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Council's renovation plans threaten exemplary estate

One of the best examples of post-war housing, the Brandon Estate in Kennington, south London, is to lose its 'unique character' as the result of insensitive renovations planned by the local council.

Southwark council is set to remove all the original windows from the estate's six distinctive towers, and to replace them with uPVC - despite opposition from local residents, the Twentieth Century Society and even the council's own conservation officer.

The move follows a decision from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport last month not to list the estate, which was designed by London County Council architect Edward Hollamby.

Explaining its decision, the DCMS said the estate was 'an exemplar of post-war urban design', but since its significance lay in the interaction between buildings and landscape, it would be more appropriate for Southwark to designate it a conservation area. The council has not taken up this recommendation.

Sally Redway, one of a group of residents campaigning against the renovations, said the new windows would cut out light, alter the proportions and 'introduce chaos' into the facade. Twentieth Century Society case officer Claire Barrett agreed the new windows would 'completely alter the character of the building'.

The claims are supported by Southwark's conservation officer, Kieran Bartlett, who said he would have liked to recommend that the planning committee refuse permission for the proposals - but that the estate lacked a conservation status upon which to base a refusal.

However, in his report he spelt out the case for saving the quality wooden windows, which he argued were crucial to the integrity of the architecture. The building has a 'shifting scale from the huge concrete elements down to finer sections, then to the finer sections still of the windows', he said. 'There is a nice texture to the building. Because the uPVC will be much larger, undoubtedly that texture will be lost, ' he said.

And he criticised Southwark housing department's short-termism in replacing the windows, which he claimed were in good condition.

'There does need to be a rethink of policy, ' he said. 'This is not a sustainable use of materials.We can repair the original windows indefinitely with decent maintenance, but I doubt that you would get at least 15 years from the uPVC.'

Pevsner described the 'unmistakable cluster of white towers' of the Brandon estate as 'the symbol in the late '50s for the regeneration of south London.'

Scaffolding is now in place for work to begin on the first two towers, with plans to include the other four in due course.

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