‘Residents should be closely involved in shaping the priorities for estate regeneration and options for achieving these priorities. To achieve this, options appraisals should be open and transparent. They should assess the full range of social, economic, and environmental costs and benefits of different options.’
— Better Homes for Local People: The Mayor’s Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration
On Saturday, 7 March, Karakusevic Carson Architects (KCA) held a public exhibition of their ‘initial designs’ for the future of St. Raphael’s estate. The third public exhibition held to promote the redevelopment of St. Raphael’s, it was held in St. Patrick’s church, which is to the immediate north of the estate. In addition to the team of architects led by Sam McDermott, an Associate at KCA and project leader on the scheme, also present was Kathryn Eames, the Interim Senior Project Manager on the St. Raphael’s estate scheme appointed by Brent council, and also the Director of Accordus Ltd, a private company she established in January 2019 to co-ordinate and deliver regeneration and development projects for both public and private sector clients; plus several members of Public Participation Consultation and Research (PPCR), one of four consultancies employed by Brent council to convince residents to vote for redevelopment; as well as members of the board of St. Raphael’s Voice, the steering group composed of residents appointed by the council to lead the 760 households on St. Raphael’s estate through to the demolition of their homes.
Timeline and Community Design Priorities
The focus of the exhibition was a series of design options developed by KCA for both infill housing and redevelopment of the estate. According to the timeline for the project on the first board, in June 2020 these 6 options will be reduced to 2: one for infill and one for redevelopment. This will be followed in late August by masterplan proposals, and then, in October, by the resident ballot. What hasn’t been made clear on these boards, and which most residents we spoke to were unaware of, is that the ballot will not be for a choice between the infill and redevelopment options. That decision will be made by Brent council’s Cabinet at some unidentified time, most likely before the masterplan proposals, but possibly after. Just as residents were on the ballot for the South Kilburn estate, which has been recommended to St. Rapahel’s residents as ‘exemplary’, the infill option will be removed before the ballot, and residents on St. Raphael’s estate will simply be asked whether they are in favour of redeveloping the estate.
The second board contained a reprisal of the vague warnings, unsubstantiated assertions and lazy stereotypes about St. Raphael’s estate and its community that ASH refuted in detail at our presentation to residents on 25 February. In short, St. Raphael’s estate is not a crime-ridden, polluted dumping ground of falling down homes isolated from the Brent River Park, as KCA suggests, but a long-standing, socially and racially mixed community with a low crime rate living in housing in good condition bordering a beautiful parkland. However, we will refer back to these trumped-up accusations, and look at how the designs proposed by KCA address the perceived shortcomings in the estate’s housing, community services, traffic, security, public space and maintenance. A close look at the reality of KCA’s designs, informed by the information not presented to residents at the exhibition, reveals that the quality of housing for the existing residents will be worse, the estate’s community services privatised and segregated, the traffic on the estate increased, its public space lost and the maintenance of resident’s homes neglected. While we have shown with factual evidence — rather than KCA’s unsubstantiated assertions — that St. Raphael’s estate is a safe, green, well-designed and remarkably successful estate whose homes are in good condition — but whose community facilities have been taken away from residents and privatised by the council — KCA’s proposals for redevelopment will either reduce or remove altogether residents enjoyment of these benefits of living on St. Raphael’s estate.
Infill and Redevelopment Scenarios and Key Strategies
Viewing the exhibition, we were pleased to see that no less than three infill options have been developed by KCA. There was a time, before ASH began designing proposals for residents threatened with losing their homes, when councils would require a single infill option, whose deliberate inadequacy was sufficient to preclude it from consideration. These three options aren’t that bad; though, given the lack of variety and vision in their proposals, they appears to have been developed in order to give the impression that they will be considered by the Cabinet or voted on by the residents, when in reality neither will happen. Brent council, which like all councils has had its budget slashed by successive Conservative governments, is spending in the region of £1 million pound just to bring this project to ballot, and it hasn’t spent this huge amount in order to meet housing need in the London borough of Brent, or to improve the living conditions of the estate’s residents. Like every other council implementing the estate regeneration programme in London, Brent council has undertaken this project to realise the potential uplift in the value of the land on which St. Raphael’s estate is built. And just as on every other estate regeneration scheme in London, demolition of the existing homes and their replacement with the highest value property possible is the option Brent council has focused all its efforts upon. This includes the employment of architects and consultants paid to convince residents into voting for the redevelopment option. This was the purpose of the exhibition held in St. Patrick’s church.
