CRESSINGHAM GARDENS GUEST BLOG: Part II

CressinghamIn December this year, Lambeth Council is due to make a decision on the future of Cressingham Gardens, a popular low-rise estate of some 300 homes, bordering Brockwell Park. In Part Two of her series of blogs building up to the verdict, join resident Jo Parkes on a journey through regeneration, and get a unique insight into a contentious trend which is changing the lives of thousands of people across London.

Ask the average Brit to describe a council estate, and they’ll probably paint you a negative picture. In the thought-bubble above their head will likely be a dystopian cityscape of run-down, graffiti-scrawled high-rises; for good measure, a cluster of drug dealers is lurking in the shadows. The storyteller will maybe give a shrug of resignation about these living conditions, and perhaps suggest the less financially fortunate can’t expect to inhabit beautiful publicly-funded housing that serves them well.

I admit that to an extent, before I moved to Cressingham Gardens ten-and-a-half years ago, similar anti council estate rhetoric had clouded my outlook. Of course, estates have their challenges. But they are a fragment of the reality, and I find living on an estate a great privilege. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend you try it, if only councils across London weren’t ruining them and inviting approaches from developers. If properly valued for the life-enhancing qualities they can offer their inhabitants, such as with village life, our well-planned estates would instead be treated with the TLC they deserve.

You can see all over Cressingham the socialist, quality-for-all ethos that in the 1960’s inspired chief Lambeth borough architect Ted Hollamby to build it. And it’s still working today.

Cressingham4Adults and children alike make daily use of the patchwork of wooded and grassy spaces that connect the private with the communal via our back gates. We stop to talk as we arrive home or leave for work and play. The other day I chatted for the first time to a couple who’d already met our cat – he’d run in through their door in time for a fish supper.

Our homes are designed to encourage this kind of interaction: Front doors all face each other just a few paces away across pedestrian walks and ways. I personally know dozens of people living here, in what’s been coined a ‘village within a city’. This familiarity is common. We visit each other’s homes for a cuppa or advice. Sometimes I don’t even bother to put on my shoes, such is my spontaneous urge to visit neighbours.

There’s year-round growing of veg and herbs among the flower beds and we share spare food – easy when our kitchen windows face onto the walk. Behind closed doors, skylights and multi-aspect windows drench spacious rooms with light. Kitchens are thoughtfully connected to the living space, either open plan or through a window, so any present family members are in easy view.

These benefits prevail in spite of the disrespect the estate receives from today’s so-called ‘cooperative’ Lambeth council and doomed housing managers Lambeth Living, who should have, but didn’t, properly maintain it. Now the estate’s frayed edges are an excuse for demolition over investment. This local authority would like to replace our established community with a maximum density monster that greater serves its lost soul than real residents.
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They appear not to have assessed the cost to be shouldered by the NHS, when people’s health and wellbeing unravel under the stress, nor the negative impact of the proposed demolition on the environment.

When we opened our doors for Open House London in September, up to 300 visitors saw for themselves how successful Cressingham is, and were shocked to learn what the council is up to. Visitors have ranged from self-builders looking for design inspiration and fans of the postwar council housing heyday, to architects and conservationists.

Lambeth’s failure to properly engage us in their consultation, suggests their stated reasons for ‘regenerating’ would not withstand scrutiny. This month, they are squeezing a series of workshops into just a few weeks, making it harder for residents to engage with what’s on offer.

The council now says they want to build more social housing. Due to the conservation area status of Brockwell Park that also includes our estate’s green square, and because of other pressures such as on public transport, their development options are limited, meaning they could in fact cut the social housing provision.

Cressingham7They would fund the new homes by selling a proportion on the inflated open market at £400k or more. With an average local wage of £32k, you’ll need at least a £250k deposit to bag one of these. There would be nothing to protect against property speculators snapping these up and keeping them empty to resell later, while prices continue to rise in boom-time Brixton. Lambeth property prices rose by 37 per cent this year, the highest hike out of all London’s boroughs, which has inevitably priced out yet more locals from owning a home here.  A new development of expensive homes could make the borough’s property crisis even worse, and ruin a community. So much for addressing the housing crisis.

Housing cabinet member Councillor Matthew Bennett says we have 21,000 people waiting for council homes in Lambeth, and he claims they are addressing the empty homes. Yet on Cressingham, they have kept a row of six empty for at least 16 years, that they could have refurbished, but chose not to. Was this intended as a nod to developers, a signal this estate is on the way down?

There are echoes here of the screwed up thinking of another Labour stronghold council, Newham, which has left 600 homes empty near the Olympic site on Stratford’s Carpenters estate. But the people can only be pushed so far, as shown by the Focus E15 mothers’ occupy campaign https://www.facebook.com/pages/Focus-E15-Mothers/60286012975734.

