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Developer backs down after ‘poor playground’ segregation sparks outcry

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Developers behind a south London scheme where social housing children were barred from using a communal playground have backed down following public outcry

Henley Homes faced a wave of criticism after The Guardian revealed that social housing tenants living at the housing complex in Kennington had been told their children could not use the shared playground. 

The Conran + Partners redevelopment of Baylis Old School – a Grade II-listed Brutalist building in Kennington – was originally designed with a shared play space but its layout was later altered.

Tenants said repeated calls for the playground to be opened up to all those living on the development had fallen on deaf ears.

But in a statement released this afternoon (27 March) the firm’s chief executive Tariq Usmani said it had ‘never had any objection’ to the residents of Wren Mews having access to the main playground.

Usmani said: ‘I am acutely aware of what social exclusion actually means; the reality of the experience is very clear in my mind.’

The developer originally argued the social housing element of the 149-home complex, Wren Mews, was an entirely ‘separate building’ and was not owned or managed by Henley.

But Usmani said he would now be ‘leading the way forward’ to ensure a workable solution could be put in place as soon as practically possible.

The affordable housing provider that manages Wren Mews, The Guinness Partnership, said it was in ‘absolute agreement’ was working with Warwick Estates, which manages the private block, to ensure tenants can access the playground ‘as soon as possible.’

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

Conran and Partners has spoken out against the changes to its design, pointing out their 2013 design approved by Lambeth Council 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.

A spokesperson said: ‘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; 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.

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 welcomed Henley Homes’ decision but said it was not until the gates were installed that residents will feel that ‘this is a reality’.

’No more the play strategy consigned to the depths of the design and access statement, it should be at the heart of how we lay out developments from now on.’

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