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Estate residents oppose Farrells’ Earl’s Court scheme with ‘People’s plan’

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Residents and campaign group Architects for Social Housing (ASH) have put forward alternative proposals for two estates within Farrells’ Earl’s Court masterplan 

Residents of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates in London’s Earl’s Court have drawn up a ‘People’s Plan’ which, they say, shows that ‘new homes and improvements can be achieved without demolition’.

Granted planning permission in 2013, the £8 billion Earl’s Court redevelopment – masterplanned by Farrells – includes the proposed flattening of 760 West Kensington and Gibbs Green homes, subject to a land sale agreement between Hammersmith & Fulham Council and EC Properties, a company controlled by project backers Capital & Counties (Capco).

The first phases of the scheme will be delivered by Earls Court Partnership Limited (ECPL), which is a joint public-private partnership between TfL and Capco. 

Capco’s overall plans for Earl’s Court include 7,500 new homes, of which 1,500 will be affordable, and a £452 million package of benefits including £44 million for local transport infrastructure and £36 million for local school, health, community and cultural space provision.

The alternative plans, drawn up by architects from campaign group ASH, involve building 180 new homes for sale and using the proceeds to fund 70 new homes for social rent and improvements to the existing estates. These include insulation and ventilation, landscaping works, upgraded refuse facilities and a new community centre.

Geraldine Dening, lead architect at ASH, said: ‘[These] proposals provide a large range of new homes, from bungalows for the elderly and disabled – potentially freeing up some of the larger homes, which may be under-occupied – to new townhouses for growing families needing more space.

All this can be achieved without residents having to leave the estate

‘All this can be achieved without residents having to leave the estate, their friends, family and neighbours, all of which are the crucial but ignored foundations of our social structures.’

She added: ‘More luxury homes are not what London needs. We don’t have a shortage of luxury homes, the market for which is collapsing. We do, however, have a severe shortage of low-cost homes for social and council rent that people can afford.

‘Capco’s plans will only exacerbate this lack of homes that Londoners desperately need and can afford to live in.’

Faisal Roble, a resident who helped create the plans, said: ‘The London Mayor, the government and the council all have target numbers of new homes they need to build. Everyone knows there is a shortage of social housing in the borough and in London as a whole.

‘The work we have done here shows that you don’t have to demolish our homes to address that problem. In fact, the opposite is true.’

However, Sadiq Khan pledged in March to review the  scheme if he were elected London Mayor.

A spokesperson for Khan told The Guardian: ‘Sadiq will review the Earl’s Court Masterplan as he has serious reservations about the overall direction the scheme is taking.’

Residents say the ‘People’s Plan’ could by implemented if Khan opposes Capco’s scheme, or if West Ken Gibbs Green Community Homes, the resident-controlled Community Land Trust, is successful in taking ownership of the estates through the Right to Transfer.

Gary Yardley, chief investment officer of Capco, said: ’The West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates have been sold to Capco via a binding legal agreement and the secretary of state has already approved the sale. The Earls Court Opportunity area has been identified by the mayor of London as providing a significant opportunity for regeneration.

’The comprehensive regeneration scheme is underway and will bring significant benefits for residents, the local area and for London. The scheme has broad support including from estates residents who have seen the quality of the replacement homes that will be provided.’

Last week, Capco wrote down the value of the Earl’s Court scheme by 14 per cent – from to £1.4 to £1.2 billion – on fears of a fall in London house prices following the EU referendum. 

Capco/Farrells' Earls Court masterplan - model

Capco/Farrells’ Earls Court masterplan - model

Capco/Farrells’ Earls Court masterplan - model

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Capco has proposed an £8 billion scheme to demolish the 760 homes on the existing estates and replace them with a total of 7,500 units spread across the entire Earl’s Court and Olympia site, with over 800 being built on the Seagrave Road development to the south, which they have now renamed Lillie Square. Following Capco’s own viability assessment, which has been criticised by the District Valuer Service for grossly underestimating the developer’s future profits, 89 percent of the 6,740 additional homes will be sold privately at full market rate. Only 11 percent, a meagre 740 new homes, are earmarked as ‘affordable’ housing – which means sold or let at up to 80 percent of market value – with none set aside for social rent. The remaining 760 new homes are allocated to replace the demolished homes on the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates. The construction timetable aims to re-house residents within ten years.

