Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

Demise of 1970s housing estate

Residents of Elephant and Castle's Heygate complain they were 'picked off' to make way for £1.5bn regeneration scheme

Preliminary demolition is due to begin next week of the vast Heygate estate in south-east London as part of a tortuous £1.5bn regeneration project which has angered many of its former residents and triggered political rows.

After a month of preparation by the demolition company, the serious work of dismantling the estate begins in mid-March, part of a plan to transform the Elephant and Castle, considered one of the city's architectural eyesores, into a "new town centre".

For months the Heygate, once home to 1,200 families, has been a virtual ghost town, with only a few people holding out. The water and heating have been switched off, passageways blocked and steel shutters placed on the windows.

Former inhabitants of the six huge apartment blocks have accused Southwark council, which signed a regeneration deal with Australian developer Lend Lease in July, of going back on promises to put local working class people at the heart of the redevelopment.

Progress on the scheme comes amid tough times for regeneration projects in the UK. More than 3,000 new homes planned for London are on hold because of restrictions on development finance, according to real estate services firm CB Richard Ellis. Elsewhere, there are early signs of progress with plans for regeneration schemes in Salford, Greater Manchester, Basildon, Essex, and the Longbridge area of Birmingham being submitted this month.

Despite the Heygate's unlovely grey concrete exterior and its reputation as a crime-ridden estate – undeserved say some of its former residents – critics acknowledge that the flats themselves were well-designed and spacious with fine views of London.

"It was well above average postwar housing but it suffered from a lack of maintenance and good management," said Catherine Croft, director of the Twentieth Century Society, an architecture conservation group. "It doesn't look pretty and it is architecture of a type that has a real stigma – incredibly repetitive and monolithic. But as a way of housing a lot of people, it has an elegance and simplicity."

Some who lived there speak glowingly about the estate, at least at its inception.

Terry Redpath, who moved in when the Heygate was built in 1974, said: "People took pride in the place and there was a community spirit. It wasn't badly designed and there was plenty of open space."

Redpath says he and the other 130 leaseholders were offered less than a fair price for their properties, but felt they had little alternative but to accept as the estate was being run down in preparation for demolition.

"We were picked off one by one," he said, "In the last four to five years things weren't being fixed, and people did not want to be the last ones out."

One of the last remaining residents, Oner Baduna, who has finally accepted alternative accommodation, said the estate began going downhill as more short-term residents moved in, conditions deteriorated and petty crime rose.

For Jerry Flynn, a Heygarth resident between 1974 and 1981, Southwark council failed to fulfil a key pledge of the Elephant and Castle regeneration programme. "We were told that we were going to be at the heart of regeneration, but local people are not benefitting," he said.

The council said its plans gave former Heygate residents the opportunity to return to 16 "early housing sites" or the Heygate site itself once the new homes were built. However, only three of those sites have been completed and the new homes on the Heygate are stillyears away.

In effect, the community brought together by the Heygate estate has been scattered throughout the borough and elsewhere because of the lag between the start and end of the regeneration programme.

"That community has been decimated. It was so callous and I'm truly disgusted," said Jackie Rokotnitz, a local activist and initial backer of the regeneration plan, who has since become a vociferous critic of Southwark council's handling of the project.

The Elephant's regeneration saga, dating back to 1999, began when the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives were in power in the borough. It has rumbled on for a decade and the on-off deal with Lend Lease has been highly contentious. Lend Lease, an Australian developer, was selected by the Lib Dem council as the preferred partner in 2007, but final agreement was delayed, partly due to the recession and partly because of disagreement with Transport for London over the costs of rebuilding the local Northern line station and the remodelling of the roundabout system.

A deal was reached with Lend Lease only last July, after Labour won control of the council in May.

The new council insists that it's all systems go now that it has signed a contract with Lend Lease and claims that everybody in the area will benefit.

Councillor Fiona Colley, cabinet member for regeneration, said: "Local people will benefit not just from the creation of new affordable homes – which former Heygate tenants will have the opportunity to move into, but also from a new school, a new leisure centre, better transport infrastructure, jobs and training as part of the development, new shops, improved parks and possibly a new community centre."

The Lib Dems say Labour has lost tens of millions of pounds as a result of "incompetent renegotiation", but key sections of the agreement are confidential because of "sensitive commercial information" so the figures are hard to pin down.

One of the sore points is how much affordable housing will be included. Critics assert the commitment to make 25% of new homes affordable falls short of the original 35% target.

Flynn points out that affordable housing is still beyond the means of those who lived at the Heygate, most of whom were in social rented housing, paying rents below the market rate. He argues that the most telling comparison will be the loss of social rented units: under a revamped Heygate, including the off-site replacement housing, he calculates there will be 725 social rented units when the scheme is completed against the 1,080 of the original estate.

For now, the desolate estate looks like something out of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, but a hardcore of about two dozen people are refusing to leave because they feel they are not being offered a fair price for their properties or adequate replacements for the homes they are renting.

Teacher Adrian Glasspool, who livesin the centre of the estate, says he has been offered £168,000 for his three-bedroom maisonette, measuring 93 square meteres (1,000 sq ft) and argues he cannot buy anything similar in central London for that kind of money.

He said: "People went along with the regeneration plans on the promise they would be coming back to shiny new homes." But he feels let down and is a member of the Heygate & Aylesbury leaseholders action group, which is trying to get a better deal from the council.

Mickey Brooks, another holdout, has to lug water up 11 flights of stairs to his one-bedroom flat because the lifts are no longer working and the water has been turned off. He says he is hanging on until the police come to evict him and will be waiting with a video camera when they do.

The controversy over the demolition of the Heygate has echoes of the now defunct Pathfinder schemes that were supposed to regenerate rundown areas in northern England. The schemes were public-private partnerships in cities and conurbations from Birmingham northwards, that involved the demolition and, in theory, replacement of housing in working-class areas.

In reality, their residents moved elsewhere or were bought off, and, in many cases, the new homes were designated for sale to "aspirational" incomers, in attempts – which have mostly failed – to gentrify neighbourhoods.

With its close proximity to the City and central London, Lend Lease is unlikely to have trouble finding buyers for the new homes on the Heygate, but those who lived there originally will have long gone. "What sticks in my throat is that when redevelopment has happened 1,200 local residents will have made way for people paying £400,000 on the footprint of the estate," said Redpath.

Elephant and Castle regeneration

Elephant and Castle's £1.5bn redevelopment will include the creation of a pedestrianised town centre, a market square, green spaces and thousands of new homes by 2014. It will also involve a comprehensive tree planting programme and measures to reduce pollution from its roundabout system.

Southwark council says the Elephant will become a "thriving urban centre" once the shopping centre – nominated as London's ugliest building – and the six 12-storey blocks that comprise the Heygate are replaced. In 2009 former US president Bill Clinton praised the regeneration plan as among 16 worldwide projects which will release less carbon dioxide than they use. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Get rid of the ads (sfw)

Don't be the product, buy the product!