Architects for Social Housing, the organisation which maintains that London boroughs should be providing decent, affordable homes, is staging a protest in central London on Thursday, when RIBA, the Royal Institute for British Architects, stages its annual Stirling Prize, reckoned to be the country’s most “prestigious” architectural prize.
Architects for Social Housing and its supporters will be demonstrating against RIBA’s nomination of dRMM Architects’ Trafalgar Place, the first development to be completed on the land of the demolished Heygate Estate.
They say that this scheme “is social cleansing for profit, and no architectural practice should have any part in it, let alone be awarded a prize for doing so”.
As Inside Croydon reported last week, RIBA is fond of doling out gongs to its mates: it has just announced an honorary fellowship for Jo Negrini, Croydon Council’s chief executive – or “regeneration practitioner” – who as an exec director oversaw the handing out of juicy public contracts to seven firms of architects for the borough’s house-building company, Brick by Brick.
Architects for Social Housing have long opposed the multi-million-pound redevelopment of the Heygate Estate in Walworth.
They report, “For the 40 years of it existence, the Heygate Estate provided 1,200 council homes for more than 3,000 working-class residents in the London Borough of Southwark.
“Yet in 2002 the Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition council announced the estate would be demolished. Demolition costs alone were estimated at £15 million, while a further £44 million was spent on emptying the estate of residents, and £21.5 million spent on planning its redevelopment – a total of £80.5 million in a supposedly broke borough.
“In July 2010, international property developers Lend Lease were awarded the redevelopment contract by the newly elected Labour council, and the 22-acre site in central London was sold for an astonishing £50 million, a total loss of £30.5 million to the council.”
As Architects for Social Housing highlight, someone is making gigantic profits through these schemes, in a crass transfer of public property to private interests.
“In comparison, a year later a neighbouring 1.5-acre site, one-fifteenth the size, sold for £40 million.
“In 2013, the last resident of the Heygate was evicted from their home by Compulsory Purchase Order issued by the Labour council.
“It will surprise no one who understands how these things work that the key councillors involved in the redevelopment deal are now working for Lend Lease.
“According to Lend Lease’s masterplan, the 1,200 council homes will be replaced by 2,535 luxury homes, with the promise from Southwark Council that 25 per cent will be ‘affordable’. Following a viability assessment by real estate firm Savills, which is advising Labour councils across London on their estate demolition programmes, a mere 82 homes have been promised for social rent in a borough with 18,000 people on the housing waiting list.
“This isn’t gentrification in an up-and-coming neighbourhood. This isn’t cash-strapped councils trying to find real solutions to the housing crisis. This isn’t developers building the homes that Londoners need. This is social cleansing for profit, and no architectural practice should have any part in it, let alone be awarded a prize for doing so.”
Architects for Social Housing are planning to stage their demo on Portland Place, outside RIBA’s offices, just as the august organisation and its guests gather to laud the architects of the Heygate redevelopment. The rowdy activism could be a great embarrassment for the great and the good, such as RIBA’s grandly titled “president-elect”, Ben Derbyshire.
“That RIBA has chosen to nominate a development on the former Heygate – perhaps the worst example to date of estate demolition in London, a byword for social cleansing, corruption and profiteering – shows just how distant their ivory tower is from the harsh reality of housing,” say the angry Architects for Social Housing.
And Architects for Social Housing intend to make a presentation of their own prize: The OJ Simpson Prize, awarded for “Getting Away With Murder”. The 2016 recipients will be dRMM Architects for Trafalgar Place.
Trafalgar Place comprises 235 so-called “high-quality” homes, 52 of which are supposed to be “affordable housing”, which means for sale or rent at 80 per cent of market rate. Zoopla, the property website, is carrying an ad for a two-bedroom flat in Trafalgar Place for £725,000. In contrast, owners of a four-bedroom council flat on the Heygate Estate were offered £190,000 in compensation for their demolished home.
“The site on which this property speculator’s investment opportunity is built was previously occupied by the demolished Wyngrave House, which provided 104 council homes for the local community,” Architects for Social Housing say.
To join Architects for Social Housing’s demo, gather outside RIBA, 66 Portland Place, on Thursday. The reception begins at 6pm, with the award announced between 7 and 8pm, “so arrive early if you don’t want to miss the guests paying £235 (plus VAT) for a ticket on the way in,” say Architects for Social Housing.
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