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Hawkins\Brown’s Alton Estate demolitions criticised as ‘heartbreakingly short-sighted’

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Hawkins\Brown’s proposals for the demolition of a large chunk of a landmark housing estate in south London have been criticised by residents and heritage experts

Wandsworth Council and its development partner Redrow submitted plans last month for a major overhaul of the 12.5ha London County Council-built Alton Estate in Roehampton, which will see 1,103 homes built on the site.

According to its backers, the regeneration scheme will ‘breathe new life’ into the estate, to be renamed Alton Green.

It includes a new ‘urban quarter’ featuring a village square and community building hosting the new Roehampton Library, a health centre, spaces to rehouse the BASE Youth Club, and a community hall. 

The scheme’s affordable offer of 23 per cent is below the council’s own policy of 33 per cent. It includes replacing the existing 158 social rented homes with 188 new ones, as well as 68 shared ownership and shared equity properties. Further developments at Bessborough Road and Fontley Way are expected to deliver up to an additional 24 homes which will be either social rent or equity share.

The council argues that the replacement homes come at a ‘significant cost’ and a ‘balance must be struck between affordable housing delivery and the wider strategic regeneration objectives for the estate.’

A large proportion of the estate, including its famous five ‘slab’ blocks, were listed in the 1990s, but Allbrook House was left out and is one of the buildings due for demolition.

Allbrook House and library on the Alton Estate

Allbrook House and library on the Alton Estate

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dgeezer/

Allbrook House and library on the Alton Estate

The Twentieth Century Society has described the Alton Estate as one of the ‘jewels in the crown’ of the London County Council (LCC)’s post-war housing programme, and its regeneration sparked anger last year from architects including Kate Macintosh and Richard Rogers.  

The proposals have also generated controversy with local residents who say that under the proposals the estate’s existing community will be pushed out. 

Matthew Tiller, vice-chair of group Alton Regeneration Watch, said residents would be housed separately from the new private residents in two buildings ’at the edges of the demolition zone’.

‘The “new community” will literally push the existing community to the margins,’ he said, adding the group was also opposing the loss of the estate’s ‘pioneering Brutalist architecture’.

‘If the disastrous scheme goes ahead, we lose the iconic Allbrook House,’ he said. ‘The new blocks are utterly characterless and detract from the cohesiveness of the estate’s architecture.’

Earlier this month, the Twentieth Century society released it latest ’At Risk list’, which included Allbrook House and Roehampton Library, designed by LCC Architect Roy Stout.

Caseworker Grace Etherington said: ‘It is possible for this small element of the regeneration scheme to be rethought without jeopardising the whole project, and it’s a great shame that Wandsworth has pursued the demolition of these buildings of really good quality and importance.’

Liverpool-based architectural historian Barnabas Calder said: ‘The saddest single part of a bad proposal is the loss of the original entrance to the estate, Allbrook House and the early-Brutalist maisonettes and shops opposite.

‘The Alton – up to now – is complete, and of global importance. To destroy the core of the estate for largely market-rent housing represents a heartbreakingly short-sighted attack on the physical fabric and social purpose of one of the world’s most important groupings of Modernist housing.’

Hitting back at the criticism, Wandsworth Council said the scheme would bring new homes, shops, community facilities, better open space and a revamped library and had been developed in ’full consultation with the local community’.

‘Local people have played a central role in helping to produce these plans and ensuring the regeneration meets their day-to-day need,’ a spokesman said.

The council also took swipe at Calder, adding: ‘Whilst we welcome constructive dialogue with the wider architectural community, even those who live nowhere near Roehampton or indeed in faraway places like Liverpool, our priority above everything else is providing sustainable, decent, high-quality homes for our residents in buildings that will better stand the test of time.’

Our proposal retains the integrity of the estate masterplan while protecting its social purpose

Hawkins\Brown partner Seth Rutt also defended the scheme, saying: ‘Our proposal retains the integrity of the estate masterplan while protecting its social purpose and prioritising community facilities. We are working with the council to achieve high-quality affordable housing meeting the council’s proposed target.’ 

He added that the changes to Alton Estate were part of Wandsworth’s Supplementary Planning Document which ‘predates’ the practice’s involvement.

In 2014, Studio Egret West won a competition to masterplan the regeneration of the estate but Hawkins\Brown was subsequently appointed by Redrow to take the project forward.

  • 3 Comments

Readers' comments (3)

  • Hawkins/Brown are signed up to Architects Declare.

    They are signed up to:

    "Upgrade existing buildings for extended use as a more carbon efficient alternative to demolition and new build whenever there is a viable choice."

    "Evaluate all new projects against the aspiration to contribute positively to mitigating climate breakdown, and encourage our clients to adopt this approach."

    Have they been asked to comment on this project in relation to their signed up promises?

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  • I wonder why Allbrook House was excluded from listing, if it's an integral part of this landmark modernist architectural ensemble?
    With the best will in the world, can Hawkins\Brown really do justice to the Alton Estate if they're employed by the council's developer partner, Redrow?
    The fate of this pioneering community at Roehampton is surely too important to be left to the discretion of the local council and a house developer - in a civilised country.
    Wandsworth Council's comments smack of mean spirited parochialism, and their reference to '...buildings that will better stand the test of time' begs the question of how well the council has cared for the estate over the years, and how sustainable the proposed demolitions are - as well as how well they can ensure good quality construction in a country that's plagued with a recent history of badly supervised, badly built new housing.

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  • Wandsworth Council claims that the scheme has been developed 'in full consultation' with the local community. Yes there have been lots of consultations, but only one since 2014. Each time the locals asked for well loved elements of the estate to be kept. Each successive scheme meant more demolition.
    Hawkins Brown may have answered the brief they were given, but it is definitely NOT what the community (most of whom will have to leave) may have asked for.
    Andrew Catto
    Chair - Putney Society Buildings Panel

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