

When I quoted the recent figures on the Woodberry Down regeneration to Ms. Heenan on the phone as an example of what demolition means for the redevelopment of an estate, she went very quiet. But as an indication of what will happen to the Carpenters estate if it is demolished it is useful to recall these figures here. When planning permission for the demolition and redevelopment of Woodberry Down estate was granted by Hackney Labour council in 2009 – the year after Ms. Heenan left the company – the masterplan was for the demolition of 1,980 homes, of which 1,555 were council tenancies for social rent and 425 were leasehold, and to build 5,557 new dwellings in their place. 3,292 of these were to be properties for market sale and 2,265 designated ‘affordable’ housing, the latter comprising 1,177 properties for shared ownership and 1,088 flats for social rent. Even though these proposals already left 467 council tenant households without a replacement home, their proposed tenancies were all additionally dependent upon future viability assessments.

As it turned out, of the 1,465 new units in phase 1 of the redevelopment, only 563 were ‘affordable’, 38 per cent of the total. I wasn’t able to establish how many of these were for social rent, but 55 per cent of the properties were purchased by overseas buyers. Sale prices ranged from £490,000 for a 1-bedroom apartment, £660,000 for a 2-bedroom apartment, all the way up to £1,475,000 for a 3-bedroom premium residence overlooking the reservoir.

However, figures recently published by the Green Party have revealed that Hackney council has now granted outline planning permission for phases 2-8 of the scheme. This is for the demolition of the remaining 1,589 homes, of which 1,294 are for social rent, 268 are leasehold, with 27 designated as ‘market’, and the redevelopment of 3,242 dwellings. Of these, 1,945 will be for market sale, a full 60 per cent of the total, 648 are designated ‘intermediate’, which means for Affordable Rent at up to 80 per cent of market rate, London Living Rent or Shared ownership; and a mere 649 for social rent, which most likely means for London Affordable Rent, and only 20 per cent of the total. This will now leave 600 households previously paying social rent on council tenancies without a replacement home.

Given the culture of demolition and redevelopment in which Ms. Heenan has worked as a professional over the past twelve years, we are concerned that she appears to have little interest in, and no intention of listening to, the alternatives available for the regeneration of the Carpenters estate: through refurbishing the 710 existing homes up to the Decent Homes Standard plus; through new development of the between 508 and 658 new homes AECOM has estimated can be built on land bordering the estate (see option plan below); and through the additional infill possibilities ASH may be able to find on the estate itself if contracted by Newham council to do so. The fact that the new Mayor of Newham has given Ms. Heenan the brief for the Carpenters estate regeneration, added to her refusal to supply an answer to a single one of our questions preparatory to our meeting, raises doubts about the council’s sincerity in considering all the options available.

AECOM, Greater Carpenters Support, Site Options Report, October 2017

7. Red Door Ventures

The following day, 29 November 2018, we received an e-mail from Sheena Sathanandan, the Executive Assistant to the CEO of Red Door Ventures, asking about our availability for a meeting in the new year. Red Door Ventures is a private residential development and management company set up by Newham council in 2014; and although it is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the council, it operates independently of it and has its own Board of Directors. As we’ve since found out, Deborah Heenan is also the Interim CEO of Red Door Ventures, though neither she nor anyone else had told us at the time.

To get an idea of what Red Door Ventures builds, a studio flat in one of its new developments, Cheviot House in Whitechapel, is being advertised for £1,150 per month; a 2-bedroom flat in Gregory House in Plaistow, targeted at young professionals, is being advertised for £1,450 per month; and a refurbished 3-bedroom house in Nelson Street Cottages in East Ham is on sale for £425,000. Completely inaccessible as these prices are for council tenants on the Carpenters estate, this shouldn’t be surprising, as Red Door ventures, despite being subsidised by public funds allocated by the London Mayor to build so-called ‘affordable housing’, is a private company set up by Newham council in order to deliver, as it states in last year’s Group strategic report, ‘investment value and dividend return’. Indeed, according to this report, which is available from Companies House, Red Door Ventures (RDV) is more interested in expanding its property portfolio, acquiring land from the London Borough of Newham (LBN), and cornering the Newham market in the private rental sector (PRS), than in increasing the supply of homes for social rent and in doing so driving down the rental incomes on its properties:

2019_02_carpenters_estate12-e1549363254719.jpg

In response to the e-mail from Red Door Ventures, on 4 December we wrote back informing Ms. Sathanandan that we were available for a meeting from the second week of January 2019, excluding Wednesdays and Thursdays. We reiterated, however, that in order to make this as constructive a discussion as possible we had asked Ms. Heenan and her researchers to supply us with all the requested information at least a fortnight before the meeting date, and preferably earlier than that. Since we couldn’t imagine that the Mayor of Newham had been making her recent public announcements about the Carpenters estate without this information readily available, we anticipated that this information would be supplied promptly and in full.

