Estate regeneration can be done well. Here’s how

South London's un-regenerated Heygate estate. Image: Getty.

Everyone knows that regeneration is frequently done badly. Everyone knows that consultation can be tokenistic or faked. These are people’s homes, people’s communities – and people’s lives. People deserve better than being lied to or materially ignored by developers, as is all too frequently the case.

It can be hard to dissociate the very word “regeneration” from all the well-known negative examples. But it is not inherently impossible to upgrade the urban form. It can be done well.

This won’t solve all of society’s ills, which run much deeper and more systematically than anything a change or urban form can fix: education and social capital top architecture.

But what has been proven is that urban form can, and frequently does, have a meaningful impact on wellbeing. Multiple studies have shown that, even accounting for broader socio-economic factors, urban design can have a positive impact if done well – and a negative one if done badly.

And as the housing crisis reaches new levels of the stratosphere, urban form is edging closer to the forefront of policy debate. This gives an opportunity for meaningful action and meaningful impact, to try to avoid the mistakes of the past.

Seven habits of highly effective regenerations

At Create Streets, we use seven tests for assessing regeneration – and argue that there’s scant point in changing the urban fabric of a place if it doesn’t pass these tests. Stubborn? Perhaps, but a development that fails these test will end up doing more harm than good. They are also eminently passable, as we’ll see. 

The seven questions are:

  • Does it have support of residents?
  • Does it have support of neighbours?
  • Does it increase total housing?
  • Does it at least keep social housing equal & treat leaseholders and tenants fairly?
  • Is the new spatial layout better – and does it “plug into” streets and city?
  • Are new internal standards better and good enough?
  • Does it produce mixed community by tenure and use?

Just to be clear, the answer to all of the above should be “yes.”

A lot of high profile estate regenerations have failed these tests: indeed, often one of the reasons why they are high profile is precisely because they’ve not gone about things properly. Neglecting these points can obviously have a negative impact on residents – but more than that, failing these tests creates controversy and therefore opposition.

“Residents could be re-housed without being decanted”

Compliance with these tests should therefore be a no-brainer. As Savills’ recent report for the Cabinet Office recommended, new developments should give “a genuine and privileged role for the local community”. And don’t let anyone tell you that the “value” is not there to do it properly. Again, the recent Savills reports shows quite clearly the value inherent in medium-density, provably popular urbanism. It can work on everybody’s terms.

The secret of my success

The community on north London’s Packington Estate had this sort of input. Built in the late 1960s in Islington, tucked behind Upper Street and bordering the Regent’s Canal, the process of redeveloping the estate began in 2006: a poll of residents approved transfer of ownership to the social landlords the Hyde Group, who then funded the improvements through densifying.

The rebuilding shows the value of effective consultation and dialogue with residents. The process led to an estate that residents were pleased with and proud of. It re-instated integrated streets (86 per cent wanted a new development to reinstate the traditional street pattern), built more houses and, crucially, avoided the high-rise towers residents had explicitly said they did not want. The rebuilding process took place over several stages, meaning that residents could be re-housed without being decanted.


The maximum height at Packington was increased by just 33 per cent (from six storeys to eight). But the development still managed to increase overall density by 56 per cent (from 538 homes to 839). This was a very clear and specific win for residents: Hyde themselves have acknowledged that they would have built higher without this input from residents, and without a planning authority who supported the residents.

The Portobello Square development in North Kensington, by Catalyst Housing, is also worth citing. Its rebuild will create more homes, and the housing of all existing residents, including the social housing provision, will be fully replaced.

After consultation, the key design objectives were reintegration with the surrounding neighbourhood, and the creation of a new square at the heart of the scheme to replace a previously poorly-located square. The visual typology is one of the key strengths of this redevelopment: it was drawn from “traditional Kensington residential precedents,” including mews houses and townhouses, and fits into the local street network. This also helped to keep the development in line with the densities of the borough, the second densest in London. 

Neither of these examples are perfect. Little in life is. Some of the squares in Packington, for example, have confused fronts and backs.

But they do show that working with residents and listening to both their concerns and preferences can lead to a popular urban form that is dense enough to increase London’s total housing stock, but of high enough quality to boost wellbeing and improve lives.

Indeed, if you’re not making better and more popular places that can function as an integrated part of the city for generations then what, in the long term, is the point?