Despite this purpose, since Brent Cabinet decided to put St. Raphael’s estate up for regeneration in November 2018, a mere 84 households for the infill options and 80 households for the redevelopment options have been engaged by Karakusevic Carson Architects in their consultation workshops. To put this in context, that’s not much more than the 70-80 residents who attended ASH’s first and so far only presentation to residents on the 25 February. This was also held in St. Patrick’s church, but was arranged and paid for not by Brent council and its army of consultants, but by the resident campaign to save St. Raphael’s estate from demolition. More importantly, there are 760 households on St. Raphael’s estate, so KCA’s consultation since they were appointed in July 2019 has engaged just 10.5 per cent of households on the redevelopment option. Since this option will demolish residents’ homes, privatise the redevelopment, increase their housing costs to prohibitive levels or force them off the estate altogether, this is a damning indictment of the council’s efforts to engage with residents on the future of their homes. On these figures alone, these options cannot be called a consultation with any democratic mandate, and are, rather, a cynical process of manufacturing consent for a programme whose consequences for residents are deliberately withheld from them. Below, we’ll look in detail at how this exhibition of KCA’s designs colludes in this process of manipulation, deception and misinformation. Let’s start with the infill options.
Infill Option 1. 323 new dwellings of a similar height to existing homes spread across the estate; new shops on the ground floor of low-rise housing; refurbishment of existing shops as community spaces; with improved bin facilities and new playgrounds.
Infill Option 2. 438 new dwellings, with higher-density housing 6-storeys high to the north and south of the estate; community facilities consolidated in an extension of the Banardo’s children’s centre bordering the Brent River park; refurbishment of existing shops; with improved bin facilities and new playgrounds.
Infill Option 3. 377 new dwellings concentrated to the west of the estate, with blocks to the north and south 6-storeys high; community facilities consolidated in a new building in place of the demolished Banardo’s children centre; refurbishment of existing shops; with improved bin facilities and new playgrounds.
Models of Infill Options 2 and 3 and Site Constraints. These models show clearly that nearly all the proposed infill housing is on the green land to the west of the estate, with higher density housing to the north and south. Very little infill housing has been proposed between the existing housing blocks, none on the long strip of green land to the south of Pitfield Way where it runs east-west, and lightweight timber roof extensions on existing housing blocks appear not to have been considered at all.
We asked KCA why no housing has been proposed on the strip of land on which the Hephzibbah Day nursery and Sufra food bank and kitchen are currently built, and they said that, since the Mitchell Brook runs from east to west beneath this land, it could not support additional housing. They also said that any new housing would overlook the housing on the Old Estate to the south. Apart from the fact that the presence of the nursery and food bank shows that the land over the brook can support at least one-storey buildings, and most likely lightweight timber-framed buildings higher than that, the housing to the south is separated by gardens between 15 and 20 metres long, so there is little chance of overlooking unless Brent council built a line of towers there. Moreover, the Mitchell brook, according to KCA’s own map (above right), does not run under the largest part of this strip of green land, roughly between Henderson House and where Pitfield Way turns north. At the very least, this area could support extensive community facilities to replace those privatised by the council; as well as much-needed shops to supplement the seemingly permanently closed ones on Lilburne Walk; with possibly some housing overhead. Unfortunately, KCA has not considered any of these possibilities in their three infill options.
Their estimated additional figures of 323, 438 and 377 new dwellings for the respective infill options, therefore, are likely to be gross underestimations of the number of new dwellings that could in reality be added to St. Raphael’s estate if so desired. This is important, as Brent council will no doubt cite these figures against their claimed wish to house the 12,200 households in ‘affordable housing’ need in Brent. Presenting these figures in this way, therefore, compared to the redevelopment options we will look at below, is deliberately misleading as a comparison of their relative benefits and possibilities. Since there are already 760 existing homes on the estate, even these deliberately reduced estimates of the number of possible additional homes brings the total number of dwellings on St. Raphael’s estate up to, respectively, 1,083, 1,198 and 1,137.
So that it’s absolutely clear: we are not maintaining that the net number of homes should be the overriding factor in the regeneration of St. Raphael’s estate; but we believe — and ASH will demonstrate this in our own infill, refurbishment and improvement options — that there could be far more housing built without demolishing the existing homes, and as part of a far better proposal for the future of the estate.
Redevelopment Option 1. 2,000 new dwellings, comprising 1,700 flats, 150 maisonettes and 150 houses; with 50 per cent market and 50 per cent affordable housing; community facilities across the whole site; privatised courtyards within the housing blocks; with improved bin facilities and new playgrounds.
