Residents campaigning to save the Cressingham Gardens council estate on Tulse Hill from demolition say they are being subjected to “slow torture” by Lambeth council consultations.
The council plans to demolish the entire estate, which overlooks Brockwell Park, to allow its wholly owned developer, Homes for Lambeth, to redevelop it.
The latest consultation is over a plan to demolish a small block of flats, Ropers Walk, on the edge of the estate with a frontage on Trinity Rise.
Cressingham campaigners say that the plan is part of a “salami slicing” approach to the redevelopment and is also “the thin edge of the wedge”.
They won their third application for a judicial review against the council after it approved the Ropers Walk plans last year.
The application was based on the failure of the council to consider the impact of the Ropers Walk development on the whole of the Cressingham gardens estate.
While the estate is not listed by Lambeth council, or nationally, as a “heritage asset”, council planning committees must consider the impact of a development on surrounding areas if it is likely that they could be listed locally.
Rather than defend this challenge in court, the council quashed its original decision to approve the Ropers Walk planning application and is now set to reconsider it following yet another consultation.
A document for the new application, prepared for Homes for Lambeth by the property company Savills, makes it clear that it is in no way different to the original application, only a “built environment statement” has been added.
In a statement today (9 October) Cressingham residents opposing the council said: “Repeated consultations are beginning to feel like slow torture, at a time when many people are yet to recover from the consequences of the pandemic, both financial and emotional.”
They said planning notices appeared on estate lamp posts on 24 September and that not all Cressingham Gardens residents have received letters. “Only those who responded to the previous consultation have been informed by post,” the campaigners said.
The consultation is open until next Friday, 15 October.
The council says the demolition and redevelopment of the Ropers Walk site would replace 12 existing properties with 20. It said all of the 20 new properties would be affordable, compared to only eight at present.
Campaigners contend that close reading of the planning application reveals the entire rebuild would only provide 11 more bedrooms “at a huge cost in terms of disruption to people’s lives, finance and the environment”.
They said: “This new consultation follows a bewildering series of events for residents on Ropers Walk.
“Repeated consultations are beginning to feel like slow torture, at a time when many people are yet to recover from the consequences of the pandemic both financial and emotional.
“This is the third consultation in 18 months over the same block. Previous consultations took place in March and December 2020 during lockdowns.
“The council claim the cancellation of planning permission and a new planning hearing would be ‘quicker and cheaper’ than going through a judicial review of its plans.
“For residents, it is just further uncertainty and distress.”
One of the residents, a retired nurse of 83 years, said: “My husband died here. I don’t want to leave, all my memories of him are here.
“I’m not sleeping, it’s very distressing.”
“It doesn’t matter how many times that come for us, I won’t budge.”
Cressingham residents have relaunched their fighting fund and, so far, have raised over £17,000.
Lambeth council said its plans for Cressingham Gardens were motivated by the more than 30,000 people on its waiting list for social housing and the temporary accommodation it provides every night for 2,700 homeless families, including 5,000 children.
They were part of “the biggest building programme in Lambeth for a generation, because we know the housing crisis can’t be fought without the council playing its part to build homes for local families.”
New affordable homes at Ropers Walk would be an important contribution to its efforts to tackle the borough’s housing crisis, the council said.
It repeated its expression of regret for delays to the plans for Ropers Walk caused by legal cases brought by opponents, saying: “The people of Lambeth need all the new, affordable homes we can provide, and as quickly as possible”.
Councillor Matthew Bennett, the council’s lead member for planning, investment and new homes, said the Ropers Walk development would more than double the amount of council housing on the site, “with a nearly threefold increase in the number of family-sized council homes”.
The new homes would be larger than the ones they replaced and would see an 80% reduction in carbon as part of the council’s commitment to fighting the climate emergency.
“We set HfL up as a fully council-owned company to build more council and affordable homes to tackle the housing crisis here in Lambeth and provide better homes for local families.
Ropers Walk was part of “an ambitious programme right across the borough” using Homes for Lambeth as a fully council-owned company to build more council and affordable homes.
The 20 new affordable homes – 14 of them at council-level rents – would be prioritised for current secure tenants living on Cressingham Gardens.
“These homes are vital as part of our efforts to tackle the housing crisis, providing better homes for existing residents and more homes for people on our waiting list.
“This is being achieved despite government cuts and their refusal to properly fund new council homes or refurbishment that is making the housing crisis worse.
“HfL’s three-year business plan, which was approved in early 2020, sets out the wider regeneration programme, including for Cressingham Gardens.
“Homes for Lambeth will consult with residents on the next steps of the rebuilding of the Cressingham Gardens estate in due course,” Bennett said.
“Lambeth council is committed to increasing the number of additional council level rent homes through the masterplanning process and is committed to maximising the number of additional genuinely affordable homes for people in the local community.
“Only by fully rebuilding the estate can we provide both better homes for existing residents and more genuinely affordable rented homes.”
Designed to serve a community
According to John Boughton, author of Municipal Dreams, Cressingham Gardens is, “one of the finest council estates in the country”.
It was designed in the late 1960s by a team of Lambeth Council architects led by renowned architect Ted Hollamby, a pioneer of high-density low-rise housing.
It was designed to serve a community and, say the residents, has achieved this well.
“It is a close knit community,” they say. This is fostered, in part, by design aspects of the estate.
“Cressingham’s front doors face each other, which allows residents to meet and mix while kitchen windows look out onto the same pedestrian walkways.
“The estate was designed as a mixed community, with homes suitable to elderly and disabled people, single people and couples as well as families. This social mix continues to this day.
“Ahead of it time in some respects, it is a ‘green’ estate also.
“Larger homes have patio gardens designed to overlook green open space.
“At the centre of the estate, existing trees were preserved or new ones planted.
“Concrete flowerbeds were provided on the raised walkways to ensure every home has access to growing space.
“It was described by Lord Esher, president of RIBA from 1965 to 67, as ‘one of the nicest small schemes in England’.
In 2015, the Twentieth Century Society commented in its building of the month feature: “It is impressive for the quality of the accommodation and layout, and for its striking landscape setting.”
While Cressingham Gardens is not listed as a heritage asset nationally, or locally by Lambeth council, it is recorded on the Greater London Historic Environment Record.
The consultants RPS, employed by Homes for Lambeth to produce a “built heritage statement” for the new Ropers Walk planning hearing, say the site “could meet a number of the published criteria against which it could be potentially considered for inclusion on the local heritage list.”
It goes on to confirm residents’ accusations of long-term neglect of the estate by Lambeth council by saying: “However, it is acknowledged … that the estate has been significantly eroded … with the wholly unsympathetic replacement of materials (windows, garden boundaries, paving and roofing) and the accretion of inappropriate elements on elevations and roofs (external piping, cabling and satellite dishes).”
Out of the 12 Ropers Walk homes threatened with demolition, three were previously leasehold and one a freehold property. The remaining eight were affordable rented homes.
Currently, six of the homes are being used for temporary accommodation, one is occupied by secure tenants, one of the homes is freehold and four are empty.