The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Heygate Estate before demolition

Demonising C20th estates won’t solve the housing crisis

Each morning I stand at Elephant and Castle train station and look out at the site of the Heygate Estate, now being redeveloped with depressing towers, and with little prospect of the new scheme providing homes for local people. I am also very concerned about many of the Ted Hollamby schemes across Lambeth, excellent examples of low-rise high-density schemes which are currently very much under threat of demolition. I am sure I am not alone in having this critical issue face me in the neighbourhood where I live – it is a very wide-spread issue.

The danger with the funding identified by Cameron is that this will further encourage the demolition of estates sited where land values are high enough to attract private investors.  For both financial and environmental reasons we should only be demolishing estates which are genuinely irredeemably flawed. Many more problems are caused by poor maintenance and housing management, and can be turned around much more economically without disrupting communities. It is still all too easy to condemn estates by describing them as ‘high-rise’ or ‘Brutalist’ (or worse, in today’s BBC article, as simply ‘brutal’) and get a knee-jerk reaction that blames poor design for major social problems.

It would be a tragedy if any more decent, well thought out and essentially humane estates – and yes, that can include both high-rise and Brutalist ones – were to be demolished and replaced with schemes which will almost certainly increase the density of site development, meaning smaller room sizes and less amenity space, yet with higher rents. There are a few examples of bad estates where poor construction must be tackled by drastic action, but these are the exception. Demonising housing estates is not the solution to our housing crisis.

Catherine Croft

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