    However, the Housing and Planning Act has now removed agreements made under Section 106 of the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act to build any affordable housing, either for sale or for rent, and replace them with an enforceable duty to build Starter Homes capped in Greater London at £450,000. Moreover, this cap, which already requires an annual salary of £77,000 and a deposit of £97,000, is only provisional, and may be amended by the Secretary of State for different areas in the capital. Hammersmith and Fulham is the fourth most expensive borough in which to own a property in London, with house prices an average of £950,000. So, bad as the current deal sounds, if Capco’s plans come to fruition it’s highly unlikely that any of the new apartments on the new development will sell for anything below half a million pounds, and most for far more.

    As for the 760 homes allocated to re-house existing residents – the land for which Hammersmith and Fulham Council will have to lease back off Capco – residents will only qualify for them if they have lived in their current properties for at least 12 months before the July 2011 deadline. This excludes anyone who submitted a Right to Buy application after June 2011, when Earl’s Court Properties submitted their planning application. Qualifying leaseholders and freeholders will receive an offer to purchase their properties, but the decision to sign these contracts must have been made within 12 months of June 2011. Qualifying leaseholders will receive what an ‘independent evaluator’ decides is the full market value of their homes, plus 10 percent home loss compensation capped at £47,000; but they must use these funds to purchase a property on the new development. If they cannot afford to purchase the new property outright the Council will hold the equity, and providing this equates to a minimum of 25 percent they will not have to pay rent on the council’s equity. Otherwise, people who are now homeowners will find themselves renters, the exact opposite of the Government’s crusade to turn ‘generation rent into generation buy’.

    However, these figures are from a council brochure sent to residents in July 2013, some 20 months ago now. Since then, residents have heard nothing about their re-housing. What they have been told in a letter sent to them by Stephan Cowan, the Leader of the new Labour Council and member of the right-wing Labour cabal Progress, is that there is now ‘no legal way’ to get back the land that was sold to Capco by their Conservative predecessors. This hasn’t stopped either Capco or Hammersmith and Fulham Council from repeating their hollow mantra about ‘consulting the community’. Despite this, neither the evaluations of leaseholders’ homes nor the prices of the replacement properties have been forthcoming. But the fact that provisions have been put in place for re-housing them in properties costing more than four times the purchase price of the existing homes is an indication of both how much residents are likely to be offered in compensation and how much the new properties will cost. In confirmation of which, properties in phase 2 of the Lillie Square development, which is scheduled for completion in 2017, were advertised at £800,000 for a 1-bedroom apartment, £1,200,000 for a 2-bedroom, and £1,700,000 for a 3-bedroom.

    The 171 estate leaseholders that purchased their homes under the Right to Buy may have the ‘right to return’ to the new apartments that will replace their current homes, but that doesn’t mean they will have the financial means to do so. Whether by independent evaluators or compulsory purchase orders, sales are typically forced through at considerably less than 50 percent the price of the homes built to replace them. Residents of the 58 housing association homes that were built within the past twenty years will face the same choice when those homes are destroyed, but on the additional condition they become council residents. And under new legislation in the Housing and Planning Act, council tenants currently with secure tenancies who are fortunate enough to be offered a new home on the redevelopment 5 or 10 years after they have been decanted, may by then find themselves offered new tenancies of between 2 and 5 years; or, as is already occurring in other Labour Council regeneration schemes, fobbed off with assured tenancies for increased rentals and reduced rights, including no Right to Buy, no Right to Transfer, and no Right of Succession to the tenancy for their children.

    Equivalent deals struck on the Heygate and Aylesbury estates by Southwark Labour Council show that, once evicted, few if any of the council tenants, let alone any of the leaseholders, will ever return. Subsequent viability assessments invariably increase the quota of homes nobody but property investors will be able to buy, as the prices on the Lillie Square development demonstrate. The 20 percent profit margin demanded by developers on the properties they build always takes precedence over the council’s duty to house the people whose homes they have demolished to make way for what are no more than assets on London’s real estate market. In actuality, the returns are far, far greater.

