As its name suggests the Cambridge Road Estate (CRE) is located on Kingston’s Cambridge Road. The 1960s-era complex is like many in London – rows of tower blocks and mid-rise structures connected by raised walkways. It provides a glimpse back in time to idealistic visions of urban living but also to one when the state took major responsibility for building homes for disadvantaged people. Like many others from that period, the CRE is now slated for regeneration.
This scheme has secured the go ahead under a new process that aims to overcome some of the democratic deficits that have plagued similar ones in the past – a ballot. In early 2020, residents voted to approve the regeneration. The result was decisive: 72 per cent were in favour of the project and there was a high turnout of 85 per cent. On London took a closer look at how the ballot process played out in this corner of south west Outer London.
Sam Foulder-Hughes, a Liberal Democrat councillor for the borough, explained that new buildings were sorely needed. For years, residents had complained about faulty lifts, damp, and infestations moving through the shared ventilation system. There has also been an issue with crime and safety. The estate’s walkways and alleyways have made it difficult to police. Despite Kingston’s reputation for posh suburban living, the CRE occupies a significant pocket of deprivation. Residents wanted better-quality, safer housing that was more integrated into the local area, but also wanted to maintain the estate’s strong community and retain council housing stock.
Regeneration has been on the table since 2015 when the Conservatives controlled the council. The ballot requirement was introduced after the Lib Dems ousted them in 2018, fulfilling a campaign pledge. Emily Davey, the council’s portfolio holder for housing, emphasised that the ballot was its initiative because it was the “right thing to do” for residents, and unconnected to the new rules that Sadiq Khan introduced in 2018 requiring ballots for estate generation projects that depend on City Hall funding.
Lib Dem councillors are quick to distance themselves from past regeneration schemes elsewhere, such as that of the Heygate estate in Southwark. They emphasise that the new CRE will have no separation between the areas where council tenants and market rate owners live, and that the regeneration will add an additional 114 council rent units to the existing stock of about 650. Current secure council and housing association tenants will have the right to new homes on the estate, and a phased building process will be set up to minimise disruption. Plans for the new estate also show a new community centre, green spaces and play areas.
Davey described the challenges of making the consultation process accessible for residents. The consultation process included open days where residents could meet regeneration project staff and a residents’ steering committee to get a sense of what people wanted to have on the new CRE. She said it was harder initially to reach women residents, many of whom are single mums. In response, special consultation events and one-to-one meetings were set up with food and entertainment for children at hours convenient for families.
The vote itself took place over a three-week period in February and March. Current social tenants, leaseholders, freeholders and other Kingston residents who has been named applicants on the housing register for 12 months were eligible to vote.
As with other regeneration projects, some organised opposition emerged. James Giles of the Kingston Independent Residents Group (KIRG) suggests opposition groups would have liked to see more options on the table, including that of refurbishment of the estate as it stands. Another concern among opponents is that changing financial conditions down the line could mean that some of the promised amenities and policies will not materialise. Giles says that KIRG respect the result of the ballot, but will continue to follow the regeneration process and hold the council to the promises made in its landlord offer.
Inside Housing reports that all 13 estate regeneration ballots in London since the City Hall rules change have been in favour. It would seem, at least initially, that housing secretary Robert Jenrick may have been wrong in insisting that the mayor’s mandatory ballot policy would create “onerous” barriers to housing delivery.
Emily Davey says that the ballot process is good because it can jump-start the regeneration process and allow the council to get a better deal for residents. However, she emphasises that the biggest benefit of the ballot is what it provides to the residents of the estate – giving people a say in the future of their homes and communities.
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