Stirling Prize Protest 2019: The Social Cleansing of Social Housing

Stirling Prize award ceremony at the Roundhouse, 2018. Photograph by Andrew Hendry

Please join us on Tuesday, 8 October to protest:

• Against the Royal Institute of British Architects’ nomination of the architecture of social cleansing, estate demolition and housing privatisation for the Stirling Prize;

• Against the false promotion of council-owned commercial housing development and management companies as a so-called ‘renaissance in social housing’;

• Against the association of the name of socially committed architect, the late Neave Brown, with the architecture of Neo-liberalism;

• Against the collaboration of the Royal Institute of British Architects, supposedly the profession’s ethical guide, with the financiers and developers of the global housing crisis;

• Against the use of award ceremonies such as the Stirling Prize to suppress public knowledge of the social, environmental and financial costs of the estate regeneration programme and the role it is playing in clearing London land for global capital;

• Against the irresponsible promotion of the culture of demolition and redevelopment that is one of the main contributors to carbon emissions in the UK;

• Against the servile collusion of the architectural profession and press in all of the above;

• For a socialist architecture that is socially beneficial, financially viable and environmentally sustainable, and which meets the housing needs of UK citizens. 

AJ120 Awards protest, 2015. Photograph by Will Hurst

It’s been a few years, but the Stirling Prize is back with a bang this year, reaffirming the Royal Institute of British Architects’ commitment to social cleansing, estate demolition, privatisation of public land, financialisation of housing and architectural irrelevance.

The annual Stirling Prize, the UK’s most prestigious, is awarded to the building that has made ‘the greatest contribution to the evolution of architecture over the past year’. With 170,000 people (1 in 52 of the population) homeless in London, over 300,000 homeless across the UK, 8,000 of whom are sleeping rough, and an estimated 2 billion new homes needed globally by the end of the century, the RIBA, in its wisdom, has this year nominated a shortlist for:

  1. A private house
  2. A train station
  3. A distillery
  4. An opera house
  5. A sculpture park
  6. A housing development inaccurately described as ‘social’ and built on the ruins of demolished council homes.

Worse still than this demonstration of ivory-tower arrogance by the self-styled ethical guide to the architectural profession, 2019 marks the inauguration of the Neave Brown Award, which will be awarded during the Stirling Prize for the best new example of affordable housing in the UK. Under the guise of honouring the recently deceased champion and architect of council housing, this new award has short-listed the Goldsmith Street development in Norwich by Mikhail Riches Architects, the Brentford Lock West Keelson Gardens development in Brentford by Mae Architects, and the incomplete and disastrous Colville estate redevelopment in Hackney by Karakusevic Carson and David Chipperfield Architects.

Championed by both the press and by the RIBA as ‘social housing’, the Goldsmith Street development hasn’t been built by Norwich council but by the ‘wholly owned’ Norwich Regeneration Company; so although Norwich council owns the company shares, the company itself is a commercial venture. This means it will operate at best as a housing association; the tenancies, under existing legislation, will at best be assured tenancies, not the secure council tenancies they have been described as; the company will be compelled to make a profit for its private development partnered and investors; and, as a housing association, there’s nothing to stop the company raising service charges or converting the social rent homes to affordable rents in the future, as so many housing associations are currently doing as a matter of course.

As a model of housing provision, this has already been shown, again and again, to be completely inadequate to housing need in London, where wholly-owned companies in Lambeth, Newham, Hackney, Croydon and elsewhere are little more than vehicles for estate demolition, social cleansing and the privatisation of housing provision. It’s unclear from the planning applications exactly how many of the 105 homes are for social rent (see the postscript below). And no mention has been made of the occupants of the council housing demolished to make for the new development; nor of the scandal that surfaced in 2008 when, having evicted the elderly residents, Norwich council moved new councillors into the condemned homes. The fact such a scheme has been nominated not only for the Neave Brown Award but also for the 2019 Stirling Prize beggars belief.

The market-sale properties on the Brentford Lock West Keelson Gardens development are available for Help to Buy; and starting at £400,000 they need to be. Since it was launched in 2013, Help to Buy has handed over £10.7 billion of public money in 5-year interest-free loans to households earning up to £900,000 per year in order to purchase new-build private properties on sale for up to £600,000. As for the development’s ‘social housing’ component, which presumably qualifies it for the Neave Brown Award, it makes up only 25 per cent of the total properties, and the homes are for London Affordable Rent, which is on average 60 per cent higher than social rent. To describe this development as ‘social housing’ is an outright lie.

The Colville estate scheme, however, is an even worse example of social cleansing, slum housing, privatisation of public land and public subsidies for private profit. Built on the ruins of 438 council flats, the new development – if and when it is finished – will have 925 properties. Of these 476 will be for market sale; 111 are for shared ownership or shared equity; and 338 are earmarked for social rent, a mere 36 per cent of the total. The finished scheme, therefore, will bring a net gain of zero homes for the housing tenure type most in demand in London, and particularly in Hackney, where 12,100 households are currently on the housing waiting list and 2,700 people are homeless and living in temporary accommodation. 92 leaseholders will lose their homes, and have so far been offered between £180,000 and £250,000 in compensation, while the new properties are on sale for between £530,000 and £830,000. As a result, only 2 of the 28 leaseholders whose homes were demolished between 2009 and 2015 have returned to the new development.

