So, after four years of studiously ignoring our work, the AJ finally deigns to mention ASH's design alternatives to the demolition of Central Hill estate in Crystal Palace. And you even quote the figures on how many new dwellings we could build without demolishing a single existing home on the estate.
What you don't mention is that, contrary to the lies of Lambeth council drawing on commissioned reports by PRP Architects and Airey Miller quantity surveyors that are an object lesson in professional malpractice, ASH's entire proposal for the construction of 242 new builds, of which at least half would be for social rent, plus the refurbishing of the existing 476 homes up to Decent Homes Standard plus, would cost £97 million, repayable over 25 years; while Lambeth council's proposal for the demolition of the entire estate and the building of 1,530 new properties, of which half will be for market sale, and resulting in a total loss of 340 homes for social rent, will cost over £570 million, repayable over 60 years.
It's a shame you couldn't reproduce our masterplan for Central Hill estate in your article, and have instead used an image by PRP, a practice responsible for the disastrous estate regenerations of Myatt's Field North, Orchard Village and Portobello Square (something the AJ has failed to cover); but should you ever wish to publish our proposals, or our report on the Costs of Estate Regeneration (link below), you know where to find us.
Architects for Social Housing
According to the Greater London Authority planing report of 4 May 2011, the original Colville estate comprised 338 homes for social rent and 100 leaseholder properties, a total of 438 dwellings. These were all demolished by Hackney council and replaced with 884 dwellings, of which 297 are for social rent, 111 listed as 'intermediate' - which most likely means for shared ownership - and 476 for market sale. This constitutes an affordable housing provision of 46%, of which 33% was for social rent.
To qualify for GLA grant funding, therefore, Hackney council included the redevelopment of Bridport House, which lies across the road from the Colville estate. This block of 20 dwellings comprised 14 for social rent and 6 leaseholder properties. These were all demolished and replaced by 41 homes, all for social rent. This provided the initial homes for the council tenants decanted in phases from their demolished homes on the Colville estate, but it also increased the proportion of affordable housing on the combined scheme, with a total of 338 (297 + 41) homes for social rent (36% of the total, not 42% as your article inaccurately reports) and 48% affordable housing.
In total, therefore, 352 homes for social rent were demolished (338 on the Colville estate, 14 in Bridport House), and 338 were built (297 on Colville, 41 in Bridport), a net gain of 0 homes for the housing tenure type most in demand in London, and most certainly in the Borough of Hackney, were 12,100 households are on the housing waiting list, and 2,700 people are homeless and living in temporary accommodation.
In addition, 106 leaseholders (100 on Colville, 6 in Bridport) lost their homes, and were presumably offered a shared ownership deal on one of the 111 shared ownership properties built on the Colville estate. I don't know how much Hackney council offered them in compensation, but leaseholders on the Woodberry Down estate were offered around £220,000 for a 2-bedroom home. In comparison, a 2-bedroom property on the redeveloped Colville estate is currently on sale for £665,000. The minimum required 25% share in this will cost the former leaseholder £166,250, plus around £1,150 month in rent. And until they own the property outright they'll only be an assured tenant, though with responsibility for 100% of the maintenance on the building. I don't know if there are any shared ownership properties in the Hoxton Press buildings or whether these are strictly for millionaires, but a 2-bedroom property in the towers is on sale for £825,000.
Without further digging for information that is not readily available on either the GLA planning application or Hackney council's website, we can't say how many millions of pounds of public money has been allocated to this 'regeneration' scheme, but it has not added one home for social rent to Hackney's housing stock; it has turned 111 leaseholders into tenants; and it has been used to subsidise the construction of 476 homes for market sale that will be purchased by households earning up to £90,000/year and therefore available for Help to Buy - a further public subsidy of private property; by Buy to Let landlords who will rent them out on London's private rental market; or simply by Buy to Leave investors speculating on London's property market.
