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Cameron pledges to demolish the UK’s worst housing estates

David Cameron
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Prime minister David Cameron has revealed plans to bulldoze 100 of the UK’s housing estates

Writing in The Sunday Times, Cameron said Britain’s ‘bleak’ post-war housing estates were ‘entrenching poverty’, pledging £140 million to ‘pump-prime the planning process’ and help with temporary rehousing and ’early construction costs’.

He said the proposals would improve around 100 estates, including those affected by the riots five years ago.

‘The riots of 2011 didn’t emerge from within terraced streets or low-rise apartment buildings. As spatial analysis of the riots has shown, the rioters came overwhelmingly from these post-war estates. Almost three-quarters of those convicted lived within them. That’s not a coincidence’, he wrote.

His comments come ahead of announcing the plans in full in a speech on tackling poverty later today (11 November).

Cameron’s initiative will be headed up by Michael Heseltine who helped to regenerate Liverpool and London under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

An advisory panel, led by Heseltine, will generate a list of post-war estates across the country which could benefit from improvement. The group is set to work with up to 100,000 residents to put together regeneration plans and will produce an estate regeneration strategy.

He wrote that the plans could ‘catalyse the building of hundreds of thousands of new homes in London’.

‘Existing estates were built at a lower density than many modern developments — poorly laid-out, with wasted open space that was neither park nor garden. So regeneration will work best in areas where land values are high, because new private homes, built attractively and at a higher density, will fund the regeneration of the rest of the estate’, Cameron wrote.

He added: ‘For decades, sink estates — and frankly, sometimes, the people who lived in them — had been seen as something simply to be managed. It’s time to be more ambitious on every level. The mission here is nothing short of social turnaround, and with massive estate regeneration, tenants protected and land unlocked for new housing all over Britain, I believe that together we can tear down anything that stands in our way.’

More details of the programme will be revealed later today (11 January).


Sally Lewis, director, Stitch

’This announcement of investment in council estates would be great news if it weren’t for the government’s apparent disregard for social housing. The social capital embedded in these estates is hugely valuable to London’s rich fabric, and Cameron is talking about ‘tearing them down’, to provide ‘affordable housing to buy’. If by that he means ‘starter’ homes then the existing communities on those estates don’t stand a chance.

’He is right about many estates needing help – regeneration and redevelopment can indeed go a long way to solving anti-social behavior problems and crime. But it is also in these places, where families have been living for generations, that ‘community’ really exists. The successful estate regeneration projects keeping communities together are the ones that approach development carefully, piece by piece, solving a complex jigsaw puzzle that requires insight, communication and political support.

The funding sums mentioned won’t touch the likely bills for right-to-buy properties

’Estate regeneration has long been on the agenda and successfully delivered all over London. Helping it along is no bad thing, although the funding sums mentioned won’t touch the likely bills for right-to-buy properties scattered through every estate. I would love to be optimistic about this but am deeply concerned that this heroic approach to rebuilding London’s estates will have little regard for the people living there.’’

Paul Karakusevic, Karakusevic Carson

’Any investment in council housing would be really helpful to improve both existing housing stock and living conditions. Councils would benefit from increased borrowing limits so they could carry out their own housing programmes to achieve the highest proportion of truly affordable housing for local residents.

’At least 15 London Boroughs are starting to look at their land for new housing but the spending cap, approximately £100 million, is reached relatively early in the programme which means the amount of new housing released on low rent is limited. This new initiative announced by David Cameron is sensible and well meaning but the amount of funding needs to be increased drastically. Each major estate programme will need 10’s of millions to refurbish or rebuild. If councils could access further funding through a ‘housing bond’ or infrastructure fund then they are best placed to initiate and deliver the changes needed. By allowing the programme to be controlled by the boroughs/councils allows for better design to be procured, value growth to be retained by the public sector, more housing at lower rents, more community involvement.’

Jane Duncan, RIBA president

’We welcome the Government’s decision to look at improving the built environment in the most deprived communities in our country. We believe passionately that everyone has a right to enjoy and benefit from well-designed architecture. These community improvements, however, can’t come at the expense of existing residents and see further reductions in the number of social rented homes at a time where there is already a desperate shortage.’

Dinah Bornat, co-founder, ZCD Architects

’David Cameron’s call for an estate regeneration strategy will be welcomed by the housing sector. But his suggestion that in certain estates ‘communities simply don’t come into contact with one another’ and that ‘terraced streets’ are the answer, is a patronising and paternalistic view, which suggests that the rest of us know better. More serious are his proposals suggesting funding will come from ‘new private homes built attractively at a higher density’ is likely to move problems on elsewhere. 

’Rather than ‘designing out’ crime, as Cameron suggests; we argue that a more positive approach is to ‘design in’ strong communities. 

’Our research at the University of East London and in our practice ZCD Architects into Housing Design and Community Life, has gathered over 360 hours of data into how residents use external spaces in 16 housing estates across England, both urban and suburban. The results are revealing; children are the predominant users of outside space in residential areas. When children can play freely and come and go from their homes unsupervised this leads to better use of these spaces by the rest of the community: Places feel safer, people get to recognise one and other and the public health benefits are huge. 

’Take the Pembury Estate in Hackney for example, said to be where the riots began in 2011 in that borough. This estate is not postwar, although Cameron suggests three quarters of the convicted rioters come from postwar estates– it was brick built in the 1930s. Our studies reveal the Pembury estate has one of the highest uses of outside space, with children able to play freely and in many cases unsupervised. One of the worst performing schemes from that point of view was in a new suburban estate of predominantly private homes, built to a traditional street layout and to current standards. Indeed the streets of Hackney do not perform much better either, with most children unable to freely access safe streets to play in, instead relying on their busy parents to take them to parks or after school activities. 

’Children need at least one hour of vigorous physical activity each day. Far better to fall back on their innate ability to play outside, without adult intervention, where they can benefit from social contact and develop other life skills. How will ‘attractive higher density’ flats accommodate this need for those children unfortunate enough to have to live in them? 

‘Simply falling back on the tired rhetoric of streets-are-good, post-war-is-bad risks the same disastrous consequences of the much-maligned post war housing experiment. This time round, we need evidence to form policy objectives and we need to listen to residents about what they want for the spaces outside their homes.’

Tom Bloxham, founder, Urban Splash

’This is a welcome initiative however we need to ensure that the money is spent correctly and that developers, councils and housing associations carefully consider each housing estate on its own merit and viability before rushing through developments that will leave us in a similar predicament in years to come.

’There are lots of options available and it’s often the case that restoration and redevelopment - as Urban Splash is doing at Park Hill in Sheffield - is the best option. Sometimes though, as was the case at the Cardroom Estate in Manchester - somewhere we’re redeveloping as New Islington - demolition and a new, sustainable masterplan is the best way forward.

’It’s an encouraging move by the Government, but there is lots still to be done if we’re to create real homes and communities in which people can ‘have a future’.’

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Readers' comments (1)

  • It is hard to believe the government has any intention to improve public housing. Once again Cameron is reciting the mantra that buildings are the cause of poverty, deprivation and alienation. This after scrapping the obligation on developers to provide affordable housing and removing security of tenure from the minority still clinging onto council housing in London. This will be revealed as another camouflage for evictions and land-grabs, exacerbating insecurity, social divisions and inequality. There is a need for the decent maintenance of public housing, neglected for 40 years when built to last for a min. of 60. The inequity of 20% vat levied on maintenance & upgrades is a huge incentive for site clearance, when new-built is vat free. This needs to be corrected before any real value-for-money assessment of retention versus replacement can me made.

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