Brave New London at North Greenwich

Greenwich Penninsula

This was the scene that greeted me at North Greenwich Station yesterday as I alighted the bus from Eltham – a brave new world of golden tower blocks rising from Bugsby’s Marshes. Whale oil to property development, money magicked from mud. I’d just gazed across a moat at the Tudor Eltham Palace, and here new palaces stacked atop each other jutting out on a peninsula in the Thames. Eerily the website for the development has a headline that I’ve been using as the work-in-progress title for my new book.

New Council Homes for Waltham Forest

Great to see new Council Homes being built in Waltham Forest. The Council recently posted an update on a scheme in Wood Street, Walthamstow where a semi-derelict Victorian building is being replaced with 17 Council flats due for completion by the end of the year. It’s part of a plan to build a 1000 new council homes in the borough by 2022. The scheme is a partnership with Engie and NPS architects, who are also working on the regeneraton of the Marlowe Road Estate.

Marlowe Road Estate regeneration

The Marlowe Road Estate scheme will deliver 430 new homes for social rent and private sale, although the BBC reported that it will see an overall reduction of Council homes on the site where only 30% of the total new units will be for social rent. Waltham Forest Council has set itself a target of 50% ‘affordable’ housing on new schemes, which at up to 80% of market rates, ‘afforable’ homes are far more expensive than socially rented homes and not to be confused.

We’ve seen ‘estate regeneration’ used across London as a means to privatise public land and forcibly move residents out of the city. Waltham Forest Council state that all Marlow Road Estate Council tenants “affected by the regeneration have been given right to return. They will be given ‘decant status’ meaning they’ll get priority bidding if they want to move out of the estate. Leaseholders can now negotiate with the council to sell their properties back at the current market value.”

The Architects’ Journal has recently written about the move away from the developer-led model of estate regeneration previously favoured by some London boroughs which has seen enormous community backlash. The move by Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham Councils to call for a community-led approach to the hugely controversial Earls Court scheme, along with the pressure on Haringey Council to review its HDV project, and the Mayor’s initiatives to give residents a ballot on regeneration schemes, they say, “have the potential to fundamentally change how London’s housing estates are redeveloped.” It’s worth noting though that Green Party London Assembly Member Sian Berry, reported that Sadiq Khan quietly signed off 34 new estate regeneration schemes to avoid them being caught by the new rules. “At Mayor’s Question Time this week, the Mayor gave me a firm promise not to sign off any new funding for estate demolition while his new policy to require a ballot of residents was out for consultation. But he was concealing the fact he has recently rushed through funding for dozens of controversial schemes, allowing councils and housing associations to dodge his new policy.”

walthamstow town square development

So there are some positive moves in London on the housing front, but also many many challenges still to face. Waltham Forest’s plan to build more council houses is welcome news, while their inability to enforce the 50% ‘affordable’ housing target on new developments is lamentable – as evidenced recently with the council’s support for the Walthamstow Town Square development which contains a mere 20% ‘affordable’ housing and no socially rented homes.

Huge crowd protests against development of Walthamstow Town Square

It was a bright, freezing cold Saturday lunchtime. Any doubts that the winds blowing in from Siberia would effect the turn-out of the protest against the proposed development of Walthamstow Town Square were dispelled as soon as I stepped onto the patch of grass that the Council want to bury beneath four mega blocks. A huge crowd were mustered in the square listening to speakers put forward the case against the development. There were even a couple of people swanning around dressed as cardboard tower blocks.

Walthamstow Town Square protest

Waltham Forest Council have got it into their heads that they need to compete with Westfield Stratford just down the road, by giving planning permission to property behemoths Capital and Regional to build a new mall and four monster tower blocks of ‘luxury’ apartments, one the size of Centrepoint. They claim there’s no viable alternative.

Walthamstow Town Square protest

The hundreds of local people in the Town Square heartily disagree. They want to see genuinely affordable homes and social housing. Just 20% of the homes in the new scheme will be classed ‘affordable’  – priced at up to 80% of market rates, in a new luxury development will mean they will be far from ‘affordable’ for the majority of local people in housing need.

The genuine question is, who benefits from this scheme? And why have Waltham Forest’s Labour Councillors enthusiastically endorsed such a plan when both Walthamstow and Leyton & Wanstead Labour Parties have passed motions calling for the plans to be reviewed and alternatives explored?

Walthamstow Town Square protest

The Mall development shouldn’t become Waltham Forest’s HDV, but the dogmatic intransigence of a minority within the Council could see this campaign snowball into something much bigger if the strength of feeling on display Saturday is anything to judge by.

Find out more about the campaign to save Walthamstow Town Square here

And there’s some good background in the Waltham Forest Echo

If you live in Waltham Forest and oppose the scheme please write to your local councillors – they’ll also be knocking on your door in the coming weeks canvassing for the local elections so ask if and why they support the Mall development.

Stop HDV protest – Haringey Council’s £2billion public sell-off

Last Saturday I attended a protest to Stop the Haringey Development (HDV) – a joint venture between Haringey Council in North London and enormous multi-national property developer Lend Lease.

The scheme will see £2billion of public assets placed into the joint venture that will campaigners say will result in the destruction of thousands of homes and businesses.

Stop HDV protest

The strength of feeling against the scheme was immediately apparent as I wandered among the crowds gathered on Tottenham Green, and then as we walked along West Green Road and down Green Lanes to Finsbury Park. Cars tooted their horns, people came out of shops to cheer the protestors along. Representatives from other housing campaigns from across London were there in support.

The Stop HDV campaign have successfully raised the funds to launch and legal challenge and force a judicial review over the legality of the scheme.

The New Kings Cross

I found myself in Kings Cross on Friday and finally made a video documenting some of the new development around the back of the station that has been emerging for a couple of years now. It’s a peculiar new zone of the city that many people seem unaware of, hidden away around the back of St. Pancras International and Kings Cross Stations and off the side of York Way.

Pancras Square Kings Cross

Pancras Square

To remind myself of what it used to look like I skimmed through the Mike Leigh film High Hopes where the main protagonists live in a council flat between the stations in the redevelopment area – their handsome block of flats and the Victorian terraces demolished. Checking an out-of-date A-Z shows that the location used in the film, Stanley Passage is perhaps somewhere beneath the new Google HQ and YouTube Space. Other streets that have disappeared under Pancras Square and Battle Bridge Place include Wellers Court, Clarence Passage, Battle Bridge Road, and Cheney Road.

Stanley Building Kings Cross

fragment of the old Kings Cross

It was hard to look at the tower blocks rising from those fields between Islington and Marylebone and not to think of the lines from Blake’s Jerusalem,

THE FIELDS from Islington to Marybone,

To Primrose Hill and Saint John’s Wood,

Were builded over with pillars of gold;

And there Jerusalem’s pillars stood.

Save Empress Place in Earls Court from demolition

The other week Earls Court Area Action Group laid on a colourful Victorian themed to protest against the planned destruction of Empress Place and two adjacent pubs. Thankfully the Prince of Wales pub has been given ACV listing which should give it some protection but the architecturally and culturally important street of terraced housing in Empress Place is under serious threat. I went along with my camera to make a record of events and help spread the word.

You can learn more about the campaign and how to help save this wedge of vital London heritage here