These designs are so crude and unimaginative that this option appears to have been proposed merely to bracket the intended choice. However, the indicative number of a total of 2,000 dwellings, of which 50 per cent at best will be affordable, means that over 50 per cent of that affordable housing would have to be for social rent to rehouse the residents of the 522 existing council tenancies on St. Raphael’s estate. There is no estate regeneration scheme in London that has come even close to producing that. In fact, according to the latest figures from the Mayor of London, of the 31,851 new residential dwellings completed across the whole of London in 2016-17, a mere 433 were for social rent — less than Brent council is claiming it will build on St. Raphael’s estate alone. So when Brent council and its consultants tell council tenants they will all be rehoused on the new redevelopment on social rents, they are either being very optimistic, or they are deliberately lying to residents. Our money’s on the latter.
Homes for social rent, however, won’t be the only thing lost to a redevelopment option. According to our calculations, St. Raphael’s estate contains 288 maisonettes, 240 townhouses and 213 flats (plus 19 housing association homes of different types and sizes for which we don’t have the breakdown so will leave out of these calculations). Even before any proposed infill option adds to their number, therefore, this redevelopment option will mean a loss of at least 138 maisonettes and 90 townhouses. And by ‘lost’ we mean to the eventual property developer’s motivation to cram as many flats into as high and as many residential blocks as possible. Yet in their design priorities laid out in this exhibition, KCA has stated that its proposals will provide a ‘good variety of housing types with both flats and houses.’ The truth is, St. Raphael’s estate already has a huge variety of of housing types — no less than 7 by our calculations (above) — and far more than the repetitive mono-blocks being proposed by KCA.
It is no surprise, therefore, that the details on the breakdown of housing types are not provided by KCA for the infill options, since they would clearly foreground the preferability for residents of an infill option over demolition and redevelopment.
Just as it’s no surprise that, while the infill option masterplans specify the number of storeys in each proposed housing block, this information is absent from the redevelopment options. The accompanying drawings show housing blocks up to 6-storeys high, but they do not identify their locations on the site, and stick-figure drawings are not commitments. This lack of information on all the redevelopment options can only be missing in order to deceive residents about the density of the eventual redevelopment.
By the same token, the percentage of market sale and affordable housing, set at 50/50 on the redevelopment options, has not been provided for the infill options. Why? Quite obviously because, in the absence of the huge costs of demolition, compensation for leaseholders and freeholders and replacement of the existing homes before a single additional dwelling has been built, such a breakdown would be far more weighted in favour of affordable and, most importantly, social-rent housing. In our past proposals, which have been costed by quantity surveyors, we have been able to set aside around 50 per cent of infill housing for social rent — increasing, rather than diminishing, the tenure and rental type most in demand in London. Again, all this information is missing from KCA’s masterplans, and it should be clear why.
As for KCA’s claim that these new dwellings will be built out of ‘high quality materials’, a look at the mass of complaints by residents on the Colville estate redevelopment — also designed by KCA — and the South Kilburn estate redevelopment — also implemented by Brent council — will show that, far from being an improvement on the homes demolished to make way for them, the housing crisis in London has led to a rash of cowboy builders throwing up sub-standard homes and then refusing to carry out the remedial work for years on end. Similar complaints on the Oval Quarter redevelopment in Brixton, the Orchard Village redevelopment in Rainham, the Portobello Square redevelopment in Notting Hill, and the Solomon’s Passage development in Peckham — all of which can read about through these links — show that such complaints are the norm and not the exception in new-build housing in London.
Council tenants will not be surprised to hear that this practice is nowhere more prevalent than in the shoddy blocks thrown up by housing associations in order to discharge the council’s duty to rehouse the few residents it hasn’t been able to decant permanently from their council homes. In the case of Solomon’s Passage, thrown up by Wandle Housing Association with funding from the London Mayor, the entire affordable housing block had to be demolished just 6 years after it was built, causing huge disruption to the lives of residents. In Bridport House, the social housing block designed by KCA as part of the Colville estate redevelopment, after seven years of complaints residents have been moved out and rehoused while engineers work out how to fix their shoddily-built housing.
So when KCA and Brent council promise you the new development will be of highly quality than the homes you live in and that, after 50 years, still meet the Decent Homes Standard, take their promises with a pinch of salt (and throw it over your shoulder), because that’s the only assurance you’ll get.
