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JAMESTOWN, SEMPE,BUKOM,GBESE FACE-LIFTING THROUGH DEMOLITION
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JAMESTOWN, SEMPE,BUKOM,GBESE FACE-LIFTING THROUGH DEMOLITION
OLD BUILDINGS IN CONGESTED AREAS IN GAMASHIE MUST BE DEMOLISHED TO BRING DEVELOPMENTS TO LOCAL COMMUNITIES.
How do we re- accommodate the local people whilst the demolition goes on?
The chiefs must help in bringing investors into these areas in Accra.
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Butterburn and Bucklemaker flats, Dundee, demolished
Is demolition ever the best way to regenerate?
The Heygate estate is the latest in a long line of social housing to be demolished in the name of progress, but could ‘pruning and regrowing’ be a better option?
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Wed 4 Jun 2014 06.17 EDT
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Last week, the Southwark-based campaign 35 Percent welcomed a very small victory in the lengthy battle regarding the regeneration plan for the Elephant and Castle area in London. No, the infamous Heygate Estate, a 1970s experiment in social housing that became a byword for failed tower block housing projects, would not be saved. Nor would displaced residents be able to move back any time soon. Instead, a “viability assessment” that the developer Lend Lease was waving about in order to cut back on the number of affordable flats would be made public.
It seems that whenever it's decided something must be done about deteriorating estates like Heygate, the thinking has been narrow: demolish it. That was never more clear than when the Red Road tower blocks in Glasgow were slated for demolition live on television during next month's Commonwealth Games. The uproar over the insensitivity of blowing up people's homes as a sporting celebration drew unprecedented attention to the issue of demolition, and nixed the plan; but Red Road will still get dynamited. Indeed, across the UK, from Newcastle to Nottingham, social housing faces the wrecking ball. But is demolition the only answer?
It is certainly easy to market: a speedy show of progress, with private developers contracted to build shiny new replacements, even if the previous residents can rarely afford them. In the Elephant & Castle plan, Southwark council promised at least 35% of the new development would be affordable homes. Two years on, Lend Lease – which is even now in the process of dismantling the Heygate – has pleaded financial distress (relying on the viability assessment activists want to be made public), and proposed to reduce it to 25%. According to 35 Percent, only 212 of the 2,535 flats going up where the estate once stood will be "affordable", and only 79 will be socially rented. Across the entire Elephant & Castle development (including the early rehousing sites), there will be 632 socially rented units, a net loss when measured against the 1,194 being destroyed at Heygate. Most of the previous tenants will not be able to afford to rent or buy any of the units.
Red Road developments in Glasgow, 1967
On the road to nowhere ... In 1967, when the Red Road developments in Glasgow were built, they were the highest concrete flats in Europe. Photograph: Bob Thomas/Getty Images
“We’re not asking for much,” says former Heygate resident and 35 Percent spokesperson Jerry Flynn. “35% affordable housing is all we want – it’s what we were promised by the council. We know it’s not actually ‘affordable’, but we keep fighting for it anyway just to move the argument on.”
Lend Lease is not the first developer to change its plans, pleading poverty, after demolition has already begun. Once that mighty ball has swung, councils are increasingly unable to object and the cooperation of residents becomes less and less vital. “The longer it takes, the weaker people become,” Flynn says.
But why not fix the buildings instead, and let the residents stay? There’s certainly no financial reason to prevent most buildings from being renovated. Architectural consulting firm Gensler found that the Heygate could have been renovated for as little as £14,000 per unit, approximately £17m less than the £44m Southwark has spent on emptying the dwellings – though, of course, then the council wouldn't receive the £50m Lend Lease paid for the site. So why do we continue to think that the only way to improve an area is to blow it up?
Examples of this type of demolition ball regeneration dot the UK. In Scotswood, Newcastle, rebuilding has finally begun after the mass destruction of homes way back in 2000 (residents were told the work would commence just two years later). Queen’s Park, Blackpool’s only high-rise flats, are coming down, labelled too expensive to maintain. The same goes for Nottingham’s Lenton flats – but fear not displaced residents, because Nottingham council would like to let you know: “If your home is being demolished, don’t forget to read our ‘relocation’ leaflets.”
The residents of the Heygate estate in London's Elephant & Castle were forced to vacate their homes in preparation for its demolition. Photograph: Graeme Robertson
The Heygate was built in 1974 as social housing to reduce overcrowding after the postwar slum clearances. In the 1980s and 90s, a small number of people bought their flats through right-to-buy, but the majority were still council-owned. Lend Lease plans to replace it with a number of public and private flats, but like most developers in these scenarios, it will put up new housing in phases: wait for one block to sell before building more. Many relocated residents will have to wait years before they can move back to their old neighbourhood. Flynn predicts that no one from the Heygate will return to live at the original site, “unless wheeled back in their coffin to make a good story for the press”.
