Wednesday23 August 2017

Are we serious about estate regeneration?

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If so the government needs to invest a lot more money and put communities before developers, argues Hank Dittmar

Hank Dittmar

Estate regeneration and replacement is hardly an obscure subject, but it was still a surprise to see David Cameron devote both a speech and a column to the subject this week. When he did so it catapulted what has been a fairly non-partisan ideal into the trench warfare of political conflict.

In fact, Tony Blair made his first significant speech on the Aylesbury estate, which is only now being redeveloped. During the Blair years estate renewal was called New Deal for Communities, incorporating both physical and social strategies. A financial model involving developer participation in market properties and cross subsidy emerged, albeit with significant public funding for public realm, infrastructure and housing.

Over the past few years estate renewal has seen renewed attention in the press and among the profession, with debates over demolition, projects like Park Hill in Sheffield to improve rather than demolish, and high-profile London schemes at the Packington Estate and Heygate Estate. At the Heygate Estate, while there will be more than 2,500 units built, the number of social housing units was reduced from 1,194 to 632 and many of these will be shared-equity rather than social-rented units. Many residents were “decanted” (removed) and have not yet been able to resettle in the area. This has generated protest, especially as developers have attempted to reduce the proportion of affordable housing on viability grounds.

Heygate Estate near Elephant&Castle, London.

Source: Creative Commons

Heygate Estate before demolition

The group Create Streets has brought the issue of estate renewal to the attention of the government and the government has responded, beginning with a London commitment of £150 million. Cameron’s intervention heralded a nationwide programme, with a commitment to tackle 100 estates across the country and commit £140 million to the effort. Calling for demolition, Cameron focused not only on improving the physical environment but also on improving “life chances” for residents.

The same questions are being asked of this scheme as have been asked of the Heygate estate. Jeremy Corbyn has called it social cleansing and challenged Cameron to demonstrate that the programme will result in a one-for-one replacement. On the other side of the ledger, Savills has estimated the potential for an additional 54,000 to 360,000 homes, depending on density, from comprehensive redevelopment in London alone. It argues that the value uplift from a Complete Streets approach is greater than other contemporary regeneration model, improving viability and hence potentially allowing the delivery of more affordable units.

Both the promise and the threat may be overblown, however, as the entire programme is allocated only £140 million, which won’t go very far across 100 estates. By way of comparison, the US Hope VI effort, begun during the Clinton administration to replace failed social housing estates with walkable, mid-rise and mixed-use schemes, has expended more than $6 billion in the years that it has existed, tackling just over 200 projects. Current funding for what is now called Choice Neighbourhoods is reduced due to budget constraints, but ranges between $90 million and £120 million, devoted to planning grants and two to three projects per year. Clearly the £140 million should be an annual amount rather than a total.

Proponents argue that the funding shortfall can be made up from the value uplift and residual from building at higher density and building homes for sale on the private market. While this may be attractive on paper, one can already imagine the viability consultants sharpening their pencils to demonstrate that one-for-one replacement is not financially viable. Indeed local authorities have been ill-prepared to respond to viability analyses or even to release them for public scrutiny.

If the government seriously wants to tackle the issue of estate renewal, it needs to dedicate substantial multi-year public funding to ensure the replacement of existing social units, to enact a replacement guarantee, and to require a community-led process to ensure that what emerges reflects the community consensus rather than a developer-driven approach of higher density without a walkable street pattern. Doing this might result in a realistic programme with a chance of success.



Readers' comments (8)

  • B_R_A_S_S_M_A_N

    Hear, Hear!

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  • A "community-led process to ensure that what emerges reflects the community consensus". Good luck with that.

    My experience is that communities can be very conservative. No one votes to increase the density of their community even if (in London at least), increasing the density may the only way to increase supply.

    Estates like the Heygate, the Aylesbury and Robin Hood Gardens aren't noted for their "walkable street" patterns but some campaigners seem wedded to them!

    You can only bring the community with you if there is a genuine social rented offer that, at the very least, ensures no net loss of social rented homes.

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  • Conor McAuley, I agree with your final point about no net loss, and that would mean a legitimate community process that delivers on the commitments made to the residents.

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  • Robert Park

    I find myself torn between the ideas of Create Streets, which have been picked up by the Tories, and the concerns of Corbyn in relation to social cleansing and a net loss in council homes.

    I tend to think that a lot of these estates could be improved with more minimal interventions. In some case through roads could be created, and gaps filled to create more density. There is a lot of wasted open space in modern housing estates.

    In some cases demolition is probably the only option. Though Great care must be taken to ensure the phasing, and replacement of homes is not disruptive. Here lies the problem - as there is not a housing developer in the land who can be fully entrusted with that particular task.

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  • SomeoneStoleMyNick

    Most housing estates are good. Some are very good. Some are so good that the middle classes are willing to pay good money to buy the homes.

    I thought that everyone by now knew that "regeneration" is a loaded word that should not be used without an accompanying explanation.

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  • As far as I'm concerned its only regeneration if the same people are able to live there

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  • The figures quoted here for the Heygate's replacement 'affordable' housing are incorrect.

    According to the planning docs there will be 2,704 new homes on the Heygate footprint - not 2500 as stated. Of these just 82 will be social rented - not 632 as stated in the article.

    Links to these figures in all the relevant planning application docs are listed here: http://35percent.org/affordable-housing/

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  • Thanks for the correction, Joey Goodson. My source (linked) was the Guardian. These new numbers only reinforce my argument, sadly.

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