Redevelopment Option 2. 2,250 dwellings, comprising 1,920 flats, 260 maisonettes and 70 houses, in blocks of unspecified storeys, but higher to the north and south of the development; with 50 per cent market and 50 per cent affordable housing; community facilities consolidated in one place facing a new square; privatised courtyards within housing blocks; with improved bin facilities and greatly reduced playgrounds on what’s left of the Brent River park.
Apart from the loss of no less than 170 townhouses, what is clear from this option is that the market properties — which will have to be put on sale for between £550,000 and £1.5 million to recoup the costs of demolition, compensation and redevelopment — will be built alongside what the council characterised in its viability assessment for the redevelopment as a ‘waterfront location’ bordering the Brent river. This exclusively private development, built and managed by whatever property developer the council grants the lease on the land to, will even be accessed via a new road driven through the park to the west of the existing estate, and running roughly where the riverside path is now. The redevelopment of St. Raphael’s estate, therefore, will very clearly be split into two — if more accurately three — separate areas:
- The bulk of the affordable housing rental provision (London Affordable Rent, London Living Rent and Affordable Rent), located in dense, 6-storey and higher blocks to the south bordering the North Circular Road;
- The affordable housing properties (including shared ownership and shared equity, with perhaps some rent-to-buy properties) located to the north, opposite the huge IKEA carpark.
- The private housing development (market sale and market rent), located where the bulk of the current estate is, but with housing blocks built across to the River Brent.
Apart from providing a sound and pollution barrier between the North Circular Road and the private riverside development, in all three redevelopment options the affordable housing component, built and managed by an as-yet-unidentified housing association, will be for all intents and purposes a separate housing estate. This means that, in all likelihood, residents of the affordable housing will not have access to the segregated community facilities for the private development to the north.
As we showed in our presentation to residents on 25 February, this is precisely what has been done on the South Kilburn estate redevelopment — as Brent council wrote in its financial viability assessment of December 2019 — ‘in order to maintain achievable values and a good sales rate within the private portion of the scheme.’ The truth, which Brent council is withholding from residents of St. Raphael’s during consultation, is that investors who will pay between three-quarters and one-and-a-half million pounds for waterfront properties don’t want to share their gyms, saunas, swimming pools, bars, whole-food shops, patisseries and other luxury amenities with the housing association tenants the current residents of St. Raphael’s estate will become if they vote for redevelopment.
With such exorbitant sale prices required to make a redevelopment option financially viable, it’s the money of these investors — not the council’s empty promises in resident charters not worth the paper they’re written on — that will determine the segregation of the new developments into affordable and private housing. Indeed, once Brent council has granted the lease on the land to the property developer, it will have no more say on what it builds there or who it allows onto its land, and neither will the charters it signed with residents. The property development will be in every respect private.
It’s unbelievable, therefore, that KCA can honestly describe such an option as fulfilling its design priorities to produce an ‘enhanced green, play and public spaces’; or that it will reduce the impact of the North Circular road on ‘traffic noise and pollution’. Driving an access road through the existing park bordering the Brent River, building 6-storey-plus housing for market sale up to the edge of that road, reducing the green space on the estate from 8.6 hectares to 5.1 hectares, replacing the public spaces of the existing estate with privatised communal courtyards, and subjecting what’s left of the ecology of the Brent River and the corridor for wildlife along this stretch to additional noise and pollution from the cars accessing the private development bordering what’s left of the park — quite clearly does none of this. And offering a small, sanitised square of greenhouse-grown turf to the east of the redevelopment in an attempt to reduce the 3.5 acres of genuine grass and tree space built on does nothing to lesson either this loss or the damage to the living environment. In reality, this option does the exact opposite, and KCA’s hand-drawn images of playing children and picnicking families are deliberately trying to deceive residents about the consequences for them of voting for such a development option.
Redevelopment Option 3. 2,125 dwellings, comprising 1,730 flats, 245 maisonettes and 150 houses, in blocks of unspecified storeys, but higher in the 8 blocks built along the Brent River; with 50 per cent market and 50 per cent affordable housing; community facilities to the south and north of the private central development; privatised courtyards within housing blocks; with a new central park replacing the almost entirely built-over river-side park.
In this option the full extent of the social segregation planned by Brent council between existing residents (who can afford to return to the new development) and the owners and residents of the luxury properties to the north becomes blatant. In Option 3, the current park along the Brent River all but vanishes as, to the west of the access road introduced in redevelopment Option 2, an almost continuous wall of 7-storey plus apartment blocks will not only colonise the former play areas of the children of St. Raphael’s estate, but also block any view of either the river or the new Wembley Stadium on which these properties will be sold to foreign investors.
