David Cameron has announced a massive programme of housing estate regeneration. Around 100 estates around the country will be part of a £140m programme to improve so-called 'sink estates' built in the 50s and 60s.
Which estates will be affected are yet to be announced, but some fear the programme will lead to residents being 'decanted' or priced out, particularly as Cameron says "for some [estates], this will simply mean knocking them down and starting again". The plan is also to increase density by building private homes among the estates, to fund the regeneration.
Estate agent Savills has produced figures which show the average housing estate in London could produce 73% more homes if tower blocks were ripped down and replaced with terraces and low-rise blocks. Such homes are far more popular and suited to families than massive high-rises, and genuinely can produce more homes. Would it surprise you, for example, to learn that genteel Kensington and Chelsea has the second highest population density in England and Wales?
In theory it's an admirable idea — mixed tenancies emphasise the very best aspects of London, the way we all rub along side by side. However, it's the idea behind the estate regenerations at the Heygate, Aylesbury, Woodberry Down, Carpenter's, West Kensington, Gibb's Green, Cressingham Gardens and Sweets Way, among others. Yet it generally leads to the breaking up of communities and lack of genuinely affordable housing. That is, after all, what's happened at the Heygate, Aylesbury, Woodberry Down, Carpenter's, West Kensington, Gibb's Green, Cressingham Gardens and Sweets Way.
The suspicion that regeneration is partly a cover for social cleansing is reinforced by Cameron linking national security and the 2011 riots with housing estates in his article for The Sunday Times:
The riots of 2011 didn’t emerge from within terraced streets or low-rise apartment buildings. As spatial analysis of the riots has shown, the rioters came overwhelmingly from these post-war estates.
But buildings don't cause crime or alienation. Poverty causes that — we can spruce up all the homes we like, it won't make a difference if the people in them don't have meaningful jobs that pay a decent wage.
The Prime Minister promises "a set of binding guarantees for tenants and homeowners so that they are protected", which we hope means promises of homes for all residents at current rent levels. We await details.
Zac Goldsmith is pledging to institute a similar promise if he gets elected as mayor in May. He's offering what he calls a Residents' Redevelopment Guarantee, which he says would be
a legal guarantee that if you live there now, you will return to a better home and not pay a penny more in rent than you currently do.
It also promises that residents would never be 'decanted' — moved elsewhere while building takes place — and would only ever move once, from their old home to their new one.
Such a recognition of the rights of existing tenants is what we've been looking for from politicians for years. However, all this needs to be seen against the backdrop of government plans to impose limits on social housing tenancies, and Goldsmith's own admission to the Camden New Journal that there's a "mathematical obstacle" preventing new homes that are built as replacements for Right To Buy being constructed in the same area as those sold off. Such moves make the safety net of social housing much more difficult to access for anyone not currently in that system.