Today I was on the BBC One Show, getting my hair cut whilst talking about Ealing’s plans to regenerate the South Acton estate, and the future demolition of the tower that Only Fools and Horses used to represent Del Boy’s manor, Nelson Mandela House. (Check out the item at 51:20) It was a lighthearted segment that really cuts to the heart of some really challenging issues on estate regeneration.
Phil, the resident who they also filmed is understandably, and justifiably concerned about his future and the future of the estate. What they didn’t broadcast were the elements of the haircut where I talked about some of the challenges the estate and the tower faced.
I explained that residents first moved into the tower in 1970, and that in just only 11 years, problems there had already made it a ready candidate to be cast as a not-so-great part of town, where a lovable working class grifter had big plans and dreams to leave the tower behind him. They did show me talk about albeit briefly how homes were built back then, and the challenges they now pose for residents to heat, the council to maintain, and the Met to police.
I’m both well aware, and concerned in equal measure, about the lengths some councils and developers will go to in order to find new and interesting ways to creatively destroy existing estates. I’m equally convinced that in some circumstances, there is a tendency to make perfectly good buildings obsolete in our minds, rather than in objective reality (see the Tale of Two Brutalist Housing Estates: https://www.theguardian.com/…/brutalist-housing-estates-pri…). Both these things happen principally to enable landowners to extract profit from increasing land values.
I equally despise the deliberate way in which social housing during the 80’s was transformed from something that anyone should and could have been able to access, into the scarce commodity it is today. This evening, Councillors debated our housing allocations rules, the mechanism of rationing what little stock we have left, increasingly only to those who are in most need of it. I reject the idea that council estates should only be a welfare safety net, rather than diverse mixed communities that they were always intended to be.
But the reality for a lot of people living in social housing today is that when cash strapped councils start giving up on maintaining costly buildings, it feels a bit like society gives up on us. The estate that I grew up on in Leicester, built in the 1950’s, is pretty much the same as it was 70 years ago. Sure, Marks Insulation came round and pumped cavity wall insulation in between the concrete slab construction in the 90’s, and they’ve got new kitchens and double glazing because of the Decent Homes Standard during the ’00s. But in New Parks, you’re still today on average more likely to be socially, economically and politically disadvantaged than any other part of the city save the other estate next door.
That’s why in Ealing, as well as delivering 2,500 more genuinely affordable homes, we’re also investing £250m in our existing stock. Its why on the South Acton estate, every social home is being replaced, and every social tenant being guaranteed the right to stay. Why every leaseholder gets a guaranteed right to return, where they can put the equity of their old home into the new home, and not pay any more for the remaining share. Why we will move entire floors of tenants, who’ve grown up together as neighbours, to entire new floors of homes in new buildings.
Its why the buildings that are being built have central heating plants that mean homes stay warm for a fraction of the cost of the old homes. Its why the buildings are designed to prevent crime by eliminating narrow corridors, under-crofts and blind corners that were so common in the old blocks. Its why so much care and effort has gone into building the community centre, securing a new dentist practice, and social programmes to get young people on the estate into skilled employment.
I feel genuine regret that we’ve not worked enough with Phil to give him the assurances he needs that the home he’ll get to move to, and the community he’ll get to live in will be better than it is now. But I’m convinced that it will be. I didn’t leave New Parks to leave it behind, and we’re not leaving Phil behind either.