Part of the purpose of what councils and developers call ‘placemaking’ is to sell high-value properties to overseas investors who know little of London and have no intention of living in the residences they buy. Glossy marketing photographs of these river-side properties, with a night sky illuminated by the lit up arch of Wembley Stadium and the assurance that all the community facilities are exclusively for residents of the private development (and no mention of their proximity to the North Circular Road), is the kind of image required to sell three-quarter of a million pound-plus properties in Zone 3 to investors from China, Malaysia, Russia or, indeed, the Home Counties of England — all of whom have been identified by Strutt & Parker estate agents in the buyer profiles (appendix 4) for the South Kilburn estate redevelopment.
So residents are clear about whom the demolition and redevelopment of their homes will benefit, these buyers include:
- Professional couple. City lawyer and senior client director, earning between £150,000 and £200,000 per annum, who want to purchase a 2-bedroom flat close to a Waitrose or Whole Foods shops.
- UK investor family. Mid-50-60s, lives in the Home Counties, with £3.5 million in savings and two children, young professionals, for whom they have decided to invest in a 1 or 2-bedroom property.
- Overseas investor. Lives in Hong Kong, Singapore, Istanbul or Moscow, described simply as ‘wealthy’, whose child will attend a London university in up to 10 years time, and who want to invest in a 1-3 bedroom flat that they will let out on the private rental market until then.
- Commercial Investor. Described as ‘successful, high-powered or owning their own business’, based anywhere in the world, who sees London as a safe haven for their money, and wants to purchase a 1-2-bedroom flat with good sale-growth prospects to add to their property portfolio, and will rent it out for the competitive income revenue.
If the existing residents of St. Raphael’s estate think for a moment that they will be rehoused in these riverside blocks, they should think again very carefully. The affordable housing provided won’t be anything like enough to house all the existing tenants, even in housing association properties for London Affordable Rent that is currently 60 per cent higher than council rent on St. Raphael’s estate. And what affordable housing will be provided will, once again, be located primarily to the south of the current estate.
That said, in this segregated housing association development, at least, KCA is fulfilling one of its key strategies for this option, which is to ‘create a noise and pollution barrier to the North Circular Road’. What KCA hasn’t revealed is that this barrier will be built with the housing blocks of the affordable housing tenants, which like the Old Estate to the east and north will act as a noise and pollution buffer between the North Circular Road and the private development bordering the Brent River.
To entrench this segregation, in Option 3 Pitfield Street along the south of the private development continues west across a new bridge to the Victorian terraces on the other side of the Brent River; and Besant Way continues across another bridge to the north. This creates a clearly-demarcated area that will most likely be patrolled by a private firm of security guards and lined with numerous CCTV cameras to maintain the ‘exclusivity’ on which every new private development in London is sold.
In compensation for the almost total loss of the park between these two new road bridges, KCA has proposed a central park between what they call the ‘family homes’ lining the access road to the west and the terraced housing blocks lining Pitfield Road to the east and south. This allows them to claim that Option 3 will, in fact, re-provide 6.5 hectares of green space, which, although a loss of 2.1 hectares on the existing green space, is less than the 3.5 hectares lost in option 2.
This is disingenuous at best, at worst deliberately misleading. ‘Green space’ is not a strip of grass that can be bought in a shop and laid down on land recently cleared of demolished council homes, which is exactly what KCA are proposing in this option. The park that runs along both sides of the River Brent for nearly a mile between the North Circular Road in the south and the Great Central Way in the north is an ecological unity. Not only does it provide a green corridor for hundreds of animals, thousands of birds and millions of insects moving across this part of North-west London, but its acres of grassland, its hundreds of trees, its thousands of flowers and grasses, its millions of fungi and, indeed, the river itself, is a mutually sustaining and interdependent eco-system that has developed over the past fifty years since St. Raphael’s estate was built in the 1960s.
It is typical of the arrogance with which estate demolition schemes are implemented that neither Brent council nor Karakusevic Carson Architects has bothered to produce an impact assessment of the role this fragile eco-system plays in reducing the trillions of tons of carbon monoxide produced by the traffic on the North Circular Road. Yet at the same time they blithely claim that destroying this eco-system will, according to KCA, ‘enhance green spaces’ and reduce pollution. This isn’t disingenuous or misleading or deliberately deceiving; this is blatant lying.