What we can say, however, is that the Colville estate redevelopment does not 'stack up', as this article says, either socially or financially; that it is most definitely not a 'model for estate redevelopment' for anyone other than architects, developers, landlords and investors; and that, far from showing 'how a cross-subsidy, mixed-tenure model of estate regeneration can be sensitively developed', it reveals, once again, that London's estate regeneration programme is a vehicle for transferring public funds, public assets and public land into private profit
Architects for Social Housing
Lets start with the retention and refurbishment of the concrete structures that are still standing, rather than their demolition and replacement with vanity projects. Starting with the architectural press, a culture change needs to take place which shifts the emphasis from the self-congratulatory stand-alone object-building to one which puts its environment and people first.
You write about these buildings as if they were sculptures floating in a gallery hermetically sealed from the rest of the world.
In 2011 the Centre Point buildings were purchased by Almacantar, a property investment and development company part-owned by the Agnelli family of Italian billionaires. Founded in 2010, Almacantar has since acquired over 1.5 billion square feet of prime property in Central London, and is typical of the type of investor on which London’s housing policies rely. Its assets include the renamed Centre Point Residences, Marble Arch Place, CAA House, Lyons Place, 125 Shaftesbury Avenue and One and Two Southbank Place. The latter is the commercial part of the mixed-use development being built as a joint venture between the Canary Wharf Group and the Qatari Diar property investment company. This is wholly owned by the Qatar Investment Authority, the sovereign wealth fund of the State of Qatar that has around £30 billion worth of investments in the UK out of an estimated £275 billion in assets worldwide. In March 2017 Transparency International published a report on the investment of ‘dirty money’ in new high-end London developments, and found that of the 79 properties that had been sold in Southbank Place for between £1.05 million and £3.06 million, 70 had been purchased by overseas buyers, 37 of whom were from high corruption risk jurisdictions. Given the prices at which the properties have been sold, it’s more than likely that a similar percentage of overseas buyers and dirty money is invested in Centre Point Tower.
Centre Point Residences lies within the London Borough of Camden, and in 2014 the council granted planning permission for the renovation and change of use of the Tower from office, restaurant and bar to 82 residential units with 180 bedrooms, and of the House and Link from office to a mix of retail, restaurant and bar. Work began in 2015, and the first 8 apartments in the Tower were sold off-plan that April. Since they have been taken off the market it’s hard to establish what the sale prices were, but a 1-bedroom flat is on sale for £1.8 million, a 2-bedroom flat for £3.665 million, and a 3-bedroom flat for £7.225 million. Famously, the Chinese family of a student come to study at University College London paid nearly £5 million for her 2-bedroom apartment. The 2-storey, 4-bedroom penthouse, whose conversion ended five decades of public access to the 360-degree views it provided over London, and which has yet to be purchased, had an asking price of £55 million. Parking space is available for an additional £250,000.
More indicative of their use than their sale price, however, is that although more than half the 82 apartments have reportedly been sold, only 10 of the owners have moved into their properties. That the rest are buy-to-let landlords is reflected in the rental prices for the apartments, which are still available. 1-bedroom apartments are renting from £1,150 per week, 2-bedroom apartments for £1,850 per week, and 3-bedroom apartments for £4,000 per week – plus a £25,500 deposit. Others are being advertised as holiday lets.
Following changes to legislation introduced in 2013 and made permanent in 2015, converting office space to residential units is now permitted development, and therefore doesn’t require planning permission. But the changes to the listed buildings did, and as part of its Section 106 agreements with the council, Almacantar, which reportedly invested £350 million in the conversion, paid £5.5 million in contributions to community facilities, employment, education, highways and the public realm in Camden. That’s about the price of one 2-bedroom apartment.
In addition, Almacantar also paid for the construction of 13 affordable housing units (not social rent, as Rob Wilson inaccurately reports) with 25 bedrooms in a block named White Lion House. As has become normal practice in London, this was built apart from the rest of the apartments – not off-site, as is increasingly the case, but on the site of the demolished Intrepid Fox public house at the south end of Centre Point House. This means tenants of the affordable housing enter their homes through what have become known as ‘poor doors’. The argument for this social segregation that is being built into London’s architecture is that these separate entrances and locations reduce residents’ service charges. Not coincidentally, it also means that the people who can afford the prices being asked for the luxury apartments in Centre Point Tower don’t have to rub shoulders with the class of people they would usually only encounter at home when they’ve been employed to clean their apartments. Even more importantly, the value of their investment will not be reduced by its proximity to the affordable housing in which the cleaning and service classes live.
