UCL’s Stratford plans must strike a delicate balance
Negotiations over the university’s scheme for a Carpenters Estate campus should look to King’s Cross as an example
”It’s always a balance if you want to do something for an area,” says Robin Wales, the Labour mayor of Newham in east London. These are words often heard before a much-loved facility or people’s homes are swept away — and when the balance tips in favour of the developer.
This is not always the case. At King’s Cross, for example, a balance of sorts has been struck between the offices and more public uses such as Central Saint Martins and a park. But this took years to negotiate, which may explain why Newham and UCL have been reluctant to reveal much about their plans for the Carpenters Estate, where the university is proposing a new campus.
On paper it sounds a good idea.
The Stratford housing estate is partially occupied but run down, and the council claims repairs would cost too much.
A more honest answer might be that it can’t find a developer to fund either the repair of existing homes or the cost of new ones, while universities have money to spend.
The story is not unusual. Down the road in Tower Hamlets, Robin Hood Gardens is being demolished because the council is on a mission to improve. But it’s never that simple — particularly in Stratford where there’s already a fear that the Olympic Park and buildings surrounding it will become a haven, separate from the poverty beyond.
How do you prevent this? Leading the charge from the Bartlett side is Michael Edwards, who earned his spurs from his battles at King’s Cross with developer Argent. He is demanding that the development is “ethical” and led by the community — not behind closed doors. He makes a strong case, but it’s balance that again is needed.
Academics such as Edwards should be heard but the Carpenters Estate should not become a political football. Stratford will benefit from having UCL on its doorstep, but the deal that needs striking is that new social housing is of the same quality as the campus that will be built in its place.