Kieran Toms is a researcher and urban designer at Create Streets, a social enterprise encouraging urban homes in terraced streets.

 
 
 
 

15 other things ministers could move to London to boost the Northern Powerhouse

The Angel of the North. Wouldn't it look better in, say, Camden? Image: Getty.

Yesterday brought confirmation that the government had come up with a clever way of boosting its flagship “Northern Powerhouse” policy: move over 200 government jobs to London.

From the Mirror:

The Tories sneaked out a plan to move 228 jobs in the Northern Powerhouse department from Sheffield to London today, on the last day before Parliament breaks for recess.

And the department today suggested staff who want to keep their jobs could commute the two-hour each way journey from the North to the capital.

(...)

The plan, described as “madness” by Nick Clegg, will see the Department for Business Innovation and Skills’ (BIS) Sheffield office shuttered in 2018.

This is not the first time large chunks of public investment has quietly been shifted from the north to London, even as ministers repeat the words “Northern Powerhouse” in a convincing tone of voice. Remember the decision to move the National Photography Collection from Bradford to London?

It’s easy to sneer. But actually, there are some very clever and compelling arguments for gradually moving every job in Britain into the area enclosed by the M25. Larger cities, after all, are more productive. It stands to reason, then, that a country in which all economic activity took place in a single, high-rise postcode would be far richer, happier, and, well, better than the one we’ve got at the moment. 

That probably isn’t realistic. What might be, however, is gradually shifting all the north’s myriad attractions to new locations in the Home Counties. For that reason, CityMetric understands that ministers are considering relocating a number of other key economic assets to the south of England. 

The Yorkshire Dales – As things stand, England’s “landscape capital” has been disproportionately concentrated in the north. To rectify this, Her Majesty’s Government will explore plans to redistribute the Dales to southern Essex.

Alnwick Castle – Following the very successful experiment in which we moved Leeds Castle to Kent, we’ve found a very promising site for Alnwick just outside Hove.

Betty’s of Harrogate – We believe this charming tea room would do far better business somewhere in the vicinity of Park Lane. 

The Angel of the North – The iconic Antony Gormley statue is currently going to waste on a slight incline next to the A1, on the outskirts of an obscure place called Gateshead. It would attract far more visitors if we placed it instead on, say, Primrose Hill. The best thing about this plan is that we wouldn’t even have to rename it.


The Cavern – To improve Liverpool’s tourism figures, we will be consolidating its main attractions into the new “Abbey Road Experience”.

The rest of Harrogate – Bit confused they didn’t put it in Oxfordshire in the first place, actually.

Salford Quays – Moving chunks of BBC Production to Greater Manchester has been very successful. Her Majesty’s Government is keen to build on this success: we the best way of doing so would be to consolidate operations and seek efficiencies by re-locating the whole of Salford Quays to London. An ideal site has been located in the White City area.

Tate Liverpool – The present site is far too inconvenient. A new site, closer to the Tate Britain, would be ideal.

The University of Durham – It’s in a picturesque medieval town, it’s broken into colleges, it has a boat race... The perm sec was a bit surprised to find it wasn’t in the Home Counties already, if we’re honest.

While we’re at it:

The University of York – See above.

Coronation Street – The problem with this show is that it’s set in Manchester. It’s just so bloody dreary, isn’t it? All that rain; all those cobbles. They should set it in London. Make something more cheerful, like Eastenders.

Hadrian's Wall, in its original location. Image: Hulton Archive/Getty.

Hadrian’s Wall – The wall was constructed during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian to protect proper Britain from the savage Scots. Today, though, there are no fewer than 54 Scottish Nationalists in the House of Commons. This suggests that, if we’re going to bother with such defensive measures, we’re going to need them a damn sight closer to the capital than they are at the moment. 

The Settle to Carlisle line – I mean, it’s a lovely route, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. It’d almost certainly get more passengers if it ran from, say, Euston to Milton Keynes.

Pies – Treasury cost/benefit analysis suggests that large quantities of carbs and gravy would be used more efficiently in the south. 

Northerners – We considered moving the jobs to the people, but decided this way round would work better. Great for house prices, too!

Please note that Her Majesty’s Government has abandoned plans to incentivise Manchester United to move south. But we are hoping to tempt Leicester City to a new home in Surrey.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.