In addition, property developer Anthology has been given a 250-year lease on the public land by Hackney council. Anthology, which has acquired six sites in London, is a subsidiary of Oaktree Capital Management, a US-based company and the largest investor in distressed securities in the world, known for buying the debt of countries in financial crisis. On this previously public land Anthology has built 198 properties on sale for between £730,000 and £2.45 million. Most of these were purchased off-plan before they were built, and half by non-domicile investors, while this February the rest were put on sale in Hong Kong. Extraordinarily, this programme of privatisation is being subsidised with public funding by Hackney council’s Housing Revenue Account, the Homes and Communities Agency’s Shared Ownership and Affordable Homes Programme, and the Greater London Authority’s Affordable Homes Programme.

Worse still, however, is what’s been built to rehouse the Colville estate council tenants evicted from their demolished homes. Phase 1 of the scheme began in 2010 with the demolition of Bridport House, which was replaced the following year by a block of 41 homes for social rent. These provided accommodation for some of the tenants decanted from their homes in phases 2 and 3 of the scheme – though the majority were rehoused in temporary accommodation elsewhere in the borough. However, the award-winning Bridport House has been plagued with problems since it was completed, with tiles falling off the roof, cracks opening in the brick cladding and flooding. Built over a large Victorian sewer, the new block had to be erected without concrete foundations, and the timber construction was rushed through in order to qualify for a slice of Homes and Community Agency funding.

Uncritically celebrated by the press as the first council housing to be built in Hackney in forty years, Bridport house has been under scaffolding throughout 2019 as engineers have tried to work out how to fix its numerous problems. A hurried 8 weeks to design by Karkusevic-Carson Architects and 10 weeks to construct by Wilmott Dixon, it’s taken Hackney council 7 long years to respond to tenants’ calls to address its problems. In April fire wardens were placed on 24-hour watch in Bridport House after engineers reported that the cladding insulation did not meet building regulations on fire safety and was a danger to residents. This summer they were told not to use their balconies as they too were unsafe. Finally, last week despairing residents of Bridport House were told by Hackney council they will have to leave their homes within the next 12 months.

It doesn’t beggar belief, however, that this monument to greed and corruption – which is still short of 184 social rented homes promised to tenants, and which Hackney council estimates won’t be completed until 2028 – has been nominated for the Neave Brown Prize, just as it has already been nominated for numerous other prizes by the architectural profession and building industry. On the contrary, the RIBA nomination reveals very clearly the role such prizes play in papering over the social realities of estate demolition, of the shoddy and even dangerous quality of the so-called ‘luxury’ replacements, and of the contempt with which residents, both past and future, are being treated by the councils, developers and architects colluding in the social cleansing of Inner London for global capital in the face of housing need.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that one of the nominations for the RIBA ‘Client of the Year’ awards, also being handed out at this year’s Stirling Prize, is the London Borough of Hackney, one of the foremost implementors of estate demolition in the capital. The Labour-run borough has been nominated specifically for the council’s demolition and redevelopment of King’s Crescent estate, which was designed, once again, by Karakusevic Carson. Universally hailed in the press as an ‘exemplary’ regeneration, the scheme, on which flats went on sale for between £470,000 and £1,313,000, resulted in the loss of 196 homes for social rent.

Finally, it emerged last year that Hackney council’s Woodberry Downs estate redevelopment will result in the loss of 645 homes for social rent, and that 42 per cent of the new properties have so far been purchased by overseas investors. This didn’t stop the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors naming Hackney Downs the 2018 project of the year and best regeneration scheme in the UK, and the RIBA has followed suit. These are only 3 of the 18 estates being demolished by the RIBA’s ‘client of the year’ across the Inner London borough.

As a symbol of its newly reaffirmed commitment to the architecture of Neo-liberalism, the RIBA is once again returning the Stirling Prize award ceremony to the trendy Roundhouse in Camden, with tickets this year on sale between £176.53 and £301.98 (plus VAT). Nor is it surprising that the prize’s new sponsor is Almacantar, a property investment and development company part-owned by the Agnelli family of Italian billionaires. Founded in 2010, Almacantar has since acquired over 1.5 billion square feet of prime property in Central London, and is typical of the type of investor on which London’s Neo-liberal architecture relies. Its assets include the renamed Centre Point Residences, Marble Arch Place, CAA House, Lyons Place, 125 Shaftesbury Avenue and One and Two Southbank Place, which it purchased in 2015 for £550 million.

