26 March, 2015

Hackney City Villages

This chapter (4.1) first appeared in the IPPR report: 'City villages: More homes, better communities' edited by Andrew Adonis and Bill Davies which was published on 24 March 2015.

It was co-authored by Jules Pipe, Mayor of Hackney

Local authorities are going to be essential to bringing forward the city village model. As often both the largest landholders and landlords in the capital's boroughs, their role is pivotal in ensuring that developments are socially and economically viable.

The current climate for urban regeneration is challenging. While house prices in London have recovered since the crash in credit markets and risen substantially beyond pre-crisis peaks (GLA 2014), significant reductions in capital budgets, coupled with a stronger emphasis on using rents to finance development, has meant that local authorities have had to think more creatively about getting estate redevelopment off the ground.

The council as developer

In Hackney, the council is a major landowner and is regenerating 87 hectares of housing estates and brownfield sites across the borough, equivalent to more than half the size of Hyde Park in central London.

Housing quality and space are acute challenges to tackle locally. In particular, there is a high number of bedsit properties, which are increasingly inappropriate for the profile of tenant who needs social homes. Social housing in future developments will inevitably have to be different – more spacious and of better quality, and to be a part of a mixed blend of housing options rather than the socially segregated and crumbling mono-tenure estates.

Across the borough, Hackney is regenerating sites with new social renting, shared ownership and private sale homes, built to spacious, modern, lifetime standards and, in most cases, offering private outside space to existing tenants for the first time. Many blocks are simply too expensive to maintain and to refurbish, and so regeneration is the only way to ensure residents can live in homes that meet the Decent Homes standard, and with improved public realm and community facilities. These mixed tenures are not only needed to rebuild estates that are inclusive of families across the income and demographic spectrum, but are essential to finance the much-needed redevelopment. Given the squeeze on capital budgets, local authorities in London cannot build homes for social renting without cross-subsidising them by also building private sale properties. In Hackney, delivering shared ownership pays for itself, but to finance a social rent home demands the construction and sale of one and a half private homes.

Together with its partners, the borough has delivered 1,125 new homes since 2011: 622 for social rent, 155 for shared ownership/equity, and 348 for private sale. But this is not sufficient to meet the borough’s rapidly increasing population, projected to rise by 10 per cent, or an additional 25,000 households, in the coming years – in an area already struggling to meet housing demand (ONS 2014) let alone secure housing that is affordable for its resident population. Major redevelopments will play a central role in delivery supply, not least in the redeveloped estates of Woodberry Down and Colville.

Woodberry Down

When the London County Council began building Woodberry Down after the second world war, it was rightly regarded as a fine example of municipal housing and an estate of the future. It was also home to one of the country’s first comprehensive schools and the first purpose-built NHS health centre in London. The decades went by, but underinvestment by national and local government led to a situation where residents were living in homes that weren’t fit for purpose. Crucially, a structural assessment in 2002 identified that repair would be economically challenging – the homes on the site have simply become more expensive to maintain and bring up to a modern standard than to redevelop.

The first priority for Woodberry Down is to deliver modern, high-quality homes for existing residents. The second priority is to provide new community facilities including three new public parks, employment opportunities, a new children’s centre, a new academy school, an expanded primary school, as well as new shops. At Woodberry Down and on other regeneration estates we’re not only rebuilding higher-quality homes for social renting but also providing shared ownership and private sale properties, which in turn help pay for the redevelopment and meet wider housing demand.

Woodberry Down is a large-scale housing estate regeneration project, with a 20-year-plus delivery schedule worth more than £1 billion of investment. It involves demolishing 1,981 homes on the original site – now deteriorating properties – and replacing them with more than 5,550 new ones. Four out of 10 of these new homes will be for social renting and shared ownership.

Since construction began in 2009, financed in partnership with the Homes and Communities Agency and latterly the Greater London Authority (GLA), Woodberry Down has seen 441 properties demolished and 862 new homes completed, made up of 421 social rented, 135 shared ownership and 306 homes for sale. Indeed, partnership has been essential to seeing the project into its delivery stage. This includes working closely with developers, but also retaining the support of the current residents – represented by the Woodberry Down Community Organisation (WDCO).

WDCO has worked closely with the council as a critical friend, broadly supportive of the regeneration while ensuring the voice and aspirations of the community are heard. The listing of a local primary school and health centre, coupled with changing economic circumstances, necessitated a rephasing of the programme. As a result, the estate’s 2007/08 masterplan was recently updated in consultation with residents during an 18-month period, including commitments to increase the amount of public space by almost a third and to deliver 17 per cent more homes.

Regenerating the Colville estate

The Colville estate is another example of a major, local authority-led development scheme, a proposal which will double the density of existing homes on the site. The masterplan for the estate will see the replacement of 432 residential properties, 337 of which are council social rent, and 95 of which are leaseholder-owned. The proposed redevelopment will provide 925 homes, and this will directly replace the 337 social rented ones, as well as 111 units for additional intermediate housing, including shared equity and shared ownership. The remaining 476 homes on the site will be used as private market housing to cross-subsidise the social homes. Indeed, the entire scheme is largely paid for by two towers of up to 16 and 20 storeys of homes for private sale, overlooking Shoreditch Park.

Critically, the scheme has the support of the current residents: a petition featuring the names of 291 Colville residents in support of the estate’s regeneration masterplan was handed in to the borough’s planning committee, recommending approval (Hackney 2014). Facilities such as a new community centre, a new public square, space for shops and businesses, a new community garden, and the potential for local apprenticeships onsite for young people from the estate are all part of our vision for the regeneration of Colville.

As with all such schemes in Hackney we have a resident steering group, the Colville Estate Tenants and Residents Association. Every element of the 10-year-plus scheme is discussed with the elected representatives of the steering group; while the design of the new homes and the broader project are consulted on with the local community through events, drop-in surgeries and surveys. This process is not always easy, with issues such as the delivery timetable, local lettings, density and viability at the fore, but it is vital if these new city villages are to be successful for existing and new residents.

Fundamental to Hackney’s approach, as recommended by the London Assembly review of estate regeneration (London Assembly 2015) is that tenants have the ‘right to return’, with leaseholders offered a package of shared equity, rent free and shared ownership options to help them stay on their estate.

The council pays market rates for leaseholders’ properties, as assessed by an accredited surveyor and based on similar sales in the area. We also offer an equity swap for a newly built home for those that live on the estate and want to remain in the local area.

As residents are gradually decanted or temporarily moved out of the development, those vacant flats that are of sufficient quality are now being used to support local authority temporary accommodation for homeless households, until the demolition work begins.

The future for city villages

Both the Woodberry Down and Colville estates are examples of a local authority leading on estate regeneration and, in the latter case, delivering and funding estate regeneration through its own resources. Hackney now has a five-year record of development, investing in a strong in-house team, which for the first time in a generation is directly building new homes. No single model works in every location or local authority. Yet the two examples cited here are both new city villages, with the local authority taking the lead on delivering new homes, maintaining and renewing affordable and social housing in the heart of Hackney, and improving facilities for communities, now and into the future. If we as a country are to fully respond to the housing crisis in London and beyond, local authorities, like Hackney, will need to have the freedom to innovate and directly deliver these homes.


No comments: