"We're Just In The Way": Tenants On The West Kensington Estate Speak Out

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 34 months ago
"We're Just In The Way": Tenants On The West Kensington Estate Speak Out
Homes on the West Kensington Estate. Photo by Rachel Holdsworth.

760 homes are going to be demolished in the redevelopment of Earls Court — if you don't know what's going on there, catch up with the excellent overview Dave Hill wrote for us recently. It's hard to visualise what that means on an individual level, so we went to talk to some of the people affected.

"We're just in the way, really," says Linda Sanders, who's lived on the West Kensington Estate with her family for 15 years. Her home, a large, bright three bedroom maisonette in excellent nick, will be one of the first to be demolished. Her street, and a few others like it, take up the largest land footprint and developers are keen to get started.

Linda can see the exhibition centre being taken apart from the upstairs windows; the building shakes at weekends from the heavy machinery used on site. It must be like living with a countdown clock outside your front door, we say to her. She agrees, adding that everyone on the estate is "living with stress, and fear for what might happen".

But surely, some will say, the council has agreed that everyone on the West Ken and neighbouring Gibbs Green estates will be rehoused? This is true; but it's worth digging into what that means in reality. Residents were promised 'like for like' replacements based on a 'snapshot' that was done several years ago. But all this really means is that people who needed a two bedroom property when the snapshot was done will get a two bedroom home in the new development. A household with a maisonette with garden and parking space may be moved to a two bedroom flat on the seventh floor.

Earls Court exhibition centre being demolished. Photo by Rachel Holdsworth.

What about space for the kids to play out? Who's going to keep an eye on the car, needed to get to that late night shift job? What about pets? We can't imagine Linda's friendly tabby cat being happy staring out at former stomping grounds from a fifth floor balcony. Compensation is being offered for the loss of outside space, but some residents would rather forego the cash and keep their gardens.

Elderly people have been promised ground floor homes, but Linda told us of neighbours who are devastated that they'll have to leave the homes they've lived in all their lives. Tenants who rent privately (around a third of homes initially bought under Right to Buy are now let out) have no rights under the scheme, and will likely be evicted when the wrecking ball comes.

Let's also not forget that many of these homes have been bought under Right to Buy. Imagine being a homeowner, investing your own cash in making the place nice, only to have the council come along and tell you it's going to be demolished. Residents complain the compensation being offered is inadequate — a common issue with these kinds of development, and one that Aylesbury Estate leaseholders are battling — though the council says they will be offered full market value, plus 10%. Whether that will be enough to buy a replacement home in the new development remains to be seen. According to the Telegraph, flats in Lillie Square start at £595,000. Here's a one bedroom flat for sale at £789,000, in line with sales blurb advising prices of £1,400 to £1,500 per square foot.

The one bright spot? Unlike other regeneration schemes across the capital, tenants won't be 'decanted' elsewhere while building takes place. New homes will be ready for residents when they have to move out — whether they want to or not.

Last Updated 24 September 2015