ASH is happy to announce that, a month after we published and delivered to Brent Council our report on the design alternative to the demolition of St. Raphael’s estate — which demonstrated among other things the financial unviability of demolishing and redeveloping the 760 homes — Brent Council has agreed with us and called off the estate regeneration resident ballot.
There were two main reasons for this decision. First, the London Mayor’s announcement, in the Affordable Homes Programme 2021-26, that he has withdrawn GLA funding to replace homes for social rent that have been demolished as part of an estate regeneration scheme. And second, the uncertain economic climate that has caused property developers, investors and housing associations to withdraw interest in the project. In short, the home-owners, buy-to-rent landlords and property investors at which the new development was targeted are no longer there.
In addition to these economic reasons, there has been a considerable campaign of resistance by hundreds of residents justly concerned about the consequences for them of their homes being demolished with nothing more than the council’s promise that they will somehow be rehoused on the new development. The recent history of the estate regeneration programme in London shows that such promises are never kept — not because of the duplicity of councils, but because the costs of demolition, of compensation for leaseholders and of replacing the demolished homes means that, in order to make the project financially viable, at least 50 per cent of the new properties have to be for market sale and another 25 per cent for shared ownership. This leaves a huge shortfall of replacement homes, even for so-called ‘affordable’ rent, to rehouse the evicted council tenants.
We’re happy to say, therefore, that Brent Council is now looking exclusively at new infill housing. Below is a copy of the letter sent to residents by Councillor Muhammed Butt, Leader of Brent Council, announcing the decision.
In response, the resident campaign has written:
‘We at Community Raph’s are delighted with the news that Brent Council has decided to back down on the redevelopment options for St Raphael’s estate. We are privileged and thankful to be working with ASH (Architects For Social Housing) from 2019 to this present day. Together we have helped produced a detailed report to highlight that infill with refurbishment is financially viable, socially beneficial and environmentally sustainable. This report was sent to the Chief Executive, Brent councillors, Mayor’s office and relevant parties. We believe this report to have an impact on this announcement.’
Unfortunately, in its campaign to convince residents to vote for the demolition of their homes and their redevelopment with a mix of market-sale and shared ownership properties, Brent Council (we have calculated from responses to Freedom of Information requests sent by residents) has spent at least an astonishing £850,000 on consultants. This includes over £300,000 on Karakusevic Carson Architects and over £70,000 on housing consultants PPCR. It’s impossible not to ask how many council homes could have been refurbished, how many of the estate’s run-down community facilities could have been improved, with this wasted money?
Also unfortunately, the infill option for 370 new homes developed by Karakusevic Carson Architects, and which is now being considered by Brent Council, doesn’t include the refurbishment of the 741 existing council homes. Although the council’s own survey showed that the estate is in a decent state of repair, after two years of consultation and the threat of demolition, it’s vital that residents’ homes are maintained and not allowed to fall into disrepair by Brent Council. In addition, if Brent Council wants to improve the energy efficiency of their existing housing stock, which they have stated is part of their climate emergency strategy, ASH’s proposals for retrofitting the existing homes need to be a part of their plans for the future of the estate.
Nor does this infill option say how many — if any — of the new homes will be for social rent rather than market sale and rent, shared ownership, London Living Rent and London Affordable Rent. In contrast to which, ASH’s costed proposals are for the refurbishment of all 741 council homes, and for the construction of up to 608 new homes, of which half could be provided for social rent — the most in-demand tenure type in the London Borough of Brent.
All that said, this is a very welcome result for the more than 2,000 residents of St. Raphael’s estate who were facing the demolition of their homes and the destruction of their community, and Brent Council must be commended for coming to its senses — albeit belatedly — and making what has always been the right decision for residents. After Knight’s Walk, West Kensington and Gibbs Green, Central Hill and Northwold estates, this is the sixth housing estate for which ASH has produced a design alternative to their proposed demolition, and all six estates are still standing and being lived in by the existing residents.
ASH hopes that other local authorities and housing associations will learn from Brent Council before initiating similarly financially unviable estate redevelopment schemes, and that the far more economically viable, socially beneficial and environmentally sustainable option of maintenance, refurbishment, improvement and, where possible, infill housing will from now on be taken as the default option for every housing estate scheme that deserves the term ‘regeneration’.
Architects for Social Housing
Tel: 0207-735 5000
Notes to Editors
1. Financial Viability
In February 2020, ASH received a mandate from 80 residents to develop design alternatives to the demolition and redevelopment of St. Raphael’s estate. Like every other estate redevelopment scheme in London, the consequences of demolition for residents would have been disastrous, necessitating the eviction of the huge majority of the existing households and the destruction of their long-standing community. Since then, over 600 residents have signed a petition supporting infill and refurbishment against demolition and redevelopment.