In Scotland, 1.6m people voted ‘yes’, and while fear meant this wasn’t a winning number, perhaps these movements are the start of a stronger series of revolts against the service of a privileged few, who are holding us to ransom.
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11 COMMENTS

  1. The demand for more truly affordable housing is getting critical in London. And the disgrace is that so many parts of London are also dark at night time where there is no one in the homes that are held for investment purposes only. But sadly, the much lauded ‘regeneration’ programs often fail miserably to produce any more social housing, which is often reason argued for doing them in the first place. Indeed, they often lead to a reduction of social housing as developers argue ‘financial viability’. The Heygate is probably one of the biggest regeneration scandals in London. I don’t know the exact figures off the top of my head, but ~2,000 council homes were demolished to be replaced with a mere 79 council homes and thousands of new homes starting at £350k for a studio. Closer to home, if I recall (but someone correct me if I am wrong), the Barratt Homes development next to the Brixton Village market was supposed to have social housing included as stipulated by the planning permission. However, just before opening the developer went back and said it was no longer financial viable and the Lambeth council just rolled over.

    Cressingham Gardens is already high density and within the GLA target densities for any new development. It only appears ‘green’ and spacious simply because of good design – there are no streets, only narrow walkways, and there are essentially no backyards except small patio gardens for some of the properties. Just looking at Google satellite maps shows the possibilities if a Cressingham style development was done on other older areas of London – take out the streets to replace with communal green areas, pedestrianize with walkways, reduce the size of private green spaces and put car parking underground.

  2. Wow, Siobhan. That’s pretty harsh & heartless. How would you like to lose your home & be forced to start again in an area away from friends, family & possibly work opportunities? Perhaps you’ll volunteer to give up your place in order to house someone ‘more deserving’? Or have you done that already?

  3. Thanks for an excellent article written from the perspective of someone who actually lives on Cressingham Gardens. As a fellow resident, I absolutely agree with the points Joanne has made. Of course there’s a housing crisis but that absolutely doesn’t excuse Lambeth’s plan to bulldoze this lovely estate in order to provide the same number of social housing units as are here already and force leaseholders & freeholders out of London. I won’t even talk about ‘affordable homes’ as I think we all accept that’s a misnomer.

  4. Thanks for your comments Siobhan. Sorry for any confusion, but this comment piece was written by Jo Parkes, who lives on the estate, and is part of a series of guest posts on Brixton Blog. I will leave her to respond to your points about Cressingham if she wishes.

    I’d take umbrage that Brixton Blog is “some tribal online blog keen to bash any initiative which threatens the perceived utopia.” A flick through our news pages will show a range of stories that give a balanced report. We also carry comment pieces, like this one, and we consider submissions from anyone who has a point to make.

  5. In case you hadn’t noticed we have a huge HOUSING crisis in the capital. A severe shortage of houses has pushed up property prices and as a result a flock of buy-to -let vultures have descended upon the city, keen to make a quick buck from inflated property prices, during this time of low interest rates.

    To suggest that the Council is doing anything but attempting to be conscientious and responsible to the thousands of residents who are living in temporary accommodation or paying exorbitant private rents show both a complete lack of contrition and a deluded sense of your own self worth.

    The estate is old, inefficient and a luxury that Londoners cannot afford. Anyone who attempts to increase the stock of affordable social housing in the Borough should be lauded, and not hounded by some tribal online blog keen to bash any initiative which threatens the perceived utopia. Your hubris will be your undoing Mr Dickens

    • ‘Old and inefficient’ better describes this Labour council. Their regeneration proposals are shamefully ill-considered and anything other than repairs is likely to make the housing crisis a lot worse. They would fund a redevelopment by making existing leaseholders and freeholders homeless, pricing them out of London in most casesand of course there are no guarantees for protecting tenants. Who is the Labour authority serving? Certainly not the

        • Of course Jo you don’t have a vested interest?!

          We need more social housing, Cressingham Gardens is an inefficient use of space upon which much more housing units could be built.

          Your NIMBY attitude certainly isn’t “fresh” or “efficient” I for one will cheer when the hundreds of families crying out for affordable housing move into the new development that bulldozes your self interested, nostalgic, narcissistic little kingdom.

          You won’t find much sympathy from the rest of the low paid, silent majority

          • If you had any real insight, you’d see that the housing here is currently affordable, whereas it would certainly not be under the council’s new scheme. Cheer on, if you wish, but you’re backing the wrong horse.

    • You state that the estate is ‘old’. In terms of longevity for properties this estate was built in the 1970’s. Forty years is not old for a house, flat or whatever. This estate is home to many people and families. It has plenty of open spaces and reflects the character of Brockwell Park. Are people really expected to live in concrete estates with numerous properties squeezed into the smallest space possible. No gardens. No trees. What is needed here is for Lambeth Council to invest in the already occupied properties and bring them up to a standard for modern day living and upgrade the empty homes that have lain derelict for many years. If anybody thinks a modern day build will be any better they need to look at recent builds in Lambeth. Lack of character. Lack of imagination. Cramped box like units. Concrete in abundance. Money being the driving factor. This estate has its own functions and events. It has it own compost recycling area. There is a nursery with a play area. There are trees from when this was a field. Wildlife encroaches onto the estate from the park; there were two Jays flying around and a woodpecker in the trees on the estate side of the park. All that would be lost.

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