Why 2018 is shaping up to be a key year for Britain’s cities

Wakefield. Image: Tim Green/Wikipedia.

As the dust settles on the government reshuffle, it is time for us to refocus on the enormous challenge of the year ahead. This is shaping up to be a very important year for the future of both our cities and our country. It will be the year we decide our relationship with Europe for years to come – as well as the relationship we have with the rest of the world. It will be the year the new industrial strategy sinks or swims. It will be a year when our public services get support and adapt, or where the strain will cause some of them to crack.

It is our choice whether we seize the opportunity ahead, or risk drifting into a spiral of low productivity and low wages. As Key Cities we believe this year can be a success if we align our Brexit deal with an industrial strategy that advances our competitiveness in key sectors.

The cities we represent – which have shown greater resilience since the financial crisis ten years ago – are ideally placed to take this forward. They are at the cutting edge of manufacturing, many generating critical export earnings for Britain.

We also represent areas with leading universities and we work hard to pioneer collaboration across business and academia. Drawing on that experience, we can see that at this critical time it is essential to make sure that all policies, efforts and activity work together – across sectors and geographies – and don’t cross purposes with each other.

The industrial strategy identifies four “Grand Challenges” that Britain will have to face in the decades to come: artificial intelligence and big data; clean growth; the future of mobility; and meeting the needs of an ageing society. A good Brexit deal will support and promote these ambitions. In practical terms, if we want the industrial strategy to support advanced manufacturing to lead the world in artificial intelligence and zero-carbon technologies, we also need to a Brexit deal that supports collaboration and global market access.

At the same time, if we want to use Brexit to expand our global exports, we need to use the industrial strategy to strengthen outward-looking, competitive industries. Many of those are in Key Cities. British infrastructure will require major investment to support export growth in the post Brexit world.  We think our competitive industrial centres need better access to ports for a start, and these ports need significant investment in technology to facilitate the frictionless trade needed by manufacturing.

The same applies to the way we support our public services. To make Brexit work, our schools, our health service, and housing all need investment. The referendum sent us a message that many communities felt no one listened to them, and that they had no opportunities for a better life. Extra money for research and development, and training, in the industrial strategy was a good place to start. Money into our schools so our young people are prepared for the jobs of the future would be very welcome. Spending on infrastructure so those jobs are within reach is another step. Funding for local councils to build strong, attractive vibrant places is another key.

This really is our year to start turning around a country which has become too unequal and too divided. Right now, our priorities should be higher productivity, better wages and stronger public services. To achieve that, Key Cities will work hard this year to get a common purpose across central government, local government, business, and academia. This is our year to achieve that – to support each other, to coordinate our plans and to realise our ambitions.

The government has said that getting Brexit right is its priority. Getting Brexit right will require more than a good negotiating team in Brussels. It will require working out an industrial strategy that makes us more competitive for the next phase of our relationship with Europe. It will require a deal that allows key sectors of the future, in Key Cities and beyond, to grow and flourish. If those clash, both will fail.

A successful Brexit will also require stronger public services to support our young people and give our communities hope. Without the investment, the opportunity will slide away, and we must not let it. This time, we should back our words with deeds.

Peter Box is leader of Wakefield council and chair of the Key Cities group.


Here are my five favourite London council estates

The Dunboyne Road estate. Image: Steve Cadman/Wikimedia Commons.

The author is a Labour member of the London Assembly. In the name of impartiality, CityMetric would like to extend the invitation to write similar columns to representatives of other political parties.

From successful post-war efforts to move families out of slums and into modern homes, to today’s efforts to construct a new generation of social housing, there’s much to be celebrated in London’s precious council housing stock.

This year we celebrate the centenary of the Addison Act, which established a national building programme with government funding for the first time. So here – in no particular order – are my top five London estates:

1. Dunboyne Road

In 1965, the newly established London Borough of Camden was bold and radical when it came to public housing. Their architect’s department boasted 98 staff, led by Sydney Cook. The Grade II listed Dunboyne Road (pictured above) was Britain’s first high-density, low-rise estate. Designed in the late 1960s and completed in 1977, it was the first major work by architect Neave Brown.

Its concrete construction and geometric layout are eye-catchingly modernist, but the 71 flats and maisonettes fit neatly into their surroundings; a reimagining of the classic London street for the 1960s. Each has a private terrace and own entrance onto the central pedestrian walkway and communal gardens, with stepped levels and dual-aspect windows creating light throughout.

Neave Brown himself lived on the estate in the final years of his life remarking, “Who am I to say, but it’s beautiful”.

2. Lilington Gardens

Located just off Vauxhall Bridge Road, the fourteen blocks at Lilington Gardens were built between 1964 and 1972. Between three and eight storeys each, it was again a rejection of the tower blocks which dominated the era, showing that mid-rise housing could provide both beauty and density.