ASH’s proposals for St. Raphael’s estate have been costed by Robert Martell & Partners, quantity surveyors with over 25 years’ experience, at £192 million. This includes refurbishing 741 existing homes, constructing 608 new homes, and improving the landscape and communal facilities.
£190 million of this can be covered through GLA affordable housing grant, Government retrofit funds for social-rent housing, the Green Homes Grant scheme for leaseholders, and selling half the new homes at market prices, leaving the other half, 304 new homes, for social rent.
Without demolishing a single existing home or evicting a single resident, ASH’s refurbishment and infill scheme for St. Raphael’s estate will result in 845 homes for council or social rent, 523 homes for leaseholders and freeholders, for a total provision of 1,368 homes.
In contrast, Brent Council was proposing to demolish all 760 existing homes on St. Raphael’s estate, and replace them with 2,065 new properties, of which half would have been for market sale and half ‘affordable housing’, including an undeclared proportion of shared ownership, rent-to-buy and affordable rent.
Unlike ASH, Brent Council has refused to publish a financial viability assessment of the cost of their full-demolition and redevelopment scheme, but as on all development schemes, it is this that would determine the final tenure split, sale prices, number of shared-ownership deals and rental levels of the new properties.
However, ASH’s own estimate of the cost to Brent Council of evicting 2,000 residents and clearing the land for redevelopment is £130 million. This includes £78.5m on compulsory purchase, £13m on home-loss payments and £38m on demolition costs — all before a single home is built.
Just to replace the existing 760 demolished homes would have cost Brent Council in excess of £300 million, with the total cost of building 2,065 properties, including external works to the estate, professional fees, financing and developer profit, coming to at least £680 million.
Despite costing 3.5 times ASH’s proposal, therefore, Brent Council’s scheme would have resulted in 1,033 properties for market sale, over 500 for shared ownership, and an undeclared number of homes for London Living and Affordable Rent (which are, respectively, 3.5 and 1.5 times social rent).
The costs of demolition, compulsory purchase, construction and developer profit would have made it financially impossible for Brent Council to have rehoused all the 522 existing households of council tenants on the new development, which is why, presumably, it refused to publish the viability assessment.
What these figures show is that ASH’s alternative proposal for the refurbishment of the 741 existing homes and the option to construct up to 608 new homes is the only financially viable option not only for residents of St. Raphael’s estate but also for Brent Council.
2. Environmental Sustainability
It is now recognised that the built environment contributes to over 40 per cent of the UK’s carbon footprint. So architects are facing a dilemma. How does an industry whose profits come from the construction of new buildings adapt to the pressing need for de-growth and sustainability?
When Brent Council launched its ‘Climate and Ecology Emergency Strategy’ earlier this year, it appeared to acknowledge the environmental and climate crisis. Yet it had produced no assessment of the carbon cost and environmental impact of demolishing St. Raphael’s estate.
The embodied carbon of an estate includes every stage in its lifespan, from the extraction of raw materials to the construction of its buildings, their inhabitation and uses, to the energy required to either maintain and refurbish it or demolish and dispose of its building waste.
ASH commissioned the environmental engineers, Model Environments, to produce an estimation of the carbon costs of demolishing St. Raphael’s estate, and to compare the environmental costs of its demolition and redevelopment with our proposal for its refurbishment with infill housing.
Their conclusions are clear. Per new-build home, the carbon cost of Brent Council’s scheme for the full demolition of St. Raphael’s 760 homes and the construction of 2,000 new properties is 4 times greater than ASH’s proposal to refurbish the estate and build 608 new homes.
In addition, Model Environments has estimated that the ‘break-even time’ for the new development, when the carbon cost is recouped by the improved thermal performance of modern buildings, would fall well outside the predicted lifespan of 60 years for the new residences.
In other words, no matter how ‘carbon-neutral’ or ‘Passivhaus’ the new properties, they cannot offset the environmental costs of the demolition and redevelopment of St. Raphael’s estate. This is a given, which cannot be ignored by any sincere environmental strategy to reduce carbon emissions.
This proves, conclusively, that demolishing the 760 homes, community facilities and hundreds of trees on St. Raphael’s estate, and replacing them with 2,065 new properties, is totally incompatible with Brent Council’s declared intention to reduce carbon emissions in the borough.
To honour its commitments, Brent Council, and every other local authority, must make refurbishment the default option in any regeneration scheme, with demolition and redevelopment only permitted when no other option is possible. As ASH has shown in this report, this is not the case with St. Raphael’s estate.
ASH’s alternative to demolition, which will refurbish the 741 existing homes, is therefore not only the most socially beneficial and financially viable option for St. Raphael’s estate, but the only environmentally sustainable future for the community.
Architects for Social Housing is a Community Interest Company (no. 10383452). Although we 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, including the two years pro bono work that produced these design alternatives, please make a donation through PayPal: