• Unlocking potential from big housing estates

London’s large council estates could deliver up to 160,000 new homes, if they were to be redeveloped in denser formats.
That’s the claim of a new report that has unravelled the issues around the current estates, dotted on sites around greater London. However, researchers at the Centre for London conclude that subsidies would be needed, as the most profitable estates have already enjoyed a redevelopment or makeover.
Researcher Kat Hanna said: “The popular image of empty, unused ex-industrial or government land is misleading. There is practically no significant “derelict” land in London, and when we talk about “brownfield” what we really mean is simply any land that’s previously been developed. And about two-thirds of that already has housing on it – although the formal definition of brownfield was recently changed to exclude gardens.”
Researchers analysed large housing estates across four boroughs: Lewisham, Barking & Dagenham, Waltham Forest and Hounslow. They reckon that three of the boroughs could uplift housing estate capacity by at least 50%, by increasing the density of estates to urban levels.
However, in practice there are issues, not least as a legacy of policies such as Right to Buy, which means local authority estates are pepperpotted with privately owned properties. And so densification projects would probably need subsidy, the report argues.
And it notes that a regeneration and densification project cannot take place without the support of the local authority, and residents.
Richard Cherry of Countryside and Mark Henderson, chief executive at Home Group, who sponsored the research, comment in the report: “f there is just one conclusion to draw from this very valuable report, it is that the enormous potential of estate regeneration can only be optimised by looking very hard at the financial mechanics of delivering it. This means looking in more detail at how such schemes can be funded, whether through cross-subsidy, including
local authority-led joint ventures, or public funding.”
Researchers suggest that merely infilling existing estates provides little benefit. Rather, a more robust approach is required, taking account of the age and quality of the existing buildings. And a wholesale approach may have wider benefits, where a housing estate has become a dumping ground for problem and workless families.
The report includes several case studies where regeneration of estates has worked successfully, improving the quality of life of residents. However it also notes that, in cases where private housing sales need to pay for the reconstruction, it is not infrequently true that the number of social housing units falls as a result. The alternative is financial support from central government, something more recently out of favour.
The report examined existing estates in some detail, noting variations in density: “Large estates in Barking and Dagenham, Lewisham, and Hounslow all had similar densities, with an average of 86 dwellings per hectare (dpha). However, large estates in Waltham Forest had an average density of 167 dwellings per hectare.” These were then compared with the London Density guidelines, to establish the potential for uplift.
The authors say estate densification should be scoped out, and included in the new London Plan. However, grant funding will be needed, possibly via some form of gap funding.

LPA Perspective: This report drills down in some detail, into the issues around redeveloping large local authority estates to create more homes. It covers off the big issue around how such schemes might be funded, other than by letting developers take a share of the new homes for private sale, such that the estates end up delivering little or no more net public housing.
Cynics might dismiss the emphasis of this research, taking account of its sponsorship by Countryside Properties and Home Group. But it appears to be something more than just a softening up exercise, arguing for subsidy support in order to regenerate more of London’s large estates.
The subject is already high on the government agenda, with David Cameron having appointed Lord Heseltine and his housing minister, Brandon Lewis, to co-chair an advisory panel looking at estate design.

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