In light of last week’s report from the GLA on the challenge of estate regeneration, I’ve been giving some thought to how we at Southern Housing Group ended up with different solutions to what, on the face of it, could be seen as similar estate renewal problems.
The report complains that many social homes are lost, despite new-build densities generally being higher, because of the need to sell many of the new properties at market value to cross-subsidise the affordable housing.
The Market Estate in Islington was built by the GLC in the early 1970s and transferred to Southern Housing Group from Islington Council in 2005 after a stock transfer ballot. We had to make a commitment to demolish and rebuild the estate which, when finished, had grown by more than 50%.
Lisgar Terrace in Hammersmith and Fulham is an inter-war estate that Southern Housing Group built. The regeneration of the estate includes building extensions to the blocks and completely stripping out all but the structural components to provide new layouts with modern access arrangements. Proposals also include a brand new top floor and there will be around 20% more homes when work is completed.
Both schemes share similarities. For example, residents are decanted directly from their old home into their new home. Both schemes include a commitment to house existing residents before any cross-subsidy sale properties are built. However, there are clear differences.
The design of Market Estate was typical of those built in the 1960s and 1970s. Although the properties themselves had good space standards, the access areas were typified by long internal corridors and large areas of open space that made policing very difficult. A lack of investment, together with changes to central government allocation policy, meant the estate became a last resort rather than housing of choice. This resulted in the estate deteriorating to a point where, rightly or wrongly, residents and local politicians believed demolition and new build was the only solution to improve the area.
By comparison, Lisgar Terrace suffered none of these problems. Although the estate is arranged in ’Edwardian-style’ blocks and has large areas of open space, it was never allowed to become a ‘sink estate’. Southern Housing Group invested steadily over the years and major finance is only required now because it is 90 years old and the layouts do not meet modern standards. Over the years, the estate has seen a stable community with few residents choosing to leave.
Why the different solutions? The initial assumption might be that the large scale ‘municipal’ designs of the 1960s are unsuitable housing (and there are some theories to that effect). Certainly, there are reinvestment challenges as equipment and components start to age.
However, immediately adjacent to the Market Estate is a City of London Corporation estate built at the same time to a very similar design, style and layout. This estate has always been intensively managed and maintained, and is popular with residents.
Unlike Market Estate, the impact of central government allocation policies on the City estate was limited and maintenance has been well resourced over the years.
So it’s clearly not as simple as design, access and building components, although there is no doubt that design can become a significant factor when estates deteriorate, in particular if they make management more complex.
Could it be that the key drivers are less about the physical structure of the buildings or the project viability requirements, and more about how the allocation policies, restricted investment programmes and constraints on housing management services impact many existing local authority estates?
If there was adequate revenue funding and a more balanced allocations policy, might there be much less need for wholesale demolition and the loss of “8,000 social homes in a decade” as concluded in the GLA’s report?