Sometimes demolition really is the best option – but only when an estate has been so neglected that it is essentially past saving. That might be the case with Red Road in Glasgow. Matt Quinn, a former resident who ran a business from his spare room, describes how the decision to demolish his former home did not come as a surprise – and for some people is even a relief. “Life in Red Road was made impossible through the wilful neglect and ‘social engineering’ of the city fathers,” he says.
If the estate had not been left to fall into disrepair, he argues, there would be no need to demolish it. Indeed, from the example of the Barbican and other brutalist blocks like it, we know that when a high-rise concrete structure is maintained and cared for, it will continue to serve its purpose. It is only when an estate has been left to rot that people are glad to see the back of it.
Multimillion pound “regeneration” plans are sold as a positive change for the community: in the early consultation stages, demolition appears to guarantee new dwellings, revitalised facilities and job opportunities. Most of the time, these benefits never arrive. University College London’s Ben Campkin suggests that it’s the negative way we talk about the “failure” of estates that has caused paralysis about how to improve them. Once a place has been labelled a sink estate, the crime-riddled walkways, broken windows and cold concrete facades are hard to look beyond.
The Heygate site was bought from the local authority and renamed Trafalgar Place by new owners Len Lease, who are marketing properties in the far east. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
It has been like this for years. Forshaw and Abercrombie’s 1943 “slum clearance” vision for the postwar capital saw the displacement of population and employment as a necessary step. Vast swaths of the city, it was argued, would benefit from a scheme of razing and rebuilding. There are striking similarities between their vision and the “opportunity areas” identified in the 2011 London plan.
So when will local councils learn, and where can they start? Richard Lee is one of the organisers of Just Space, formed by people fed up with being the “token community voices” at developer-dominated meetings. Just Space advocates an alternative to demolition: it supports organic development, rather than trying to “build change”. Estates hold value for the local area, the organisation believes, and are assets to build upon. Community-controlled estates, housing co-operatives and community land trusts are all suitable alternatives with proven success. “Local people have a very good reason to want their community to be successful,” Lee notes.
The thriving Cafe Nova in the Elephant and Castle shopping centre is a good example. Set up in 2001, the cafe is a social enterprise, employing people who are socially excluded, disabled and disadvantaged in the labour market. The shopping centre as a whole provides a mixed-use environment for locals – it has, in fact, regenerated itself. Yet the council are insisting on scattering its client base around London and demolishing it like everything else in the Elephant, as it does not “fit in with the rest of the area’s high-quality design”.
The Elephant and Castle shopping centre is a community hub, yet it's scheduled for demolition. Photograph: Ian Nicholson/PA
A spokesperson from Southwark council defended Lend Lease's attempt to keep the viability study secret: “Without some commercially sensitive information remaining private, developers could simply refuse to work with councils, leaving boroughs without the housing and regeneration we all need.”
Flynn, Lee, Quinn and others like them; people who actually have to live through the process, challenge the very premise of regeneration: that it is in the public’s interest and will bring local benefits. One Southwark councillor, Peter John, recently said he would never recommend a regeneration scheme for places like Heygate: “It is just too unnecessarily challenging … [it] is just not the way forward.”
There is always an alternative to demolition. The Elephant and Castle shopping centre is a good example, but with its core client base strewn around the city, this community hub will fail. As developers cut back on affordable housing and councils continue to scoff at renovation, it seems clear that the flattening and redeveloping of opportunity areas across the country is not about making residents’ lives better.
Rather than demolition, it is organic evolution that creates the most resilient communities. Forget tabula rasa regeneration, slow and steady wins the race. Just as nature renews itself, so a gradual process of pruning and regrowth is better suited to our neighbourhoods. After all, successful regeneration of an area shouldn't involve replacing the life that exists there.
Lend Lease, which did not respond to requests for comment, has asked for a 14-day extension before releasing the viability assessment, and may appeal the decision, so the struggle continues. But it all could have been avoided had Southwark council not been so quick to turn to the tinderbox.
“It’s not too late,” says Lee. “We still have time to change the policies that will affect the future of council estates in London and around the country.”
• From Garden City to new towns: why Britain should be proud of its planners
HousingPlanning policyLondonRegenerationSocial housingGlasgowfeatures
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