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How to redevelop estates


Regeneration expert John Moss looks at some examples of how not to do it. But he believes the objective is right. John will be writing regularly about housing on this site.

Between 1949 and 1980, 5.35 million "social" homes were built across the UK of which almost all, nearly five million, were built by Local Authorities. The main driver of this building programme was not  - as many believe - a burgeoning population. It was in fact public health legislation which highlighted "slum clearance" as a major tool for delivering improved health.

As a consequence, 1,000s of "slums" were swept away, especially in the inner cities. Where the clearance programmes stalled, for example in De Beauvoir Town on the border between the London Boroughs of Hackney and Islington, the surviving Victorian houses are highly prized as family homes. Sadly, on the De Beauvoir estate, poor health and poverty remain and because of poor design, construction and maintenance, the estate, like many others is in poor condition.

Across London and many other towns and cities, similar blocks and estates are also coming to the end of their useful life.  The cost of repair is escalating, services are worn out and irreparable, disabled access is patchy at best. The basic building fabric, in some cases nearing 50 years old, leaks water in and heat out.

Yet, however awful they are, however much they need to be torn down and rebuilt, they are "home" to thousands of families.

So how can Councils achieve re-building of large estates? How do you tell somebody that you are going to knock down their home - and it's going to be great?

In Castle Vale in Birmingham, a Housing Action Trust under the 1988 Housing Act was used to achieve great things. Over fifteen years, 2,275 homes were demolished, 1,333 homes refurbished and 1,464 homes constructed. 1,461 jobs were created and 3,415 training places were created. Throughout the process, the community were engaged in the planning, design and delivery of the project and Castle Vale has been heralded as a model for similar projects

Current projects of a similar scale include the Woodberry Down estate in Hackney and the Ferrier estate in Greenwich. These two estates have taken a different approach and I want to contrast these to highlight one of the great challenges with such major redevelopment. Phasing.

Woodberry Down straddles the Seven Sisters Road east of Manor House tube station. It is home to 1,994 homes, mostly flats, in 40 separate blocks. It is planned to be rebuilt with 4,300 new homes, half of which will be affordable, increasing the total of affordable homes by 31%. The first sites are now being developed for new homes and the approach taken has been to try to ensure that the minimum number of households have to make more than one move, though the first residents to move out, do have to move twice if they wish to return.

This was to be achieved by first moving people from so called "Kick-Start" sites. These sites would then be developed with more homes than needed to re house those people wishing to return, so creating a surplus, allowing residents still on the estate to move in to these homes permanently and freeing up further blocks for demolition and re-building.

This is a giant version of the game with nine squares and eight tiles which have to be moved around to make a coherent image. It isn't easy and it has pitfalls. Not least where market housing is being introduced, where the continued presence of the original buildings can depress values and make the
whole project financially less secure. This was a factor in the decision at the Ferrier Estate to take a different approach.

The Ferrier estate comprises 1,910 homes and is intended to be replaced with 4,800 homes. However, since 2004, Greenwich council have been removing residents and boarding up the estate, seeking to empty it entirely before demolishing the whole thing. This has led to some tensions.


There are 190 households who own their homes. They have struggled to secure fair value for their homes and have fought hard for a fair deal. Many are still living on site often adjoining empty homes. (pictured)   The very fact that whole swathes of buildings have been emptied makes the estate a problem in terms of maintenance and crime. It is a handy commuter car park for those travelling up to the City by train, as the forecourts of empty homes provide free, off-street parking - but there is always the chance the car will not be there when you return.

Even with a strategy of complete decanting, (with no guaranteed right to return as there is at Woodberry Down), progress on redevelopment of the Ferrier estate has been slow and the first phase of new homes is only just underway, some five years after decanting commenced. Yet the whole estate remains in place, so the negative effects remain. It is not clear how much of the estate will be demolished by the time the first homes are occupied, but the collapse of the housing market has not helped and even with a strong market, the whole project will take fifteen years to complete.

Neither Woodberry Down or Ferrier have got it right with either of the approaches they have adopted. Hackney Homes have treated their leaseholders quite badly, refusing to buy them out and having blighted their homes, they are now trying to buy them on the cheap. Greenwich have left many residents
in an appalling environment with vermin and crime blighting their lives. Yet don't seem to have achieved what they wanted in terms of a clean sheet for the new development either.

So, what lessons can Councils take from these examples? I would suggest these main ones.

1. Be totally honest with residents. If an estate needs to be redeveloped, tell them openly and explain why.

2. Engage the residents and leaseholders/freeholders early on in the process. Understand the make-up of households and what new housing is needed to meet their needs. Often it is not just like-for-like replacement of units as families have grown and changed.

3. Plan for a balanced community with a mix of unit type and tenure, family houses with gardens and homes suitable for singles and couples both young and old.

4. Plan for a smooth transition. If you go for a phased redevelopment, make sure you can find that "empty square". If it does not exist within the specific estate, look wider in the neighbourhood to see if an infill site can be used, or expand your strategy to take in two or three estates across a neighbourhood.  People are attached to their home and neighbourhood and it is good to keep them there, preferably moving them only once.

5. If you go for a "big bang" approach, then set a short window for everybody to move out, don't drag it out. And don't fight your leaseholders. The delay will cost the project more money than settling quickly at a fair price and will potentially frustrate the very thing you want to achieve by clearing an entire estate.

6.  Once you gain possession, as far as possible, demolish straightaway and do some basic landscaping to improve the environment.

7.  And deliver! Don't make promises you can't deliver, but deliver the ones you do.


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