Communities secretary Eric Pickles has said he wants to pull down London’s inner city housing estates and replace them with high-density, low-rise homes
Speaking to the Evening Standard, Pickles also voiced his opposition against more 1960s-style tower blocks, which he described as ‘concrete carbuncles’.
The Conservative minister spoke out as he revealed plans to pump £150 million of cash into overhauling some of London’s most neglected estates. The proposed ‘Big Bang’, he claimed, would revolutionise existing estates and make the inner zone of the capital much more densely populated. According to a report drawn up for the government by property consultants Savills, the number of people living in the heart of London could be increased by up to 850,000.
He told the paper: ‘Past experience tells us that mere tinkering won’t work. We need to be more ambitious.
‘Completely rebuilding traditional streetscapes can provide more housing and commercial space using the same amount of land.’
He added: ‘The result will be more homes that are highly valued by residents…. [and] this approach can also increase the value of land in a way that is not possible with the incremental building-by-building regeneration that has been favoured in the past.’
Pickles also hinted that prefabricated homes could provide part of the solution. He said: ‘Offsite construction was pioneered by British architects like Norman Foster and Richard Rogers, but it’s since been neglected here while being widely used on the continent. Britain needs to catch up.’
But the proposals have been ridiculed by the Labour Party. London Assembly Labour Group housing spokesperson, Tom Copley said: ‘This government has cut London’s affordable housing budget by over £700 million a year. To call Eric Pickles’ announcement of £150 million for the redevelopment of estates a drop in the ocean would be to give him more credit than he deserves. This new announcement is just a desperate deployment of smoke and mirrors ahead of local elections.
‘To solve London’s housing crisis we need billions, not millions. If the communities secretary was serious about getting more affordable homes built then he’d lift the arbitrary borrowing cap on councils to enable them to borrow responsibly to deliver thousands of new genuinely affordable homes.’
Andrew Beharrell, executive director of Pollard Thomas Edwards, said: ‘The frustrating thing about Pickles speech is that one of the biggest obstacles to comprehensive estate regeneration is the historic legacy of right-to-buy [RTB], which the current government continues to promote without understanding its unintended consequence.
‘Estates are now pepper-potted with leaseholder properties which make it impossible to demolish and redevelop poor quality housing stock without buying back these properties.
‘The high cost of doing so often makes regeneration unviable. In many cases the effect of RTB – however, well-intentioned – has been to hand a large cash gift to tenants who promptly sell on their properties. Worse still, many of these end up in the unregulated private rental sector being let on high rents to disadvantaged and over-crowded households.
He added: ‘If Pickles really wants to encourage the replacement of poor quality estates with more and better homes and streets he needs to address the problems caused by his own party’s policy on RTB.’