In July last year, Brent council formally declared a climate and ecological emergency. Among its stated plans to address this emergency was the commitment to ‘promote the importance of local biodiversity and natural habitats’, and ‘deliver reductions in carbon emissions by supporting renewable alternatives’. In chapter 5 of the London Plan, titled ‘London’s Response to Climate Change’, the London Mayor — on whose funding for the scheme either the council or a housing association will draw to build the affordable housing component of the new development — stated that ‘Development proposals should make the fullest contribution to minimising carbon dioxide emissions.’ And over 900 architectural practices have so far signed up to UK Architects Declare Climate and Biodiversity Emergency, which commits to ‘upgrade existing buildings for extended use as a more carbon efficient alternative to demolition and new build whenever there is a viable choice’. Absent from their signatories, significantly, is Karakusevic Carson Architects.
It is not surprising, therefore, that neither Brent council nor KCA has bothered to produce an impact assessment of the huge environmental cost of their proposals. This includes:
- The embodied carbon in the 760 existing buildings that will be lost to demolition;
- The dust particles released and fuel consumed during their demolition;
- The carbon emissions from the transportation and disposal of the waste;
- The carbon emissions from the manufacture, transportation and construction of the new development of 2,000-2,250 new properties;
- The carbon emissions from increased total energy use in the new development and on the new roads;
- The negative health effects on residents of St. Raphael’s estate and the surrounding area, including elderly residents and school children, of the increased pollution, noise and road-use by heavy goods vehicles for the next 10-15 years that the scheme is likely to take to completion;
- The environmental damage and biodiversity loss from the destruction of the Brent River park.
The fact that Brent council is consulting residents on these options without producing any of this information about their negative effects isn’t just blatant lying; this is contempt for the health and well-being of the constituents of Brent.
Models of Redevelopment Options 1-3. Like three pairs of different-coloured trainers that are otherwise identical but vary considerably in price, architectural design options are there to justify the selection of a compromise. In this case, our best bet is on Option 3 for the private development along the River Brent; Option 2 for the affordable housing bordering the North Circular Road to the south; and, for the shared ownership and rent-to-buy properties to the north, where the options vary little except in their extent, whichever one brings the scheme to financial viability once the developers have taken their 20 per cent profit margins, so most likely Option 2 again.
These options, it should be remembered, are merely masterplans, designed to convince residents to vote for the demolition of their homes. In other words, they’re as good as it’s going to get. The actual built development will be designed after the resident’s ballot vote in October, and possibly by a different architectural practice that will be selected by Brent council after the contract is put out to tender. The development that actually gets built — and about which residents of St. Raphael’s estate will have no say whatsoever — will most likely be different to these masterplans in ways that will always be for the worse. That is to say: at the expense of the affordability and tenure of the affordable housing component, in order to generate greater profit for the developer, resulting in the loss of even more green space, the further increase in the height of the buildings, the privatisation of even more community facilities, and possibly the gating of the private development.
As we said before — and it bears repeating here because it can’t be emphasised enough — once Brent council hands over the lease on the land to the private development partners and grants planning permission for their proposals, it will have no say on the sale price of the properties, the tenure of the housing, the privatisation of the facilities or who has access to them. That means segregated housing, gardens and amenities and gated communities. And since it is from the private developer’s profits that the council will recoup its costs and be compensated for the land it sold them, the likelihood of Brent council’s planning department not granting permission to whatever the developer demands is little to none. Once again, our money’s on the latter.
At this stage in the regeneration process, all Brent council wants to establish by these masterplans is the financial viability of the scheme. Such an assessment is based on the tenure, rental levels, service charges, and sale prices of the new development. It goes against every principle of ‘full and transparent consultation and engagement’, therefore, as laid out in Sadiq Khan’s Better Homes for Local People: The Mayor’s Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration, that these options do not clearly identity the location of the affordable housing provision, the numbers of homes for social rent, London Affordable Rent, London Living Rent, Affordable Rent, Shared Ownership and Shared Equity that compose this provision; and that they do not identify the sale prices of the new properties Brent council is claiming to build in order to meet the housing needs of constituents in a borough where the average salary is £23,000 per annum.
To recall what these principles are, under the title of ‘Open and transparent options appraisals’ (page 13), The Mayor’s Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration specifies that these should:
- ‘Include the rationale, aims and objectives of the project in the context of delivering better homes for local people.
- ‘Include technical and financial appraisals that have influenced any decisions on options. These should be available in an accessible format with non-technical summaries.
- ‘Assess the full range of social, economic, and environmental costs of different options.
- ‘Include any expected costs resulting from changes in rents, service charges, energy bills and any other impacts on household expenditure.’