But is this, in fact, true? Despite their designation, only 5 of the affordable housing flats in White Lion House are for social rent, with the other 8 for affordable rent, which means up to – and invariably at – 80 per cent of market rate. While the former may be affordable to a cleaner and her family, the latter most certainly are not. Despite their proximity, affordable rent units won’t be built to the same standards of space or build quality as their multi-million-pound neighbours; but that isn’t likely to bring them any closer within the reach of the 5,500 people on Camden’s housing waiting list (down from 27,000 in 2014 since the 2011 Localism Act allowed councils to change the criteria for qualification) or the nearly 1,300 people that are homeless in the borough.
But the prohibitive expense of 8 of the development’s 13 so-called affordable housing units is not only the only thing to question whether the largely empty super-prime developments that litter London’s skyline are doing anything to address the capital’s shortage of housing that Londoners can afford to buy and rent. The one bit of useful information in the AJ review is that the construction cost of White Lion House was £8.75 million, so about the price of one of the nicer 3-bedroom apartments. But by any measure, 13 units is a miserable return on the huge profits Almacantar can expect to make on the Centre Point buildings, not only from their residential component but also from the leased retail, restaurant and bar space in both Centre Point House and Centre Point Link.
Across London, both councils and the Greater London Authority are handing over council land and granting planning permission to high-end developments that are little more than investment opportunities for global capital, much of it from high corruption risk jurisdictions, and being tossed coppers in compensation. The fact that Almacantar can afford to take half the properties in Centre Point Tower off the market, and has reportedly recovered the costs of its construction and renovation, shows not only the kind of returns international developers are making on their investment in London property, but how inadequate councils are at coming away with the homes for social or even affordable rent they claim they can from these deals.
The only barrier to the boom in London property and the housing crisis it has helped to produce is the one that has caused Almacantar to take these properties off the market – the threat of Brexit. Until the UK market has stabilised sufficiently for investors to be sure of the returns on their capital, the 40 or so flats are likely to remain as empty as they are in the glossy publicity photographs. But then Almacantar can afford to leave them empty. They’ve recovered their investment, paid off the council, and can wait till the market recovers. There is as little incentive for them to sell their properties below the price overseas investors will pay as there is for property developers to build homes in which Londoners can afford to live. But the tens of thousands of homeless households in London can’t wait, and neither can the hundreds of thousands on the housing lists of London’s councils.
Waiting, of course, is not all that Almacantar will be doing. Taking the unsold Centre Point Residences off the market is also their response to the Chancellor’s threat, in last week’s budget, to raise stamp duty a further 1 per cent on purchases of residential property by non-UK residents. Just as property developers, housing associations and real estate firms have influenced London’s housing policy to accommodate the housing boom that has produced the housing crisis – replacing council rent first with social rent and then with the new category of affordable housing, lobbying for higher densities and reduced space standards, circumventing Section 106 agreements with viability assessments and threatening not to build in London if even affordable housing quotas are enforced – so the same private interests can exert pressure on the Government when it proposes legislation that threatens the profits being made from that market.
In the meantime, as the 40 unsold properties in Centre Point Residences join the other 20,000 long-term empty homes in London, the more immediate question is what will the citizens of London do to house its 1,000 rough sleepers on our streets, the 165,000 Londoners that are homeless and living in hostels or temporary accommodation, the 225,000 hidden homeless that are sleeping on London couches, and the 244,000 Londoners on council housing waiting lists? The housing crisis is, first and foremost, a political crisis in which our current democratic institutions of Council, Greater London Authority, Parliament and Government are all failing us. Centre Point Residences is the proof of that.
But you're right, now I look at it, White Lion House is a ‘studied composition in vertical elements incised lightly with a pattern by Eley Kishimoto in a slightly token, weak reprise of the main tower's sculpted skin . . .’ Thanks for that.
Architects for Social Housing
That's it? I know the AJ doesn't like to concern itself with the use-value of the buildings to which the profession never tires of handing out awards, but in the week the Prime Minister promised to life the cap on council borrowing to build affordable housing, you might have mentioned the affordable housing component of the Corniche building as an indication of what that will be.
Entered through a separate poor-doors to a building called Bankhouse, the affordable housing component of the Corniche backs onto the railway line that runs directly behind the development, and was developed separately by the One Housing Group housing association. Bankhouse includes all the development’s affordable housing provision, and provides a mix of 1- and 2-bedroom apartments, 36 of which are for sale through shared ownership deals, and 48 are retirement apartments for people over 55 with care needs and available for affordable rent, meaning up to 80 per cent of market rate. These 84 homes making up 33 per cent of the development’s 253 apartments. However, at £565,000 for a 1-bedroom apartment and rents from £208 per week (£900 per month) plus service charges as of November 2017, even this so-called ‘affordable housing’ would be well beyond the financial means of the man who was killed by the Corniche building, Mike Ferris, who despite being a life-long West Ham fan lived outside of London in Hoo, Medway.
And although the AJ's concern for social issues apparently doesn't extend beyond the profession's increasingly undignified scrabble for briefs, you might also have applied your investigative antennae to who is buying these properties to which so much of London's land is being handed.
A report into corruption in new London developments published last May by Transparency International revealed that all of the 7 Corniche properties sold at that time had been purchased by overseas investors, and that 3 of the owners were from high corruption risk jurisdictions. Of the 14 developments investigated in the report – including One Tower Bridge, 250 City Road, Southbank Place (the former Shell Centre), Baltimore Wharf, Circus West (phase one of the Battersea Power Station), City North Islington Estate, Manhattan Loft Gardens, Market Towers (One Nine Elms), Merano Residences, South Gardens (Elephant Park), The Stage, Two Fifty One Southwark Bridge Road, Westminster Quarter and The Corniche – 87.7 percent of sales had been made to buyers from abroad, and of these almost half had been bought from persons living in high corruption risk jurisdictions.
Despite this, Councillor Lib Peck, the Leader of Lambeth Labour Council, which granted planning permission for the development in March 2013, said of the Corniche Building:
‘This new development on Albert Embankment is another important stage of the transformation of Vauxhall. Developments like 20-21 Albert Embankment are essential to bringing new jobs, new affordable homes and inward investment into Lambeth which will secure our long-term economic growth.’
In October 2013, St. James received approval from Lambeth council’s planning committee to turn the 14 shared ownership properties in the neighbouring Merano Residences – like the Corniche also developed by St. James, a subsidiary of the Berkeley Group, and designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners – into 6 properties for market sale, making the development 100 per cent private. In compensation for this loss of affordable housing provision, St. James provided the funding for 6 of the 8 ‘social rented affordable housing units’ that were built on 24-30 St. Oswald’s Place, a site cleared of a ‘short life’ housing co-operative, whose terraced housing was demolished by Lambeth council because it had, in the words of their newsletter, ‘reached the end of its lifespan’. Two years later, in November 2015, this new development was visited by the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, who said:
‘I was keen to come along to see how they’ve managed to get the best deal for local residents, persuaded developers to build the right sorts of homes and negotiated on behalf of local residents. What you’ve got in Lambeth is a council on the side of its residents and as Mayor I’m going to be on the side of Londoners.’
The properties in the Merrano Residences, which started at a sale price of £2 million, have all been sold. Like the Corniche, all the 8 properties sold at the time of the Transparency International report had been purchased by oversees investors, 75 per cent of them from high corruption risk jurisdictions. Properties in the Dumont, the third development to make up the Albert Embankment Plaza, also developed by St. James and designed by David Walker Architects, are still available and start at £2.35 million for a 2-bedroom apartment, which makes them as likely to serve as investment opportunities for global capital and dirty money as the rest of the plaza.
In case you're interested.
Architects for Social Housing