We had originally expected that this meeting would be between members of ASH, Deborah Heenan in her capacity as Major Projects Director for the London Borough of Newham, and John Gray, Newham council’s Cabinet Member for Housing, and perhaps Rokhsana Fiaz, the Mayor of Newham. Since it now appeared that Ms. Heenan would also be there in her capacity as CEO of Red Door Ventures, we additionally requested:

  1. Could Red Door Ventures confirm beforehand who will be present at this meeting and in what capacity?
  2. Should representatives of Red Door Ventures be attending this meeting, could they supply us with a formal statement of what role in the regeneration of Carpenters estate the Mayor has accorded it as a private developer?
  3. Following Newham council’s review of its relationship with Red Door Ventures, which was announced by the new Mayor at the London Real Estate Forum in June 2018, has the company contractually agreed to the Cabinet request that Red Door Ventures change its business plan from developing ‘predominately Private Rented Sector with affordable contributions meeting minimum planning requirements, to 50% of homes delivered at London Affordable Rent levels’?
  4. Would Red Door Ventures clarify its role – and, indeed, its continuing necessity as a private development company – in the wake of the Prime Minister’s promise in October 2018 to lift the 2012 cap on councils borrowing against their Housing Revenue Account assets in order to bring the delivery of council housing back in house?

We added that if Newham council sees the need, as Ms. Heenan wrote in her e-mail, to share some of this information with resident groups before it is shared with anyone else, this too should be done well before our meeting. As we wrote in our e-mail to Ms. Heenan, ASH believes that all this information should be available for public scrutiny, without which the council’s claim to be conducting open and transparent consultations with residents about the future of the Carpenters Estate cannot be made with any legitimacy.

We informed Red Door ventures that we were not clear what information Ms. Heenan was referring to when she asked for our ‘source’. Unlike Newham council’s webpages on the Carpenters estate, our report on The Costs of Estate Regeneration has links to the source of every set of figures quoted; while the information and figures in our e-mail to Ms. Heenan were all drawn from these website pages.

We received no response to this e-mail. On 13 December, therefore, we re-sent it, requesting acknowledgement of its receipt by either or both Red Door Ventures and Newham council. We took this opportunity to remind both the council and the company that we were still waiting for the information we had requested from Ms. Heenan on 22 November 2018, 3 weeks ago, as well as that we requested in the last e-mail about the role of Red Door Ventures and the London Legacy Development Corporation in the regeneration of the Carpenters estate. We also took the opportunity to remind everyone copied into the e-mail that when we spoke to the Newham Mayor at the Focus E15 meeting with her on 27 October, nearly 7 weeks ago, she said that the council should meet with ASH ‘soon’.

As an indication of the likelihood of us receiving co-operation or transparency from the CEO of Red Door Ventures, the Terms and Conditions for the company website contains a statement (which I paraphrase here for legal reasons) threatening legal action against the copying, reproduction, republishing, downloading, posting, broadcasting or transmission in any way of material on the Red Door Ventures website. This is the company to whom the Mayor of Newham has handed the regeneration of the Carpenters estate, and from whom residents will ask to see viability assessments on the financing of the project, feasibility studies of the options, guarantees of tenancy levels, and all the other information on which they might reasonably be asked to come to a decision and vote on whatever options the council proposes to them.

Last week, on 10 January 2019, we received another e-mail from Ms. Sathanandan, requesting our availability for a meeting with Red Door Ventures over the next two weeks. Like her boss, she too failed to supply or even refer to any of the information we have repeatedly requested. As of publication, 18 January 2019, it is 8 weeks since we requested the information from Ms. Heenan, 7 weeks since we requested the information from Red Door Ventures, and 12 weeks since we met the Mayor of Newham.

