Estate regeneration: trust and money

Originally published on January 11 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

It will take huge amounts of commitment, trust and money to deliver David Cameron’s vision of estate regeneration.

There is commitment but sadly only to the most simplistic of world views: lots of poor people live on council estates; therefore council estates must cause poverty. Never mind that much better funded area-based initiatives under Tony Blair largely failed. Never mind that poverty and even worse deprivation were concentrated in many of the same areas before the estates were built (just check the Booth poverty maps of London). The ‘so-called sink estates’ will be radically transformed or knocked down.

Trust is in such short supply after a series of controversial regenerations of estates in London (and we are mainly talking about London) that promises need to come from the very top to restore good faith. That applies both to the prime minister and to the Conservative candidate for London mayor Zac Goldsmith.

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Village vision

Inner city council estates were once the solution to the housing crisis, then the problem. Now they could be the solution again. But for who?

There is arguably no more controversial issue in housing than the regeneration of existing social housing estates, especially in London. Schemes in boroughs right across the capital have hit the headlines, mostly for the wrong reasons.

In a report this week, the Labour peer Lord Adonis and the think tank IPPR presents a vision for what they call ‘city villages’. The scope is broad, with town centres, private renting and the great private estates of central London discussed alongside some opposing views about new towns. However, the focus is overwhelmingly on the densification of existing council estates with mixed tenure development. If anyone attending the launch needed any reminding that this is controversial territory, tenants from the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates in Hammersmith & Fulham were protesting outside.

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Flagship sunk

While UKIP has taken all the election headlines, in housing terms it’s hard to look beyond the Conservative defeat in the party’s flagship council of Hammersmith & Fulham.

The West London borough dubbed ‘David Cameron’s favourite council’ and has pursued a radical strategy of cutting the council tax and cutting spending since it won power in 2006.

But it is of course also the birthplace of what I’ve come to think of as the third Conservative housing revolution. If the first was the right to buy and the second private finance for housing associations and deregulation of private renting, the third is about changing the nature of social housing completely.

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Tall story

You don’t have to look very hard for the hidden agenda in a report from the Conservatives’ favourite think-tank calling for the demolition of high-rise social housing in London.

Create Streets is a joint report from Policy Exchange and a company of the same name which campaigns for low-rise development in streets and against multi-storey developments. As usual in a Policy Exchange report it starts with a grain of truth and then adds a range of questionable assertions to advance a political agenda.

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Vanishing act

One of the stats most often quoted by Grant Shapps is that the social rented housing stock shrank by 421,000 homes under Labour. The real question is how much it will shrink under him.

The housing minister quoted the figure again this week when he was interviewed on the Today programme on Wednesday about the affordable housing figures (for more on them see my blog for Inside Housing here). His use of statistics is much discussed but on this particular one he’s right: social housing disappeared under Labour as right to buy and demolitions outnumbered construction of new homes. What he did not mention was that roughly twice as many homes disappeared under the Conservatives between 1979 and 1997.

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The Cameron connection

After The Secret History of Our Streets, I wonder if David Cameron will be quite so keen to namecheck Sir Patrick Abercrombie in future.

As I blogged for Inside Housing earlier today, last night’s brilliant first episode of the series exposed the role of post-war planners in the demolition of the homes around Deptford High Street. Most prominent of all was Abercrombie, the monocle-wearing creator of the County of London Plan who said in a wartime film about the ‘dirty, dismal houses’ of the south London area: ‘You see the trouble is that London grew up without any plan or order. That’s why there are all these bad things and ugly things that we hope to do away with if this plan of ours is carried out.’

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Secret history

Have we really learned our lessons from our post-war housing mistakes or are we still making some of the same ones?

That was the question running through my mind after watching the brilliant and sometimes heart-rending first episode of The Secret History of Our Streets last night. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, you really should make time to catch it on iPlayer if you missed it.

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