ASH's design alternative to demolition found room for an additional 242 dwellings through infill and roof extensions without demolishing a single existing home or evicting a single resident, increasing the estate's current capacity from 476 homes to 718. This was costed by Robert Martell & Partners at £45 million for construction. With external works and services, professional fees, a 10% contingency sum, and £18.5 million for the refurbishment of the existing stock (a figure provided by Lambeth council) the entire scheme was costed at £84 million, of which £6.5 million has already been provided under the Decent Homes Standard.
We've been looking at the proposals for the redevelopment of Central Hill estate by PRP. Even though its predicated on the demotion of 456 council homes, the redevelopment costs have been withheld as 'commercially confidential', since Homes for Lambeth, despite being owned by the council, is a private company, and the new estate will be run as a housing association, and therefore not subject to FOI requests.
However, given the information we have from the Feasibility Report by Airey Miller, the decant costs (compensation for leaseholders, home loss and move payments) on Central Hill are £25.65 million. The demolition costs, which have been silently omitted from the council's estimates, we estimate at £22.8 million. And the reconstruction of the 456 demolished homes alone is £152 million. That's a total cost of over £200 million, two-and-a-half times the cost of the ASH scheme, just to replace what's already there.
However, to meet the equivalent number of homes in the ASH scheme (718 dwellings) will cost £288.5 million, more than three-and-a-half times the cost of the ASH scheme.
To meet these astronomical costs, however, the council will have to increase the density of the existing estate by at least 300 percent. The PRP proposal we've seen that is closest to this is for 1,530 dwellings, which will cost in total £558.5 million.
To produce sufficient profit for the developer, the tenure breakdown for this PRP proposal is as follows:
320 properties for London Affordable Rent (which in Lambeth in 2017 was £159/week for a 2-bedroom, an increase on the social rent of £135/week for the equivalent)
100 target rent (nearly double social rent ay £213/week for a 2-bedroom)
109 shared ownership (which requires a 25% deposit on a £476,000 property, plus £820 month rent)
246 market rent (£480/week for a 2-bedroom)
765 market sale (a 2-bedroom property currently estimated at £476,000)
All of which will be subjected to increased and uncapped service charges by the housing association.
As anyone can see, this development will do nothing to address the borough's need to build housing its constituents can afford to rent or buy, or reduce its housing waiting list for council homes, which like every other London council it repeatedly sites as the reason for its estate regeneration (sic) programme. They will, however, produce considerable profits for the scheme's private development partners.
By contrast, in addition to the refurbished existing homes, of which 340 are for social rent and 136 leasehold, the ASH scheme proposes an additional 120 new build for social rent, 60 for market rent and 62 for market sale. The PRP schemes are assessed on a 60 year financial model, but we estimate we can recoup the costs on our scheme in a little over 10 years.
So how did Lambeth council reject our proposal as 'financially unfeasible', when there proposal is seven times the cost of ours?
Well, among the discrepancies between the feasibility studies for the PRP proposals and that for the ASH proposal are the following:
On the ASH scheme there was a 40% social rent requirement on new builds, not the whole of the estate (for which we provide 64% social rent); while on the PRP schemes there was between 27-40% affordable on the whole of the new development.
On the ASH scheme 0% of the new builds were capitalised for market sale; while on the PRP schemes 44-54% of the new builds are for market sale.
On the ASH scheme, capitalisation was estimated at 35% (social) and 68% (private) rents; while on PRP, capitalisation is at 47% (affordable) and 75% (private) rents.
On ASH, capitalisation was on the 242 new build rents only, but not on the 340 existing rents; while on PRP, capitalisation is on all new build rents.
On ASH, the cost of the scheme was estimated at £100.6 million over its £84 million estimate by our independent QS; while on PRP, the cost of the schemes omits the £22.8 million cost of demolition.
On the ASH scheme, there is full disclosure of the financial estimates by quantity surveyors Robert Martell & Partners; while on the PRP schemes, financial estimates by Airey Miller for cost of construction, professional fees, Section 106 agreements, marketing and letting fees, developer profits, inflation and loan interest withheld by Lambeth Council as ‘commercially confidential’.
For this and no doubt other acts of legerdemain, Airey Miller was awarded the role of Strategic, Commercial and Technical Advisor to Lambeth council's major Estate Regeneration Programme on a five-year, £6 million plus contract.