    But that, precisely, is the point. Capco isn’t investing £8 billion in this project out of a desire to re-house London’s council tenants, but to accrue the profits in a UK property market that has expanded by £400 billion in the past two years alone. It is this financial motivation, which relies for its realisation on the demolition of people’s homes and the social cleansing of the communities they house, that ASH’s designs are designed to resist, by proposing architectural alternatives to demolition that keep those communities intact. For once residents move out of their homes, decanted to the four winds with the promises of developers and councillors whispering in their ears, what rights and leverage and bargaining power they once had are gone with them.

    In July 2010 Greg Clark, the newly appointed Minister for Decentralisation, wrote in the Catholic Herald:

    ‘For too long, those with the best ideas, striking energy and the most innovative responses to social and other needs have either not been taken seriously enough, or have been held back by rules decreed by well-meaning Whitehall departments that often make no sense on the ground.’

    On our walking tours around the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates, residents pointed out possible areas of improvement to the existing landscape. Drawing on this local knowledge, which far surpasses that of property developers, consultation agencies and architectural practices, ASH identified key areas that will greatly improve the public realm through the addition of new homes and community facilities. For example, there are opportunities in the 1-bedroom flats in the tower blocks for winter gardens that will bring these flats up to current space standards. On Lillie Road to the south of the estates, where there is a single storey community hall and long derelict children’s centre, we have proposed the construction of an additional 60 new homes, with the potential for community and other spaces on the ground floor around a new urban square. And our refurbishment of the existing blocks aims to significantly reduce energy use, so we have proposed that solar panels and improved insulation be added to the majority of the existing buildings.

    Crucially, a certain percentage of the new homes will be for private sale, and the funds used to pay for the work – both the new builds and the refurbishment of the existing homes and landscape. While we admire their vision and design solutions for communal living, ASH does not wish to embalm these housing estates in the formaldehyde of history. Our proposals both increase the number of homes on the existing estates as well as generate the funds to refurbish and renovate the homes they already house.

    ASH’s designs propose between 200 and 300 new homes on the two estates, an increase of between 26 and 40 percent, depending on how many new homes the residents are willing to accommodate and need to generate sufficient funds for refurbishment. These range from 1-bedroom flats, including disabled accommodation, to 2-, 3- and 4-bedroom flats and houses. Refurbishment of the existing homes will include additional insulation to walls and roofs, improved ventilation systems, new lifts to existing blocks allowing additional floors to be built on top, and new fob access to communal areas. Community spaces will include new communal halls, a new housing office, a relocated football pitch, improved landscaping including allotments, underused garages converted into workshops, facilities for the elderly, a new community hall, improved adventure playgrounds with climbing walls and skateboard parks, a nature trail, an outdoor gym and a market square over existing parking, improved communal gardens, a community greenhouse, new roof gardens on top of many of the existing blocks, reconfigured parking and pedestrian routes, and the reinstatement of a concierge office in every block. All these can be achieved and paid for without demolishing a single existing home or evicting a single family.

    ASH's design proposals will bring a new boost to the local area through a variety of community enterprise initiatives. New workshops will bring local people into the estate and potentially offer apprenticeships and work to the estate’s youth population. They involve the community in taking responsibility for the construction of their own future. And they retain the character of the local area against the homogenisation of hastily and often poorly designed new-build developments.

    But the most important factor in favour of our proposals is that they retain the element that is so often forgotten and passed over in considering the viability of regeneration schemes for housing estates. This is, of course – though it needs repeating more and more insistently – the people for whom these homes were made and who, through decades of living together, have built a strong, mixed community reflecting London’s demographic: the residents of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates that Capco’s master plan threatens with social cleansing from the area.

    The demolition of one of the greatest sources of homes for social rent in the middle of a housing crisis can only be an additional cause, and never a solution, to that crisis. Anyone genuinely concerned with turning the tide of that crisis should make the continued existence of London’s council estates their first priority. As ASH has demonstrate with our designs for West Kensington and Gibbs Green, Knight's Walk and Central Hill estates, infill between, extensions on top of, and the refurbishment of the existing homes on London’s council estates offer genuine and financially viable solutions to the capital’s housing needs at a time when the very existence of council housing in England is under threat from both the Conservative Government’s Housing and Planning Act and Labour Council estate regeneration programmes.

    Architects for Social Housing

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