Southbank Place is the commercial part of the mixed-use development being built as a joint venture between the Canary Wharf Group and the Qatari Diar property investment company. This is wholly owned by the Qatar Investment Authority, the sovereign wealth fund of the State of Qatar that has around £30 billion worth of investments in the UK out of an estimated £275 billion in assets worldwide. In March 2017 Transparency International published a report on the investment of ‘dirty money’ in new high-end London developments, and found that of the 79 properties that had been sold in Southbank Place for between £1.05 million and £3.06 million, 70 had been purchased by overseas buyers, 37 of whom were from high corruption risk jurisdictions. This month Almacantar sold Southbank Place to an unnamed Asian investor for £875 million, a 59 per cent increase on the price paid for the scheme in just four years. This developer is whom the RIBA has chosen to make the sponsor of a prize recognising the greatest contribution to the evolution of architecture over the past year.

Please join us at the Roundhouse from 5pm on Tuesday, 8 October to protest against this shameful celebration of everything the architectural profession should be opposing and condemning. We’re keen that this protest become an opportunity for residents and housing activists to testify about their experiences of living through an estate regeneration scheme and the tricks and lies to which residents are subjected by their council and landlord; to tell us what it’s like living in housing that’s replacing it, such as the scam of shared-ownership deals that make up the bulk of the so-called ‘affordable housing’ on these redevelopments; and to talk about what it’s like living for years under the threat of being evicted or forced to move away from your community and neighbourhood by such schemes. 

There will, as always, be a large press attendance at the Stirling Prize ceremony, who will obediently repeat the lies they will hear from the rostrum. It’s important, therefore, that we use this protest to let the architects patting themselves on the back inside the ivory tower of the Stirling Prize award ceremony know what the social and economic consequences of their work are. But we’d also like to hear about success stories from those of you who have been able to resist such schemes, or are in the course of resisting the demolition of your homes and estate to make way for the kind of developments to which the RIBA has seen fit to hand out awards. We’d like to hear about your campaigns, how we can support you, and what lessons you can teach us about how to oppose the social cleansing of London being celebrated by the Royal Institute of British Architects.

If you would like to testify about your experiences, please come and use our PA system to try and get through to the deaf, dumb and blind architects who will be clinking their champagne glasses inside the Roundhouse on the evening of 8 October.

Postscript to the protest

In the lead to the 2019 Stirling Prize award ceremony ASH contacted Norwich City council to ask how they financed the Goldsmith Street development, given that the last planning application from April 2017 was for 37 of the 105 dwellings to be for social rent. Since planning approval is dependent upon the financial viability of the scheme, how did Norwich City council turn 68 homes for market sale into social rent? They confirmed that all 105 homes are for social rent, but refused to answer how they were financed, instead directing us towards an Freedom of Information request that would take months to answer and we know from past experience would be refused or redacted under the caveat of ‘commercial confidentiality’. But a bit of digging into the Norwich Regeneration Company, the council-owned development, management and lettings commercial vehicle, suggested some of the ways.

Of the 172 properties on the Norwich Regeneration Company’s next ‘flagship’ development, Rayne Park, only 57 will be ‘affordable’; and with an undisclosed breakdown of what constitutes that, half of these could be for shared ownership, with the remaining 115 properties presumably for market sale. So it’s likely that these are cross-subsidising the 105 homes for social rent on Goldsmith Street. Across the two sites that would be something like 115 for market sale, 28 for shared ownership, 27 for affordable rent and 105 for social rent. That’s still 38 per cent for social rent, which is far better than we ever get in the London estate demolition schemes for which the rest of the Neave Brown Award nominees have been nominated.

However, following the privatisation of housing provision by Norwich City council, the Norwich Regeneration Company has introduced new conditions for would-be tenants, the first of which is that they are not claiming benefits. Under the heading ‘What makes a great tenant?’, Norwich City council address this in the Summer 2018 issue of their Tenants’ and Leaseholders’ Community Magazine, where it offers potential tenants employment, business and ‘life-style’ skills. Moreover, Norwich City council also refused to reveal what happened to the previous residents of the 16 bungalows, 10 council flats, 2 wardens houses, and an unspecified number of homes from the Alderman Clarke House care home that they demolished to clear the land for the Goldsmith Street development.

In its wider context, Goldsmith Street is ahead of the blueprints for social cleansing provided by the disastrous Colville estate redevelopment, where Bridport House, which contains most of the small amount of homes for social rent that have been built so far, has been evacuated of tenants because of fears for their safety; or the Brentford Lock West Keelson Gardens development, whose 25 per cent homes for London Affordable Rent, which on average is 60 per cent higher than social rent, somehow qualifies it for the Neave Brown Award. But as a privatised model of social housing cross-subsidised by market-sale properties and built on demolished council homes evicted of tenants, it is a long way from providing a solution to the housing needs of the UK.

Architects for Social Housing

ASH, Why do architects always wear black?

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 after more than four years of work we still have no source of public funding. If you would like to support our work financially, please make a donation through PayPal:

 

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