Comment on: Architects break silence on Grenfell
In February 2009, eight years before the Grenfell Tower fire, Urban Initiatives Studio, a practice specialising in urban design, planning and change management, was appointed by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to create a masterplan for the regeneration of Notting Barns South, an 18 hectare site in North Kensington containing the Silchester and Lancaster West estates, including Grenfell Tower. 6 months later they produced Notting Barns South: Draft Final Masterplan Report, which included the following observations and recommendations, beginning with this Executive Summary:
‘The area suffers from housing stock in need of ongoing and expensive refurbishment, a range of social deprivation and other issues often associated with large post-war housing estates. This context means that land values are artificially depressed closer to the centre. The Far-sighted Option aims to maximise overall value in the long term and create a high quality new neighbourhood. This requires a number of significant interventions. We estimate that the project could deliver significant returns to the council. In order to present the most attractive offer in a competitive bidding process the winning consortium would need to adopt the most optimistic approach to cost and/or values.’
To back up the necessity of the council adopting their proposals, the report also addresses what it calls Issues and Opportunities, the former of which include the following:
‘Although a diverse population in terms of age, ethnic and religious backgrounds, the area is limited in terms of its economic profile and is predominantly made up of social housing tenants. The ward of Notting Barns South suffers substantial issues of deprivation relating to employment, health and crime, however, the intensity of deprivation varies. The Lancaster West estate (east) is within the 10 per cent most deprived areas in the country, and similarly crime is more severe in the east of the study area.’
Now, in fact, as can be verified by the Indices of Deprivation 2015 interactive map, although Lancaster West estate does lie within the 10 per cent most deprived areas, its crime rates are shared by 40 per cent of areas, and is in fact far lower than in surrounding areas where terraced housing predominates. This accords with the figures on every estate ASH has researched, from Broadwater Farm to Aylesbury and Central Hill. Behind the unsubstantiated and easily-accepted assertions of reports like this one, crime levels on council estates are in fact consistently lower than in the surrounding area, contradicting everything we are told about council estates and their communities by terrace-dwelling journalists and developer-lobbied politicians. Not only are estates not ‘breeding grounds’ for crime, as they are characterised in both Fleet Street and Westminster, but the close-knit communities that form within them significantly reduce crime rates. As in just about everything else being said about council estates in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, estates as homes to anti-social behaviour, crime and drug dealing is another myth that is being used by architects, developers, councils, journalists and politicians to promote estate demolition, privatisation and redevelopment.
In the Urban Initiatives report, particular attention is given to the development options on the towers in the area, starting with the four 22-storey towers on the Silchester estate:
‘It would be very challenging for the scheme to reprovide this number of homes should they be demolished. Therefore our preferred approach is to assume retention and refurbishment. In certain cases it may be possible to transfer these towers to private sector developers to provide private sale or rent units.’
Grenfell Tower, by contrast, has no such reprieve:
‘We considered that the appearance of this building and the way in which it meets the ground BLIGHTS much of the area east of Latimer Road Station. It also provides no outdoor space for residents and is likely to be of a type of construction that is hard to adapt. It does contain 120 homes. On balance our preferred approach is to assume demolition.’
The report goes on to outline the Phasing and Delivery of the proposed 15-20-year masterplan, from which we have extracted the following:
Phase 1. ‘Includes the construction of the new school immediately to the east of the railway line on the existing Games Court and Kensington Sports car park. Adjacent to the station two private 12-storey towers are erected.’
Phase 2. ‘East of the railway the eastern part of Lancaster West is demolished together with Grenfell Tower. This building BLIGHTS the area, provides no outdoor space for residents and is difficult to refurbish. The remainder of Lancaster, which is being refurbished, is completed into a closed street block with infill development. By the end of this phase the regeneration of the Silchester and Lancaster area is almost complete.’
Citing the area as providing no outdoor space for residents as a justification for the demolition of Grenfell Tower in Phase 2 is ironic at best given that Phase 1 began with building the Kensington Aldrige Academy – which was also designed by Studio E Architects – on that outdoor space, thereby taking it away from residents; but like the stereotypes about crime in the area this doesn’t halt the concluding phases, when the ‘Far-sighted Option’ that aims to ‘maximise the overall value’ of the area comes into its own:
Phase 3. ‘This phase realises a large proportion of high-end, high-value market housing.’
Phase 4. ‘New housing can benefit from the proximity to and overlooking of the park, and market housing is expected to realise increased values.’
Phase 5. ‘During this phase 610 units are developed or refurbished with a high percentage of private units.’