8. A Beacon of Good Practice?

On 19 November 2018 the Mayor announced a new Commission on participatory democracy aimed at having a more ‘transparent and accountable’ Newham council, one in which residents will ‘have a say on the decisions we make on their behalf’. We can’t think of a better start to this Commission than making the information we have requested publicly available. On 24 November Rokhsana Fiaz attended a meeting with residents on the Carpenters estate (below), at which she promised them:

‘This is a fresh start for the Carpenters Estate. I want this to be a beacon of good practice in regeneration and residents to be at the heart of it. I ask them to put aside the false promises and false hopes of the past and suspend their disbelief that something different will happen, because it will happen. From now on, I want residents to be at the heart of the decisions that are taken about the future of the Carpenters Estate every step of the way. I know residents feel they have not been listened to for many years and they’ve lost confidence and trust in the council. The council is committed to restoring that trust.’

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Then at a Cabinet meeting on 4 December councillors agreed to a report that recommended ending the current joint venture process for the Carpenters estate initiated by the previous administration, and promising that residents will be given sufficient time to engage with a masterplan for the regeneration of the estate over the next 9 to 12 months. At this meeting the Mayor said:

‘I want to reassure the residents of the Carpenters Estate that I am on their side. The next steps will be putting together a comprehensive programme of involving residents which will not only keep them informed but will make sure they have their say. The Carpenters Estate has the potential to be a beacon of good practice in community involvement demonstrating how councils across London can work together with residents to build thriving, sustainable neighbourhoods.’

Unfortunately, this apparently does not extend to making this Cabinet report available for public scrutiny, so we are unable to respond to its recommendations. Yesterday, therefore, we re-sent all 33 questions to Ms. Sathanandan at Red Door Ventures. Today we received this response from Ms. Heenan:

‘On the information you requested, it is huge in quantity, very detailed and we don’t have resources to collate as you are requesting. Moreover, with the team available on Carpenters, we have to prioritise work with the residents. When we do further work on (e.g.) refurbishment options (e.g.) funding that might be available, again we need to prioritise residents and share it with them first.’

To which we replied:

‘Can I have confirmation from you, then, that the Newham Mayor will be conducting her consultations with residents on the future of the Carpenters estate without any of this information being available either to Newham council or to the residents? If that is the situation, could you explain on what information Newham council will be basing its decision either to demolish and redevelop or to refurbish and infill the Carpenters estate?’

Despite Newham council’s continuing refusal to supply us with this information – Ms. Heenan’s claim not to have access to prior to the council claiming over £100 million from the London Mayor or undertaking what could be a half billion-pound redevelopment project is, shall we say, questionable – we continue to look forward to receiving the answers to each of the 33 questions listed in this document, on receipt of which we will, of course, be delighted to arrange a meeting with representatives of Newham council and Red Door Ventures.

In the meantime, ASH will be presenting the findings from our report on The Costs of Estate Regeneration, as well as discussing the questions we have put to Newham council with residents of the Carpenters estate, at a Focus E15 Campaign meeting to be held at 2.30pm on Saturday, 2 February. The venue is the Carpenters’ and Dockland Centre located at the north-east end of the estate, 98 Gibbins Road, London, E15 2HU. Please join us.

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing

The photographs of the Carpenters estate are by Alessia Gammarota, 2017

Photograph by Alessia Gammarota, 2017

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

3 thoughts on “The Carpenters Estate: A Fresh Start or Business as Usual at Newham Council?

  1. Reblogged this on Focus E15 Campaign and commented:
    Focus E15 campaign will be holding a meeting to discuss all the issues raised by this great blog piece by Architects For Social Housing. The meeting about the fate for Carpenters Estate is on Saturday 2 February at 2.30pm at the Carpenters and Dockland Centre, 98 Gibbins Rd E15 2HU (nearest Tube Stratford)

  2. Reblogged this on and commented:
    As Newham Council and their proxies such as Local Space Stratford buy up/rent properties across our region to house people on their housing waiting list while they carry on with a policy of social cleansing in the name of ‘regeneration’, we take a very keen interest in what they do. With a new(ish) mayor, there has been some speculation that there may be some changes to that policy – we won’t be holding our breath! What happens with the future of the Carpenters Estate is something we’ll be keeping a close eye on….

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