The exhibition of these options by KCA provided none of this information. This exhibition, therefore, does not conform to the Mayor’s definition of good practice in either transparency or fullness of consultation. Asking residents to make a judgement about — let alone vote on — these options as they were presented is like showing a council tenant into a Ferrari showroom in Knightsbridge and asking them which car they’d like to have — except that no-one needs a Ferrari, while everyone needs a home. Few, if any, of the residential properties proposed by Brent council and designed by Karakusevic Carson Architects will be affordable either to the current residents of St. Raphael’s estate — tenants, leaseholders or freeholders — or to ‘local people’.
To canvas residents’ responses to these design options, and then to use these responses to justify the Cabinet’s unilateral choice of a redevelopment option, is nothing short of fraudulent. Under the Architectural Research Board’s Architects’ Code: Standards of Professional Conduct and Practice, 2017, it is incumbent upon architects, at least — if not upon council officers running private regeneration companies or consultancies making money from deceiving residents — to act in the best interests of the users of their products. If those products are built on the ruins of the 760 council homes that will be demolished to make way for this privatised, environmentally ruinous and socially segregating scheme, Karakusevic Carson Architects has a duty to inform residents what the consequences are of choosing one of their redevelopment options. Anything less is an abnegation of their duties as architects and their role as professional consultants to whom residents look for an honest opinion.
Good Practice in Consultation on Estate Regeneration
In the complete absence of such transparency in the consultation of residents by KCA, PPCR or Brent council, ASH — using KCA’s own masterplans for redevelopment Option 2 for the affordable housing development and Option 3 for the private development — has produced a composite masterplan that includes some of the information required by The Mayor’s Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration, and which according to this guide must be provided for residents at every stage of the consultation process, based on the plans, assumptions and estimates on which the proposals have been made at that stage.
When residents have asked Brent council officers, PPCR consultants, KCA architects or SRVB board members for this information, they have been met with the universal reply that nothing has been decided yet. This is a lie. Tenure types for housing associations, whether one appointed by Brent council or formed by Brent council as a wholly-owned commercial development and lettings company, are set by government legislation, not by the council, and they don’t include the secure tenancies council tenants currently have but will lose if they vote for redevelopment.
Equally, increases in rental charges from social rent to London Affordable Rent, London Living Rent, and Affordable Rent are not set by Brent council but the London Mayor in his Homes for Londoners programme, just as the conditions and rents for Shared Ownership schemes are set by the government; and government funding to build such tenure types is allocated according to meeting these rents.
The decision made by Brent council in December 2019 to abandon the regeneration of the Old Estate (Areas B and C of the original site) and concentrate on St. Raphael’s estate (Area A), was based on a financial viability assessment by its financial consultants, which can be read in summary in paragraph 5.9 of the report from the Strategic Director, Community Well-being to Brent Cabinet. Taking the minimum space standards for new dwellings — set by the Greater London Authority — and applying these to the figure of £7,500 per square metre quoted in this report gives us the sale price at which the various size of residential properties will go on sale. However, these figures result in a viability deficit of £22 million, and the report explicitly states that ‘the potential for achieving higher sales values justifies further investigation into the viability of redeveloping St Raphael’s Estate (Area A).’ So the actual built properties will have to be even more expensive to make a redevelopment scheme viable.
As this report states: ‘An initial Financial Viability Appraisal (FVA) carried out at this stage is hypothetical because there is no masterplan upon which to assess costs.’ That was in December 2019. Now it’s March 2020, and these masterplans have been developed by KCA, so the financial consultants for Brent council will also have updated their financial viability assessments based on these higher sale values. We therefore invite Brent council to make these assessments public so that residents can clearly see the sale prices of the properties with which Brent council is intending to replace their council homes. We say ‘invite’, but these are the ‘technical and financial appraisals that have influenced any decisions on options’ required by The Mayor’s Good Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration, and it is therefore incumbent upon Brent council to provide that information. Until they do, their consultation with residents has no validity.
Residents can’t wait, however, for Brent council to hand over this and far more information that will determine their futures, including the full viability assessments for all the options, both infill and redevelopment. So until it is forthcoming, we have made assumptions about the prices of the new properties based not on the unviable figures quoted in the report to Brent council, but on the viable figures quoted in Brent council’s Financial Viability Report for the South Kilburn estate redevelopment, which was also published in December 2019. Since this report went public it has been removed from Brent council’s website — which, again, is in contradiction of the Mayor’s guidelines on transparency and openness — but it has been downloaded by us and can be accessed via the link above. Below is the composite masterplan containing some — but by no measure all — of the information residents must be given if they are to make an informed decision about the future of St. Raphael’s estate.