All of which leads the authors of this report, Matthias Wunderlich, Stuart Gray and Dan Hill, to the following conclusions:
‘The farsighted option for the masterplan presented within this report has the potential to transform the social and physical characteristics of Notting Barns in a positive manner. Because of the existing tenure mix and the decline of Right to Buy, the estate will never become a more mixed and integrated community. This work shows how sensitive the potential residual land values are to residential sale values and, in particular, to the potential values for high end flats and houses. To achieve the highest values, the area will need to undergo significant change to improve its visual appearance.’
Following the financial crash, house prices in London in 2009 had fallen for the first time in decades; and presumably for this reason, which may have dissuaded development partners, Kensington and Chelsea council declined the ‘Far-sighted Option’ and chose, instead, what the report called the ‘Early Value Option’. In its broad outlines this is the masterplan which, updated in May 2016 by CBRE building consultancy, continued to threaten the residents of the Silchester estate with the demolition and redevelopment of their homes – more recent plans for which were exhibited in April 2017 – and has already built the Academy on the playing fields, but which also refurbished Lancaster West estate, including Grenfell Tower. The reason for doing so, however, had not changed from that which targeted it for demolition as a ‘blight’ on the area – that is, its APPEARANCE.
The 2014 planning application (ref. PP/12/04097/Q18) for the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower reads:
‘The materials proposed will provide the building with a fresh APPEARANCE that will not be harmful to the area or views around it. Due to its height the tower is visible from the adjacent Avondale Conservation Area to the south and the Ladbroke Conservation Area to the east. The changes to the existing tower will improve its APPEARANCE especially when viewed from the surrounding area. Therefore views into and out of the conservation areas will be improved by the proposals.’
The planning considerations listed include: ‘The impact of the works on the APPEARANCE of the building and area, and views from the adjacent conservation area.’ The materials used on the external faces of the building used were chosen ‘To accord with the development plan by ensuring that the character and APPEARANCE of the area are preserved and living conditions of those living near the development suitably protected’. While the windows and doors were chosen ‘To ensure the APPEARANCE of the development is satisfactory. The re-clad materials and new windows will represent a significant improvement to the environmental performance of the building and to its physical APPEARANCE.’ The application concludes: ‘The changes to the external APPEARANCE of the building will also provide positive enhancements to the APPEARANCE of the area.’
On the webpage (since removed from their site) where Grenfell Tower was listed as a case study, Rydon wrote: ‘Rain screen cladding, replacement windows and curtain wall façades have been fitted giving the building a fresher, modern LOOK.’ And Nicholas Paget-Brown, the now ex-Leader of Kensington and Chelsea Conservative council, is quoted on the council webpage on the refurbishment as saying: ‘It is remarkable to see first-hand how the cladding has lifted the external APPEARANCE of the tower.’
Studio E Architects’ webpage on Grenfell Tower – sent to us by an architect before it was taken down – showed an artists’ impression for the client of what the refurbishment would look like, complete with the white, middle class residents drawn to attract investors into the area, and who are so at odds with the racial and class demographic of the tower revealed by the hundreds of photographs of missing residents put up around the burnt out carcass of the building by families and friends. This is the external view of the Grenfell Tower for which the people who lived inside the building died.
Should the AJ ever wish to write an article about the responsibility of the architectural profession for the Grenfell Tower fire, as well as for what is happening across London through their collaboration in the estate regeneration programme, please fell free to use this information, which may be found with much else besides in our report, The Truth about Grenfell Tower, on the ASH website.
Architects for Social Housing
Comment on: Architects break silence on Grenfell
Contrary to the AJ’s assertion that ‘in the 12 months following the disaster, the industry has struggled to deliver a collective response to one of Britain’s worst peacetime disasters’, within five weeks of the fire Architects for Social Housing had released this report on its technical, managerial and political causes. Unfortunately, nothing in the report Dr. Barbara Lane has submitted to the Grenfell Inquiry a year later contradicts our analysis of its technical causes:
It’s disappointing to read George Clarke repeat the inaccurate and stereotypical description of 1960s and 1970s buildings as ‘unsafe and not fit for purpose’. As every architect should recognise by now, the cause of the fire was the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, not its construction. To repeat this lazy trope about post-war social housing is to contribute to the disinformation about the Grenfell Tower fire propagated by politicians, journalists and think tanks in order to further the same estate regeneration programme within which the primarily cosmetic refurbishment of the tower was carried out.
What the AJ’s collective lamentation doesn’t mention is London’s estate regeneration programme, and the collusion of the architectural profession in the privatisation of council housing it is enabling across the capital. From Oval Quarter in Brixton to Orchard Village in Rainham, Solomon’s Passage in Peckham to Portobello Square in Notting Hill, residents of these new developments are complaining about the same threats to their safety as those the residents of Grenfell Tower complained about, and like them are being ignored by the private management organisations to which the councils are handing over its housing stock.
An article that professes to discuss the consequences of the Grenfell Tower fire on the architectural profession without raising the estate regeneration programme can only be another instance of the profession’s continuing refusal to face up to and debate the role of architects in London’s housing crisis.