Image: Ewan Munro/Wikimedia Commons.

At a time when Westminster could be proud of the quality of its housing, John Darbourne and Geoffrey Darke won a competition to design the new estate. The result was something special, eschewing modernist forms for something more rugged and layered. The layout allows for secluded green spaces, while the red brick cladding echoes the neighbouring Victorian church of St James the Less. Like all good estates, it included a pub – the Grade II*-listed Pimlico Tram (now The Cask). It was included not as an afterthought, but an integral part of the estate’s design.

3. Ossulston Estate

By the early 1950s, the London County Council’s architect’s department was the biggest in the world, building housing on a huge scale in addition to showp iece projects such as the Southbank Centre.

Though their suburban estates – Downham in Bromley, and Becontree in Barking and Dagenham – were pioneering examples of low-rise of modernity in metroland, these efforts did not always suit the needs of poor city dwellers who weren’t able to move further out. The Ossulton Estate, however, built between 1927 and 1931 on the site of a Somerstown slum and located between Euston and St Pancras stations, did exactly that.

Image: Stephen McKay/Wikimedia Commons.

Chief architect George Topham Forrest’s work was inspired by visits to ‘Red’ Vienna and Ossulston bears distinct similarities to Karl Marx-Hof, which was constructed at the same time. While the roofs and windows have traditional elements, the overall aesthetic is a modernist classic. Like many estates in post-war years, it suffered from neglect and a lack of investment, but following a £6m improvement programme by Camden Council in 2004, the Ossulston is now back to its brilliant best.

4. Alton Estate

Roehampton’s Alton Estate, completed in 1959, was designed by a team led by Rosemary Stjernstedt – the first woman to serve as a senior public sector architect in Britain.

The two parts of the estate – East and West – are the crown jewels of British post-war council housing. Alton West was Le Corbusier in Albion: six ultra-modernist blocks modelled on the Unité d’habitation in Marseille, set among the landscape inherited from the Georgian Mount Clare house. Alton East was a softer, Scandinavian-inspired design of the “new Brutalists” in the LCC.

Image: Stevekeiretsu/Wikimedia Commons.

Rising above the trees to the north east of Richmond Park, the Alton Estate stands testament to the visionary idealism of post-war council housebuilding. On its completion, visitors flocked from across the globe, with American critic G.E. Kidder Smith calling it “probably the finest low-cost housing development in the world”.

Sadly, Alton West however is now at risk from ‘regeneration’ proposals which would see 288 existing homes lost. While council estates should not be fetishised, with investment, improvement and expansion encouraged, any change must be done sensitively and with residents’ backing. I hope that Wandsworth Council and Redrow will follow the mayor’s Good Practice for Estate Regeneration and hold a ballot before plans go ahead, and that if they do, they build on Rosemary Stjernstedt’s legacy.

5. King’s Crescent

When it comes to regeneration Hackney Council have taken an altogether different approach to Wandsworth.

Located on Green Lanes opposite the magnificent Clissold Park, King’s Crescent’s route to a successful and well-supported regeneration project hasn’t always been an easy one. The early 1970s estate was blighted by poor construction, navigability issues and an ill-fated partial demolition in 2000 which turned much of the landscape into hoardings and rubble. But thanks to a step-change in resident engagement and a transformation programme funded by Hackney Council, by 2023 it will be host to 765 new and refurbished homes.

Image: David Holt/Wikimedia Commons.

In the era of government-imposed cuts to local authority budgets, councils have to be pragmatic about funding choices and the new King’s Crescent does include homes for private sale. This is understandably a source of some consternation, but it’s also the source of funding which has made the regeneration possible. Hackney has ensured that more than 50 per cent of the new homes are genuinely affordable, with 97 brand new council homes for social rent.

The new developments have greatly enhanced the area, using both new build and renovation to stitch the estate better into its Victorian surroundings. Existing homes have been retrofitted with balconies, while disused garage space has been repurposed for modern flats. Hackney have clearly thought carefully about character and open spaces, as well as ceiling heights, windows and internal storage.

It is an exceptional project – one of a growing number of new schemes now being spearheaded by ambitious councils across the capital. In 2018-19, the Mayor of London funded the start of 1,916 new council homes – the highest figure since 1984-85.

…what about the Barbican?

On the fiftieth anniversary of its opening, it would be remiss not the mention the Barbican. It’s a brutalist masterpiece and a fantastic feat of post-war planning and design. The location and design are clearly outstanding, but it’s the bright and modern interiors which are truly to die for.

So why is it not on the list? Although it was built by the City of London Corporation, not one of the flats was ever available at a social rent. The properties were built to let at market rents to workers in the City, who later found themselves in the fortunate position of being able to snap them up under the Right to Buy – still the fate of far too many of London’s vital social homes.

Tom Copley is a Labour member of the London Assembly.