- 16th April 2018
- Posted by: Manolis
The protesters came with trumpets and flags, banging saucepans as they approached Haringey town hall.
Inside, councillors were discussing a hugely controversial scheme to regenerate the north London borough, which has the highest level of wage inequality in the country.
This “development vehicle”, worth £2bn, is unprecedented in its scope. It will knock down estates and rebuild them more densely, adding 6,400 new homes to the borough over a 20-year period, and guaranteeing social housing for all those who currently have it.
After the hearings the public was sent out, and behind closed doors the council voted to do the deal with Australian developer Lendlease.
The reaction was one of anger, with fears that local residents would be forced out of their neighbourhoods to make room for expensive homes to be sold to investors.
The local MPs urged the council to rethink the deal and a legal challenge was lodged last week. After Grenfell, there is a new focus on the condition and provision of social housing, and a mistrust of councils and gentrification.
It replaced 1,194 social-rented flats with just 82, with just 20pc of other properties are affordable; Lendlease argues that instead it has improved the community in other ways. “Could we have put more into affordable housing? Sure,” says Dan Labbad, Lendlease’s chief executive of operations outside Australia. “But that means we wouldn’t have gotten the park, the transport upgrades, the leisure centre. There isn’t endless money.”
Despite the huge outcry at the terms of the development, Labbad thinks it was a good deal. “I think that what we have done at the Elephant and Castle is ground-breaking and I’m very proud of it. I was thinking if they Heygate was still standing today empty, or almost empty, what would it be?”
While the Southwark deal was done on different terms – with the council selling the land to the developer – it has left a bad taste in the mouth of those who fear something similar will happen to them in Haringey.
Another issue is the vast scale of the project, the risk of which is being shared 50/50 between the two in a joint venture, with the council retaining control of the land and guaranteeing that 40pc of the additional homes will be affordable.
The sheer size, and the control being given over to one company, however, is worrying to protesters – and also sets a precedent for more regeneration on such a vast scale. “The model is unproven, and the scale at which Haringey is undertaking it is unprecedented,” Professor Loretta Lees of the University of Leicester wrote in evidence to a hearing. “This dwarfs anything that has gone before it,” said a campaigner. “The council is out of its league here.”
It is the urgency of the housing crisis in London that spurred the council to commit to such a large-scale intervention, says Claire Kober, leader of Haringey council. “I empathise with the position of the tenants in the estates. The security of our homes is fundamental. Even though their right of return with the same rent and security of tenure is guaranteed, it doesn’t stop you feeling very nervous. I know and understand that.”
But Lendlease may have bitten off more than it can chew. “We thought it might be too large and too complex for us to deal with so we stepped away,” says Ian Sutcliffe, chief executive of regeneration specialist Countryside which works in estates across the country. “The bigger the developments get the more complex they inevitably get.” Countryside has made its name redeveloping schemes with 500-1000 homes. “It takes a real skill set to manage that over the time when it is multiples of thousands, and that is a challenge even for those that have lots of experience… I wouldn’t want to be Lendlease.”
Regeneration of our estates is going to become a more urgent task as mid-century urban fabric needs upgrading to build homes fit to live in. It could also go some way to solving the housing crisis: a report by Savills last year found that by regenerating and densifying housing estates, an additional 360,000 homes could be built in London alone. Savills has estimated that 64,000 new homes need to built in the capital every year just to meet demand.
To do this, working with private companies is crucial, says Adam Challis, head of residential research at JLL. Councils, decimated by cuts, also face a cap on borrowing, he says, and “in the absence of serious government money to fill the gap, if you are creating sub-market housing a subsidy is required.” This comes in the form of a private developer, selling and renting off private homes created by building more densely, creating extra cash for the council too. (The Haringey scheme will bring in an estimated £275m to the council’s coffers.)
Critics have argued that councils should take on the regeneration themselves instead of selling out to developers, but the risk is too high, argues Kober. “The council can provide land, but not the finance or expertise. There are development companies wholly owned by councils, but nothing of this scale that could be delivered by them.”
The ambition of Haringey to face the shortage of homes head on may be admirable – but can it be done any better?
The task of regeneration requires “softer skills” of communication and empathy, often overlooked by many housebuilders whose work does not involved ‘decanting’ residents – a developer’s term for moving people out of their homes. In Haringey, a survey carried out last year by the council’s advisors PPCR Associates found that 34pc of people in the first estate to be overhauled knew “nothing” of the regeneration proposals.
“We are on site for five to 15 years, so we have to make sure we become part of the community itself,” says Sutcliffe. “Time spent upfront discussing with residents…actually saves time later on.”
Due to the soaring rises in rents and house prices, the acute concern of residents in regenerated estates that they will be squeezed out is “very much a London phenomenon,” says Stephen Teagle, head of regeneration at Galliford Try. “There will be a sense of displacement, that they won’t be able to afford the homes.”
Regeneration is not just knocking down homes and rebuilding them but providing a better place to live, with more green space, leisure facilities, and increased safety – and part of the challenge is communicating that to residents.
“I have often heard it said that we are making people move out from an area, and nothing could be further from the truth,” says Sutcliffe. He describes how before Countryside’s redevelopment of Acton Gardens an estate in Ealing, west London, the company surveyed residents, 80pc of whom wanted to move away. Four years into the project, 80pc want to stay.
“You have to make sure that the sense of community is not lost,” he says. “We have become more skilled in the softer issues of this because we have been doing it for 35 years.” The estate is more than one kilometre across, and Sutcliffe says that it’s important to rehouse residents near where they lived – even if it costs more for the developer.
“When we undertook regeneration of an estate in Grimsby, we flew residents down to one we had regenerated in Plymouth,” adds Teagle. “They spent time with those residents and from that process they raised points with us to address – what to repeat and what not to.”
Developers entering these kinds of deals should welcome scepticism as it produces engagement, he adds. “By communities challenging what you’re doing, that’s helped create the most successful schemes.”