In London, "regeneration" all too often means "social cleansing"

Even Russell Brand can't save us now: residents of the New Era estate deliver a petition to 10 Downing Street last December. Image: Getty.

Ten years ago, if you asked pretty much anyone living in social housing if they’d like to see their estate regenerated, it’s likely they would have said yes. New kitchens and bathrooms, new windows, lifts that work – what’s not to like?

And if you said that, actually, you wanted to knock the whole lot down and rebuild it, but that residents could live somewhere else for a while before returning to a spanking new flat, they’d probably reason that they were still getting a decent deal.

But if you said you were going to knock the whole lot down, evict the social tenants and use Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO) to pressure owners into accepting derisory offers; if you reneged on your promise to provide homes for residents to return to, while flogging as many flats as possible to the luxury end of the market – well, you might expect them to be a bit aggrieved, wouldn’t you?

But that is what regeneration means to residents on many of London’s traditional council estates these days. That, and an unexpected familiarity with Russell Brand.

The capital’s list of controversial housing regeneration schemes has started to sound a lot like Arya Stark’s prayer: Balfron, Sweets Way, West Hendon, Aylesbury, Montague Road, Guinness Trust.

Take the Ernö Goldfinger-designed Balfron Tower.  The brutalist block was previously owned by Tower Hamlets Council, before being taken over by the Poplar Housing and Regeneration Community Association (HARCA) in 2007. The estate's social tenants were told they could return post-regeneration, or move to new flats.

But in February, HARCA announced that it would instead be selling the refurbished flats, leaving 99 Balfron social housing residents with nowhere to return to.

Or take Walworth’s Aylesbury Estate. Southwark Council, which appears not to have learned anything from its experience with the neighbouring Heygate Estate, decided that rather than spend £350m refurbishing the Aylesbury, it would knock it all down and rebuild it from scratch. The organisation charged with the job is the housing association Notting Hill Housing (NHH).

The council used its own in-house surveyors to value residents’ homes, then issued CPOs as little as half of what independent surveyors said their properties were worth. Incidentally, the regeneration scheme will cost the borough 934 social homes.

Waltham Forest is at it as well, with their regeneration of Leytonstone’s Fred Wigg and John Walsh Towers on the Montague Road Estate. Residents are being temporarily “decanted” from their homes while the work takes place. But, because he social housing allocation on the estate is being reduced from 234 to 160, not all of them will be able to come back.

Barnet also went down the route of using its own surveyors to provide mysteriously low valuations for properties on the West Hendon Estate. The 540 council tenants were all promised new homes, but the social housing allocation has been reduced to 200, so it’s not clear how they can all have some.

What’s worse is that Barnet has said it wants to increase social rent levels to 80 per cent of market rates. That’s in line with the government’s “affordable rent” levels, but it’ll make living on the estate unaffordable anyway. Non-secure tenants will be evicted; the council is reportedly using a leaflet campaign to encourage residents to leave London completely.

It isn’t that regeneration schemes are inherently bad. But the gradual removal of social housing and its residents from large swathes of the city will mean gradually eradicating the mixed communities London has always had. Social cleansing, if you will.

The Conservative government’s response has been to increase the right-to-buy discount available to tenants to £103,900: that’ll mean that even more of the social housing that London can’t afford to lose can be sold off. As if that weren’t bad enough, extending RTB to housing associations – which, let’s not forget, are charities – means the only non-profit organisations actually building affordable homes will be forced by the government to hand them over at below market prices. The insanity of it is breathtaking.

Residents on most of these estates have been living with the effects of years of neglect and poor maintenance. For them, regeneration should be about improving their homes, and ensuring a mixed community is allowed to continue and thrive.

The key question we should be asking is who benefits from regeneration schemes. If residents aren’t top of that list, councils are getting it wrong.

Beth Parnell-Hopkinson is a senior editor at Londonist.


There isn’t a war on the motorist. We should start one

These bloody people. Image: Getty.

When should you use the horn on a car? It’s not, and anyone who has been on a road in the UK in living memory will be surprised to hear this, when you are inconvenienced by traffic flow. Nor is it when you are annoyed that you have been very slightly inconvenienced by another driver refusing to break the law in a manner that is objectively dangerous, but which you perceive to be to your advantage.

According to the Highway Code:

“A horn should only be used when warning someone of any danger due to another vehicle or any other kind of danger.”

Let’s be frank: neither you nor I nor anyone we have ever met has ever heard a horn used in such a manner. Even those of us who live in or near places where horns perpetually ring out due to the entitled sociopathy of most drivers. Especially those of us who live in or near such places.

Several roads I frequently find myself pushing a pram up and down in north London are two way traffic, but allow parking on both sides. This being London that means that, in practice, they’re single track road which cars can enter from both ends.

And this being London that means, in practice, that on multiple occasions every day, men – it is literally always men – glower at each other from behind the steering wheels of needlessly big cars, banging their horns in fury that circumstances have, usually through the fault of neither of them, meant they are facing each other on a de facto single track road and now one of them is going to have to reverse for a metre or so.

This, of course, is an unacceptable surrender as far as the drivers’ ego is concerned, and a stalemate seemingly as protracted as the cold war and certainly nosier usually emerges. Occasionally someone will climb out of their beloved vehicle and shout and their opponent in person, which at least has the advantages of being quieter.

I mentioned all this to a friend recently, who suggested that maybe use of car horns should be formally restricted in certain circumstances.

Ha ha ha. Hah.

The Highway Code goes on to say -

“It is illegal to use a horn on a moving vehicle on a restricted road, a road that has street lights and a 30 mph limit, between the times of 11:30 p.m. and 07:00 a.m.”

Is there any UK legal provision more absolutely and comprehensively ignored by those to whom it applies? It might as well not be there. And you can bet that every single person who flouts it considers themselves law abiding. Rather than the perpetual criminal that they in point of fact are.

In the 25 years since I learned to drive I have used a car horn exactly no times, despite having lived in London for more than 20 of them. This is because I have never had occasion to use it appropriately. Neither has anyone else, of course, they’ve just used it inappropriately. Repeatedly.

So here’s my proposal for massively improving all UK  suburban and urban environments at a stroke: ban horns in all new cars and introduce massive, punitive, crippling, life-destroying fines for people caught using them on their old one.

There has never been a war on motorists, despite the persecution fantasies of the kind of middle aged man who thinks owning a book by Jeremy Clarkson is a substitute for a personality. There should be. Let’s start one. Now.

Phase 2 will be mandatory life sentences for people who don’t understand that a green traffic light doesn’t automatically mean you have right of way just because you’re in a car.

Do write in with your suggestions for Phase 3.