The knocking down and “regeneration” of housing estates originally built solely for council or housing association tenants can trigger strong opposition and provoke fierce political conflict. The issue has produced a series of high profile London battlegrounds, from Southwark to Barnet, from Lambeth to Earl’s Court. Yet other regenerations have proceeded quietly, apparently with support from residents: the Packington estate in Islington is often cited. And, to the surprise of some, Sadiq Khan’s requirement that residents’ support must be secured through a ballot if he is to help fund a regeneration has produced some early “yes” votes.
Decisions about whether or not to redevelop estates and how to do it to most beneficial effect pose a host of difficult questions and some exacting moral dilemmas. On the one hand, some estates are in poor condition, extremely costly to maintain and were built at densities appropriate for a post-war London whose population was in decline but are harder to defend in the booming city of today. On the other, regeneration means disruption, the disturbance of under-appreciated social networks and people being moved from homes they might have lived in and loved for years.
There are other items on this balance sheet: stretched borough finances and huge local housing demand can make the economic and social case for rebuilding more persuasive; while some residents resist regeneration, others embrace it as a route out of poor and overcrowded conditions; housing activists oppose the “privatisation” of public land that sometimes takes place, but others invoke a wider view of the public interest. Then there are overarching questions about power. Who should make estate regeneration judgements? Who should control the process once it is underway?
The one clear thing in all of this is that many things aren’t clear. Yet much media coverage and political activity proceeds as if the rights and wrongs are obvious, reducing complex situations to slogans and screening out inconvenient parts of the picture. At the same time, developers and boroughs haven’t always handled these projects well and the outcomes have not served London well.
So how do you get estate regeneration right? On London has again partnered with the excellent London Society to put on an event where helpful light can be shed on a hot and sometimes toxic topic. It will take place on Tuesday 13 August at the Garry Weston Library at Southwark Cathedral and feature four excellent speakers: Geoff Bell, a tenant of the Woodberry down estate in Hackney who chairs its community organisation Woodco; Tricia Patel, a partner with architects Pollard Thomas Edwards who worked closely with residents of the Packington estate; Emma Peters of regeneration consultants Inner Circle, who helps public and private sectors work together better; and Ealing Labour councillor Peter Mason who, as cabinet member for housing, was closely involved with a local estate ballot.
It would be great to see On London readers there. Buy your tickets here.
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