The Duties of Architects in Estate Regeneration
There is a parallel between the ecological disaster consequent upon the demolition and redevelopment of St. Raphael’s estate being proposed by Brent council to masterplans developed by KCA, and the social disaster this will inflict on the community of St. Raphael’s. As part of our visit to the KCA exhibition we joined the protest organised by the Save St. Raphael’s campaign, and we spoke to several residents from one of the housing blocks. One of them, who has lived on the estate since it was first built in the 1960s, is a council tenant of one of the townhouses. This is lived in by three generations of her family. The house has been adapted to her needs as someone living with a disability, and the garage has been turned into a ground-floor bedroom. Above her lives her daughter, and on the top floor lives her grandchildren. Her extended family, however, doesn’t end there. She knows everyone in the block of 12 townhouses, and all the kids call her ‘mother’, not only because she looks after them when their own mothers have to go out to work, but because they have known her all their lives. In addition, at the end of the block is an elderly resident 94 years old, whom she looks after and does the shopping for and other chores. Interestingly, the residents of the block come from many different ethnic backgrounds. ‘Multicultural’, she called it. This is what a community is — mutually sustaining, interdependent, evolved organically over many years.
When councils, developers, architects and consultants talk about building ‘vibrant new communities’ in place of the long-standing ones they are intent on destroying, they show how little they know about community. Just as the ecology of the parkland running alongside the River Brent can’t simply be reproduced in a new central park, so too the community of St. Raphael’s estate can’t be picked up and moved like a piece of rolled-out turf, and it can’t be replicated. Unfortunately, middle-class professionals have little knowledge or understanding of the intergenerational support networks that sustain working-class communities. It’s hard to overestimate the potential results of this ignorance. Based on what has happened on other demolished estates, it is more than likely that many of the numerous elderly members of the St. Raphael’s community will not survive the upheaval of their homes and lives that Brent council intends to inflict upon them, let alone live to return to the dense blocks of flats the council or its chosen housing association will offer to a few of those residents. And if even one of them dies during the decant process, Brent council will have their deaths on its hands.
The majority of residents, as on every other estate regeneration scheme in London, will be shunted off to council flats and housing association properties across the borough or beyond, never to return. They won’t be offered houses in which three generations of their families can live. The support networks of their communities will be as ripped up and scattered to the winds as the trees and grasses of the riverside parkland. And in their place will be residential properties owned by non-resident owners, rented out to young professionals who can afford their exorbitant rents or desperate enough to enter into the various shared ownership, shared equity, rent-to-buy and help-to-buy schemes open to households earning enough to afford them. That means households earning up to £60,000 per annum for London Living Rent and £90,000 per annum for Help to Buy just for the so-called ‘affordable’ properties.
At least 50 per cent of the new properties, however, will be for market sale and rent at prices far beyond the means of even these middle-income earners, and none of their buyers will live in them. This isn’t a model of housing provision that is sustainable either socially, economically or environmentally. It is a scorched-earth policy of developers and investors destroying council estate communities and exploiting the housing crisis for their own profit. What the consequences of KCA’s redevelopment options demonstrate is that the most socially beneficial, environmentally sustainable and economically viable option for the future of St. Raphael’s estate is for the refurbishment, infill and improvement of the existing housing and infrastructure.
If the architectural profession, in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, has rediscovered a social conscience and the courage to speak it, it will publicly denounce this scheme for the demolition, redevelopment and privatisation of St. Raphael’s estate, and hold Karakusevic Carson Architects answerable, under The Architects Code, for its role in promoting this scheme to residents who look to them for honest and open advice, not to be party to the manipulations and deceptions of Brent council and its consultants. Since so many architects, and not only those working for KCA, appear to have forgotten what these codes are, we remind them that they include the duties to:
- Be honest and act with integrity;
- Promote your services honestly and responsibly;
- Consider the wider impact of your work (including advising your client how best to conserve and enhance the quality of the environment and its natural resources);
- Carry out your work faithfully and conscientiously;
- Be trustworthy;
- Maintain the reputation of architects;
- Have respect for others.
The profession’s indefensible collusion in the twenty-year estate demolition programme must stop. It is time for all architects to speak up and out, and in more than signed petitions about the environment that require no action from them. If you wish to offer your time and skills to the campaign to Save St. Raphael’s Estate from demolition, and in particular work to with ASH on developing design alternatives for refurbishment, infill and improvement, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Architects for Social Housing