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Is demolition ever the best way to regenerate?

United Kingdom Architecture News - Jun 5, 2014 - 11:49   1911 views

The Heygate estate is the latest in a long line of social housing to be demolished in the name of progress, but could 'pruning and regrowing' be a better better option?

The Butterburn and Bucklemaker flats in the Hilltown area of Dundee being razed to the ground in 2013. Photograph: David Cheskin/PA

Last week, the Southwark-based campaign 35 Percent welcomed a very small victory in the lengthy battle regarding the regeneration plan for the Elephant and Castle area in London. No, the infamous Heygate Estate, a 1970s experiment in social housing that became a byword for failed tower block housing projects, would not be saved. Nor would displaced residents be able to move back any time soon. Instead, a “viability assessment” that the developer Lend Lease was waving about in order to cut back on the number of affordable flats would be made public.

It seems that whenever it's decided something must be done about deteriorating estates like Heygate, the thinking has been narrow: demolish it. That was never more clear than when the Red Road tower blocks in Glasgow were slated for demolition live on television during next month's Commonwealth Games. The uproar over the insensitivity of blowing up people's homes as a sporting celebration drew unprecedented attention to the issue of demolition, and nixed the plan; but Red Road will still get dynamited. Indeed, across the UK, from Newcastle to Nottingham, social housing faces the wrecking ball. But is demolition the only answer?

It is certainly easy to market: a speedy show of progress, with private developers contracted to build shiny new replacements, even if the previous residents can rarely afford them. In the Elephant & Castle plan, Southwark council promised at least 35% of the new development would be affordable homes. Two years on, Lend Lease – which is even now in the process of dismantling the Heygate – has pleaded financial distress (relying on the viability assessment activists want to be made public), and proposed to reduce it to 25%. According to 35 Percent, only 212 of the 2,535 flats going up where the estate once stood will be "affordable", and only 79 will be socially rented. Across the entire Elephant & Castle development (including the early rehousing sites), there will be 632 socially rented units, a net loss when measured against the 1,194 being destroyed at Heygate. Most of the previous tenants will not be able to afford to rent or buy any of the units.

On the road to nowhere ... In 1967, when the Red Road developments in Glasgow were built, they were the highest concrete flats in Europe. Photograph: Bob Thomas/Getty Images

“We’re not asking for much,” says former Heygate resident and 35 Percent spokesperson Jerry Flynn. “35% affordable housing is all we want – it’s what we were promised by the council. We know it’s not actually ‘affordable’, but we keep fighting for it anyway just to move the argument on.”

Lend Lease is not the first developer to change its plans, pleading poverty, after demolition has already begun. Once that mighty ball has swung, councils are increasingly unable to object and the cooperation of residents becomes less and less vital. “The longer it takes, the weaker people become,” Flynn says....Continue Reading

> via The Guardian