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Architects on estate regeneration: ‘Those living at Grenfell weren’t listened to’

Grenfell one year on
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What does the Grenfell Tower fire tell us about how local communities are treated during council estate refurbishments? Ella Jessel asks leading architects about the wider, social lessons for the profession post-Grenfell


George clarke image by lwp kommunikacio 1

George Clarke, creative director, George Clarke + Partners

Russell curtis, rcka

Russell Curtis, director, RCKa

Jane duncan

Jane Duncan, chair of the RIBA’s fire safety panel

Nigel ostime 2

Nigel Ostime, project delivery director, Hawkins\Brown

Arnold tarling

Arnold Tarling, chartered surveyor

Luke tozer

Luke Tozer, director Pitman Tozer Architects

Geoff wilkinson sq bw

Geoff Wilkinson, construction consultant

Alan wright bw

Alan Wright, founding parter, bptw partnership

Jeremy young

Jeremy Young, director, Featherstone Young


What does Grenfell tell us about how local communities are treated during council estate refurbishments?

George Clarke They aren’t listened to. It’s that simple. The voices of those living at Grenfell weren’t listened to at all. But they will be listened to now. Unfortunately, for those who tragically lost their lives … it’s too late. But we won’t forget and it’s time for change.

Jane Duncan Tenants’ views and experiences were ignored when they should have been acted upon. I hope that some key lessons have been learned, but it will require local governments and landlords to step up, appoint competent and professional people to design and manage their buildings, and start to value lives over financial balance sheets.

Nigel Ostime Consultation is built into our planning process, but the issues raised by residents of Grenfell Tower were with regard to fire safety and outside of that framework. There should be a means for these sort of issues to be formally raised and reviewed in situations where planning approval is not required, such as for maintenance work or certain alterations to existing buildings. Of course such issues would not arise if the regulations were fit for purpose and there was adequate oversight and inspection of compliance.

Arnold Tarling Tenants are seen as a problem and a nuisance. Landlords prefer to keep their tenants in the dark. When tenants bring in experts, the landlords seek to keep the experts out of the tenants meetings. One borough has gone so far as to hire security guards to keep experts out and to harass experts.

Jeremy Young It’s the commercialisation at every level of the process that commodifies the end user and dehumanises their treatment. Cost is valued above all else at every stage, even more so than in a commercial project, as the collective desire to not ‘waste taxpayers’ money’ seems to create an unholy consensus between business, government and the public. Clearly and obviously we need to prioritise the quality of the building in social housing, then work out how we will pay for it; if that means we all need to pay more as a society for this, we should do.

Luke Tozer If we don’t engage genuinely with local people when effecting change to their estates, we have failed in our duties. We find that our best clients regard it as an absolutely critical step and there’s no point in proceeding unless there’s a real and dynamic dialogue with locals. Unless there is, we aren’t able to design appropriate housing to meet the needs of both existing and new residents.

Alan Wright In our experience, local communities are actively involved in the regeneration of council estates whether this involves refurbishment or redevelopment. We are firmly of the view that no regeneration scheme can work effectively without the backing of residents and aim to ensure that their interests and concerns are addressed from the outset. This requires a sensitive approach to ensure local communities are included and feel a real sense of involvement – especially hard to reach groups and those who are less likely to engage proactively – and recognising that it is important to understand the differing needs and diversity of communities, ensuring that clear lines of communication are established at the outset.

Geoff Wilkinson Grenfell is reflective of the housing market overall – there is such an imbalance between supply and demand that residents and homeowners have to take what they are given, often purchasing off plan. Projects are too often designed for the developer’s profit margin rather than the end-users requirements. This needs to be rebalanced and the end-user involved far more in the design, construction and maintenance process.

Grenfell one month on

Grenfell one month on

Source: Anthony Coleman

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Safety should be more important than saving costs.
    Contact Forster to organise your RIBA CPD covering vital information on procedures, testing, considerations and more on fire rated systems in construction. 01909 295000

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