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Conran + Partners criticises ‘poor playground’ segregation at its housing scheme

Baylisoldschooldinahbornat crop
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Conran and Partners, the architect of a south London housing scheme at the centre of a row over ‘poor playgrounds’, has said segregated play areas go against its original design ethos

The practice’s redevelopment of Baylis Old School – a Grade II-listed Brutalist building in Kennington – into mixed-tenure housing won plaudits when completed in 2015.

But the developer behind the 149-flat housing complex, Henley Homes, is facing widespread condemnation after it emerged children from social housing flats were not allowed to use a communal playground (pictured in black below).

The ‘poor playgrounds’ controversy, revealed by The Guardian, has been criticised as ‘outrageous’ by housing secretary James Brokenshire, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

Conran and Partners said the design approved by Lambeth Council in 2013 included play areas intended to be accessible by ‘all residents and their children’.

The practice took the scheme up to planning stage after which it was built out by Henley’s construction arm. It said that the design changes to the play area layout were brought in later.

A spokesperson said: ‘It was never a part of our brief or consented design to prevent residents of different tenures from using any of the play areas.’ 

It added: ‘The changes go against the fundamental ethos of inclusive development which was the original aspiration for the scheme.’

After the scheme was approved in 2013, the complex was split into two parts: Wren Mews, which includes 36 social housing properties (playground for Wren Mews tenants shown in red below) and the Baylis Old School estate, which comprises private owners.

Baylis conran plans marked up poor red rich black

Baylis conran plans marked up poor red rich black

Plan of development showing social-housing playground in red and private housing playground in black

Henley Homes then gave affordable housing provider The Guinness Partnership control of the blocks containing social housing while Warwick Estates managed the private part.

After the block changed hands, designs were altered to turn the gates from Wren Mews into impassable hedges. The original planning documents showed gates from all the flats providing access to the main play area.

Lambeth Council has insisted it did not approve any ‘physical barriers’ erected between the social housing properties and the communal play areas.

In a statement, councillor Matthew Bennett, the cabinet member for housing, said the segregation was ‘completely unacceptable’. 

He added: ‘Lambeth councillors have written to the developers, urging them to look into this as a matter of urgency, to ensure that facilities are made available to all residents.’

However, Henley Homes has rejected the accusations of segregation, arguing Wren Mews is an entirely ‘separate building’.

A spokesperson said: ‘The residents of Wren Mews, a neighbouring block which is not owned or managed by Henley Homes, do not have the right of access to the Baylis Old School estate at all.’

The Guinness Partnership, meanwhile, has stated it only has control over Wren Mews. ’Wren Mews is the only part of the Lilian Baylis Old School development where we have the freehold. The play area at Wren Mews, which is for the dedicated use of our residents, is the only one within our control.’

The ‘poor playgrounds’ row is reminiscent of the scandal over ‘poor doors’, where residents from different tenures are given separate entrances.

The practice is used in mixed blocks where service charge and management costs might be out of reach for affordable tenants, but has been criticised for segregating rich and poor residents. 

Dinah Bornat of ZCD architects, an expert on child-friendly design said: ‘This development has an abundance of space and a layout that would suggest easy access for all residents.

‘However, the principles of play and shared space have been eroded post-planning, so that what is left is a meanness that belies its appearance. Two separate slithers of space for under-fives tucked away in a corner and no opportunity for residents to fully mix is beyond pitiful.’ 

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