How did regeneration become a dirty word in Boris Johnson's London?

South London's Heygate Estate, site of one of the more controversial bits of urban regeneration of recent years. Image: Getty.

In Boris Johnson’s London, argues Labour assembly member Nicky Gavron, regeneration is just a synonym for redevelopment.

In the capital today, long-standing communities are being bulldozed to make way for luxury developments that most Londoners could never dream of affording. Popping up in their place are residential skyscrapers, with no regard for the character of the local area or the needs of local people. Londoners are concerned that the capital will become unrecognisable.

It does not need to be like this. Regeneration should be about making an area better for the people who live there. It is about offering the chance for a better life by producing more diverse communities with improved public transport; a good range of local shops and other amenities; places to meet and congregate; good schools and health facilities; a range of jobs, and the skills training and education people need to access them. It should be about turning areas which don’t work well into areas which do.        

When he came to office in 2008 Boris Johnson was dealt a great hand. He had the London Development Agency. He had £5m for affordable housing. He had swathes of land.

Most importantly, the vision was there: the previous mayor had set out the route to accommodating a rapidly growing population within the boundary of Greater London, by co-locating denser mixed-use development with a vastly improved and expanded public transport system. One of the big ideas was to direct development to the east of London to redress the huge disparities in wealth and opportunity between east and west.

It was a vision of London being an exemplary sustainable world city economically, socially, and environmentally. But Boris brushed it aside, replaced only by the grand but meaningless ambition of becoming the “best big city in the world”.

The mayor of course continued with the Olympics, which has been a great boost to the inner east, but what has he done for outer east London? Cancelled the DLR and East London Transit Scheme. Cancelled the river crossing. Some of these proposals have been belatedly resurrected, but in the meantime we’ve lost years when we could have been moving forward.


The Olympics themselves did not achieve their full regeneration potential under Boris Johnson. There has undoubtedly been a striking transformation of this part of east London, turning a former industrial wasteland into a diverse cluster of shopping, culture, and sport. The park achieves high visitor numbers, and there are exciting plans to move academic and arts institutions and new tech firms to Stratford.

However the ambition to make this a mixed income residential area is being undermined by a mayor unwilling to commit to maximising affordable housing. In the former Athletes Village, now the East Village, 49 per cent of homes are affordable, albeit only half of them at social rented levels. The targets for the later neighbourhoods are slipping; Johnson has compromised from 35 per cent down to 31 per cent affordable housing on the west side, and the split means less than ten out of every hundred will be at genuinely affordable rents. The next mayor will need to negotiate the final totals for the southern neighbourhoods.  

There is no better example of what regeneration means under the Johnson mayoralty than Earls Court, the £12b development of 7,600 primarily luxury flats with not even one additional affordable rented home. This was not some derelict and dilapidated site; Earls Court opportunity area was a vibrant area with established communities and thriving businesses.

Yet the plans, which Johnson pushed through, will result in the destruction of an iconic exhibition centre supporting an ecosystem of local businesses and contributing £1bn to London’s economy. It will also mean the demolition of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green housing estates, and the potential loss of 550 high-skilled manufacturing jobs at the Lillie Bridge tube depot. Earls Court is not about regenerating an area for the people who live and work there, but about making big money for developers and providing luxury properties to international investors.  

Earls Court is one of the 38 Opportunity Areas identified as sources for new housing and jobs. There had been existing Opportunity Areas for which Johnson was very slow to create planning frameworks, but he created one for Earls Court in order to drive through his enormously destructive plan for the area. Meanwhile, other Opportunity Areas with far more brownfield land remain untouched.

Earls Court is particularly outrageous because it is on land owned by TfL. The mayor, as chair of TfL, is the owner of the largest portfolio of developable land in London, much of it around transport hubs and in town centres.

That presents the next mayor with an opportunity to lead on a model of true regeneration across the capital. That land should be developed to provide affordable homes and affordable workspace in walkable, well-connected, mixed-use and diverse neighbourhoods. That is the bare minimum we should demand of the next mayor.

 Nicky Gavron AM is Labour’s London Assembly planning spokesperson.

 
 
 
 

Here’s how Henry Ford and IKEA could provide the key to solving the housing crisis

A flatpack house designed by architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, on display at the Royal Academy, London, in 2013. Image: Getty.

For many people, the housing market is not a welcoming place. The rungs of the property ladder seem to get further and further out of reach. There are loud calls to build hundreds of thousands of new homes (and equally loud demands that they’re not built in anyone’s back yard).

If there was ever a time to introduce mass-produced affordable housing, surely that time is now.

The benefits of mass production have been well known since Henry Ford’s car factories made the Model T back in 1908. It was only made in one colour, black, for economic reasons. Not because it was the cheapest colour of paint, but because it was the colour that dried the quickest.

This allowed the production line to operate at faster, more cost effective, speeds. And ultimately, it meant the product could be sold at a more attractive cost to the customer.

This approach, where processes are tested to achieve increasingly efficient production costs, is yet to filter properly into the construction of houses. This makes sense in a way, as not everybody wants exactly the same type of house.

Historically, affordable mass-produced housing removed a large amount of customisations, to ensure final costs were controlled. But there is another way. Builders and architects have the ability to create housing that allows a level of flexibility and customisation, yet also achieves the goal of affordability.


Back in 2006, the “BoKlok” approach to affordable housing was launched to great acclaim in the UK. Literally translated from Swedish, the term means “live smart”. Originally created from a collaboration between flat-pack favourite IKEA and Swedish construction giant Skanska, the BoKlok housing approach was to allow for selected customisation to maximise individuality and choice for the customers. But at the same time, it ensured that larger house building components were duplicated or mass-produced, to bring down the overall costs.

Standard elements – wall panels, doors, windows – were made in large numbers to bring the elemental costs down. This approach ensured the costs were controlled from the initial sketch ideas through to the final design choices offered to the customers. The kitchens and bathrooms were designed to be flexible in terms of adding additional units. Draw and cupboard fronts interchangeable. Small options that provided flexibility, but did not impact on overall affordability.

It’s a simple approach that has worked very well. More than 10,000 BoKlok houses have now been built, mainly in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with a small number in the UK.

But it is only part of the architectural equation. The affordable housing market is vital, but the cost of making these homes more adaptable is rarely considered.

Flexibility is key. The needs of a house’s inhabitants change. Families can grow (and shrink) and require more room, so the costs of moving house reappear. One clever response to this, in BoKlok homes, has been to allow “built in” flexibility.

Loft living

This flexibility could include a loft space that already has flooring and a built in cupboard on a lower floor which can be simply dismantled and replaced with a “flat-pack style” staircase that can be purchased and installed with minimal disruption to the existing fabric.

Weeks of builders removing walls, plastering and upheaval are replaced by a trip to the IKEA store to purchase the staircase and the booking of a subcontractor to fit it. The original design accounted for this “future option” and is built into the core of the house.

The best approach to new affordable housing should consider combinations of factors that look at design, materials and processes that have yet to be widely used in the affordable housing market.

And the construction sector needs to look over its shoulder at other market places – especially the one that Henry Ford dominated over a century ago. Today’s car manufacturers offer customised options in everything from colour to wheel size, interior gadgets to different kinds of headlamp. These options have all been accounted for in the construction and costing of each model.

The ConversationThey share a similar design “platform”, and by doing so, considerably reduce the overall cost of the base model. The benefit is quicker production with the added benefit of a cost model that allows for customisation to be included. It is a method the construction sector should adopt to produce housing where quality and affordability live happily together.

David Morton, Associate Professor in Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.