The financial facts are that, if an estate regeneration scheme begins by demolishing the existing estate - which is policy for Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat councils, the GLA and the Government - the cost of demolition, compensation and rebuild is so great that the resulting redevelopment must overwhelmingly be for properties for private sale, with zero homes for social rent, increased rental charges for existing council tenants, and hugely increased costs and reduced tenancy rights for leaseholders.
Should any of this be of interest to the investigative journalists at the AJ, feel free to contact us at email@example.com
Architects for Social Housing
In our report, The Truth about Grenfell Tower, which we published a month after the fire in July 2017, Architects for Social Housing wrote:
‘What the Grenfell Tower fire has exposed is that the separation between the public and private spheres in UK housing no longer exists in any qualifiable sense, and any trust we may once have had that the duties of the former are independent of the interests of the latter has no foundation in practice. From our work with council estate communities trying to save their homes, and from our own experience of living on council estate tower blocks, ASH has become increasingly interested in the potential of a third sphere of activity, which is neither public nor private. What those commentators on council estates who live – to use Andrew Gimson’s description – in their “little terraced houses” do not understand is that the most important space on a council estate does not fall into the clear distinction between private and public that terrace-dwellers cross every time they step outside their home and into the street. In seeking to recreate the street life of working-class communities, post-war council estates designed communal spaces into their architecture. These include not only the community halls in which residents meet – and which because of this are always the first part of the estate to be shut down by councils intent on demolishing it – but the internal hallways and external walkways between individual homes; the numerous landings outside lifts; the lifts themselves – where in the few seconds it takes to ascend or descend relationships with neighbours are made and maintained; and above all in the entrance halls – in many cases later additions to address the teething problems of this new form of communal living – and in which the concierge, known to every resident and therefore knowing every resident, is the presiding spirit of the estate, setting the tone for its cordiality, its fraternity and its ethos of mutual support.
‘All of this is unknown to the dwellers in privately-owned homes and fenced-in gardens; but it is where the collective life of a council estate takes root and grows. Most importantly, it is a space which is neither private, and therefore subject to the property or tenant rights of the individual or household, nor public, and therefore the province of the council. Rather, it is a collective space, over which no resident has rights, which none of them own, but for which they all take responsibility and share in its benefits. As the corruption of the public sphere by the private accelerates under increasingly accommodating government policy, mayoral direction and council practice, and the lives of those under the management and care of these public bodies are increasingly put at risk of eviction, homelessness and even death, ASH believes this third sphere, the space and activity of community, must be reclaimed.
‘Once the charred skeleton of Grenfell Tower is buried and the land cleared for redevelopment, it will still be in the hands of Kensington and Chelsea council. Worse still, the fire has brought about precisely that demolition of the “blight” that Grenfell Tower, in the eyes of the council and the TMO, represented, freeing up the land it stands on for the potential residual values the original masterplan for the Lancaster West estate envisaged activating through its redevelopment as ‘high end’ properties for home ownership and capital investment. Were this to come about – and under existing ownership and policy there is nothing to stop it happening – it would be the greatest betrayal of both the dead and the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire.
‘To oppose this, therefore, ASH proposes that a portion of the £20 million donated by the general public – and which the government should be invited to match – be used to purchase the land on which Grenfell Tower stands and place it in Trust for the survivors and the surrounding community; and that in its place housing is built that is neither owned by the council nor run by the KCTMO, but owned by the Community Land Trust and managed by a Housing Co-operative run by the residents themselves. From the ashes of Grenfell Tower, and the forces of private greed and public corruption that burnt it to the ground, a new Community estate could rise – as a home for the homeless of Grenfell Tower, and as a model of communal housing for the hundreds of thousands of Londoners currently threatened by the programme of estate regeneration.’
The whole report, which as of writing has been visited over 16,000 times on the ASH blog (though apparently not by the editors and journalists writing for the AJ), may be read here: https://architectsforsocialhousing.wordpress.com/2017/07/21/the-truth-about-grenfell-tower-a-report-by-architects-for-social-housing/
Architects for Social Housing
If anyone would like to understand what is happening at Central Hill estate, what the financial, social and environmental costs of its demolition and redevelopment will be for both residents and the council, and what design alternatives to demolition have been developed up to feasibility study stage by us, Architects for Social Housing published a book-length study in April that you can access here:
Anyone interested in reading a breakdown of the numerous failures in the London Mayor's policy on Resident Ballots for Estate Regeneration Projects, which has not been written to empower residents but to manufacture their consent, can read about them here:
And if you want current examples, rather than future speculations, about how this and other GLA policy is funding estate demolition you can read about it in detail here:
Architects for Social Housing
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