Architects for Social Housing
For the forty years of it existence, the Heygate Estate provided 1,214 council homes for more than 3,000 working-class residents in the London Borough of Southwark. Yet in 2002 the Liberal Democrat/Conservative Coalition Council announced the estate would be demolished. Demolition costs alone were estimated at £15 million, while a further £44m was spent on emptying the estate of residents, and £21.5 million spent on planning its redevelopment – a total of £80.5 million in a supposedly broke borough. In July 2010, multinational property developers Lendlease were awarded the redevelopment contract by the newly elected Labour Council, and the 22-acre site in central London was sold for an astonishing £50 million, a total loss of £30.5 million to the Council. In comparison, a year later a neighbouring 1.5 acre site, one-fifteenth the size, sold for £40 million. In 2013, the last resident of the Heygate Estate was evicted from their home by Compulsory Purchase Order issued by Southwark Council.
According to Lendlease’s masterplan, the 1,214 council homes on the former Heygate Estate will be replaced by 2,704 luxury homes, with the promise from Southwark Labour Council that 25 per cent will be ‘affordable’. Following a viability assessment by the real estate firm Savills, which is advising councils across London on their estate demolition programmes, a mere 82 homes have been promised for social rent in a borough with 18,000 people on the housing waiting list. According to the blog Heygate was Home, just 45 of the Heygate Estate’s 1034 tenanted households moved into the new homes they were promised.
Built on the ruins of the demolished council estate, Trafalgar Place, the first phase of Lendlease’s £1.5 billion Elephant & Castle redevelopment, comprises 235 so-called ‘high-quality’ homes, 52 of which are so-called ‘affordable housing’. These include 8 for social rent, 18 for affordable rent up to 80% of market rate plus service charges, and 26 for shared ownership, which requires a 25% deposit plus rent, service charges and mortage repayments. The remaining 183 properties are for market rent and sale.
To get an idea of what market rate is for ‘high-quality’ homes in Southwark, a 2-bedroom flat in Trafalgar Place sold off-plan in July 2015 for £725,000. In contrast, owners of a 4-bedroom council flat on the former Heygate Estate were offered £190,000 in compensation for their demolished home. The site on which this property speculator’s investment opportunity is built, and which was advertised off-plan on Asian real estate markets, was previously occupied by the demolished Wyngrave House, which provided 104 council homes for the local community.
It will surprise no-one who understands how these things work that the key councillors involved in the redevelopment deal are now working for Lendlease. These include:
– Tom Branton, Southwark Council’s lead officer responsible for the procurement of Lendlease as regeneration partner on the Heygate Estate, who authored the report to Cabinet recommending the signing of the regeneration agreement in July 2010, then left Southwark Council in January 2011 to work for Lendlease, where until May 2016 he was Development Manager for the Elephant & Castle project;
– Kura Perkins, Southwark Council’s former Communications Manager on the Elephant & Castle project, who left in 2006 to work for Lendlease as its Communications Manager;
– Paul Dimoldenberg, former Senior Research Officer at Southwark Council, who left to set up a company that deals with Lendlease’s public relations on all its major developments;
– Julie Greer, Southwark Council’s former Design Manager for the Elephant & Castle masterplan, who left in 2007 to work on Lendlease’s Olympic Village development;
– Chris Horn, the lead council officer who advised on Lendlease’s selection as development partner, and who now works for a company that advised on Lendlease’s Greenwich Peninsula development;
– Peter John, the current Leader of Southwark Council and newly elected Chair of London Councils, who signed the Elephant & Castle deal with Lendlease in July 2010, and who subsequently accepted £3,200 worth of tickets to the Olympic opening ceremony and an all-expenses-paid £1,250 trip to the MIPIM property fair in Cannes from Lendlease.
In July 2016 Trafalgar Place, by dRMM Architects, was nominated for the Stirling Prize by the Royal Institute of British Architects. On their company website, dRMMM wrote:
‘dRMM Architects’ strength has been our ability to reflect on the bigger picture, discovering through local consultation what residents want. As London seeks to cope with its chronic housing shortage and improve inner-city living, we believe that an awareness of the effects of the built environment at a local level should be paramount.’
Despite its on-site security guards, gated access, anti-homeless spikes and CCTV cameras, the RIBA described Trafalgar Place as: ‘an outstanding site-plan which connects the development to the local community.’
In August 2016 Lendlease announced revenue growth of 13.6 per cent to £11.83 billion, with net profits rising by nearly 13 per cent to £547 million.
In October 2016 Peter John's registered gifts and hospitalities included a ticket to the RIBA Stirling Prize 2016 awards offered by Lendlease Ltd to the value of £235.
The Haringey Development Vehicle, which will hand over £2 billion worth of council land and assets to Lendlease, threatens 21 council estates with similar 'regeneration'.
Next time the AJ interviews the head of Lendlease, you may wish to mention some of these facts.
Architects for Social Housing
'Let’s stop using that horrible word "regeneration", which for social tenants means demolition of their homes and neighbourhoods, and wholesale decanting or forced removal to cheaper areas.'
Indeed, but why is the Labour MP for Kensington telling the Architects' Journal, when she has direct access to Jeremy Corbyn, John Healey, Sadiq Khan and presumably the leaders of the Labour councils implementing London's estate regeneration programme such as Lib Peck in Lambeth, Philip Glanville in Hackney, Peter John in Southwark, Damien Egan in Lewisham and John Biggs in Tower Hamlets - to name only the most demolition-happy councils?
Last August ASH identified 237 London estates that have recently undergone, are currently undergoing or are threatened with regeneration, privatisation or demolition and redevelopment with the resulting loss of homes for social rent. 150 of these were in Labour-run boroughs. Given the secrecy with which councils and housing associations conceal their schemes, there will undoubtedly be many more we haven't identified. Most of them are replicating the privatised management structures, unaccountability to residents and building regulations uncompliant maintenance and services that were in place at Grenfell. Many of them are being supported by funds from London's Labour Mayor. All of them are being carried out in accordance with GLA guidance and Labour housing policy.
If Emma Dent Coad and the other politicians in the Labour Party that have tried to blame this disaster on the Conservative government's austerity fiscal policies (although without ever explaining how this caused the fire) wish to stop the estate regeneration programme on which Labour's housing policies are founded and which is driving London's housing crisis, she should look closer to home.
She won't, because estate regeneration is a cross-party programme to which all three political parties in power in London's local authorities have subscribed. Labour's opportunism in turning the death of 72 residents to their own party-political ends at the expense of the truth of what killed them will one day stand high in the list of its betrayals of the people who, against all the evidence to the contrary, continue to believe the Labour Party stands 'for the many, not the few'.
Architects for Social Housing
In December 2016 the 10 largest house builders in the UK were sitting on land with planning permission sufficient to build over 404,000 new properties, and held option agreements with landowners on enough land to build at least another 480,000. The idea that the red tape of planning restrictions and other inconvenient state interventions is holding back civic-minded companies just waiting to solve the housing crisis for us has zero basis in fact. That doesn't stop it being universally repeated by builders, developers, investors, estate agents, housing associations, think tanks, architects and politicians eager to maximise their profits from new developments without the limitations imposed by things like housing density, affordable housing quotas, section 106 agreements, infrastructure levies, and whether anyone can actually afford to live in them.
According to research by Savills real estate firm into housing provision in London between 2017 and 2021, 58 per cent of demand in London is for homes for sub-market rent and lower-mainstream properties priced below £450 per square foot; yet only a quarter of the approximately 38,500 properties set to be built over the next five years will be available at this price. Instead, in 2017 builders started work on 1,900 properties in London priced at more than £1,500 per square foot – over three times as much. As of January this year, 1000 of these prime properties were still unsold; and there were an additional 14,000 unsold lower-prime properties on the market for between £1,000-£1,500 per square foot. And despite a demand for 20,000 homes for social rent in London, not a single such home was built in the capital in the year up to October 2017, and a mere 5,700 are planned to replace the tens of thousands that are being demolished by estate regeneration schemes.
In other words, there is no shortage of land on which to build, and there is no shortage of housing in which to live. But the property market is interested neither in meeting demand nor in the use-value of its products, but only in increasing their exchange value, which our current one is doing rather well. The pre-tax profits of the four largest builders in the UK – Persimmon Homes, Taylor Wimpey, Barratt Homes and the Berkeley Group – rose from just under £419 million in 2011 to over £2.6 billion in 2016. That’s a more than six-fold increase in just five years. And yet between them they built just 29,800 new properties in 2016. Anyone who understands – as Schumacher clearly doesn't – that market value is created by demand rather than supply will not be surprised to hear that the same four builders are sitting on land with planning permission to build nearly 284,000 homes. There is an inverse relationship between the number of properties being built and the rising price of those properties. Land, not materials or labour, determines the value of property, and the less there is of it available for building the more that land costs, and the higher the price of the properties built on it.
We might deplore this pursuit of profit at the expense of housing provision as immoral – and other such liberal critiques we regularly hear from the mouths of politicians like Jeremy Corbyn; but private companies have obligations only to their shareholders, not to the needs of their customers. If we want to solve the housing crisis we need to start by changing UK legislation and policy at central and local government level so that the nation’s housing supply is brought under the direction of the needs of its citizens, not the profit motives of developers, investors and speculators (and ideologues like Patrik Schumacher).
Architects for Social Housing