Campaigners have set up camp on the Central Hill Estate, on the Lambeth side of the borough boundary, in an effort to halt the felling of trees and demolition of Truslove House on Roman Way.
Lambeth Council last month approved plans to demolish Truslove House, the first move towards an “estate regeneration” project which aims to build 1,200 homes, of which 62 per cent will be for private sale. The new homes would be built through the Blairite council’s controversial Homes for Lambeth vehicle.
Nearly all of Truslove House’s social tenants have already been moved out of their homes to make way for the council bulldozers, which would ultimately demolish a total of 460 homes on the Central Hill Estate.
There are growing concerns that the council’s wholly-owned Homes for Lambeth could prove to be as disastrous for its finances as Brick by Brick has proved to be in bankrupting neighbouring borough Croydon.
The matter was raised recently at a meeting of the Dulwich and West Norwood Labour Party, whose members passed a motion calling on Lambeth to ditch Homes for Lambeth. “Reinvention of local government as property speculators is antithetical to Labour values,” the critical motion stated.
Campaigners living on Central Hill and the five other estates that Lambeth wants to bulldoze, including the much-admired Cressingham Gardens, continue to highlight that there is no business plan in place for demolishing the existing homes.
Lambeth Council has even been forced to admit that the end result of its scheme would be an overall decrease in the number of council homes provided in total.
Central Hill Estate is a model of 1960s architecture and social housing provision under a Labour-run administration. Designed by Rosemary Stjernstedt, Roger Westman and the council’s planning department during the directorship of Ted Hollamby, it was built between 1966 and 1974
The 20th Century Society have long opposed the demolition of Central Hill. “The demolition of Truslove House will cause harm to the significance of the Central Hill Estate,” they wrote recently, saying that it would “change the character of this ‘architectural asset’.
“In our view there would be both heritage and sustainability benefits to retaining and refurbishing Central Hill, and we wish to see a holistic approach taken to planning the estate’s future.”
Campaigners from the Save Central Hill Community campaign are asking for supporters to join them at Roman Rise over the coming weeks.
Crucially, volunteers are needed to join a rota to maintain a 24-hour watch of the site, as well as providing moral support those on site.
Roman Rise the new front line in the pushback against Lambeth’s risky £ 1.8billion Homes for Lambeth project, which would see the council demolish much of its remaining social housing.
According to one of the activists who lives on Central Hill, “Lambeth’s approach is failing on all counts – whether tackling the housing crisis, addressing the climate emergency, protecting the mental health of estate residents or promoting community well-being.”
Campaigners emphasise the damaging environmental impacts of the plans, with the demolition of trees and loss of green space at Truslove House, which runs counter to the council’s other commitments to address the climate catastrophe.
Overall, the council’s plans would lead to as many as 20 new high-rise towers being built on Central Hill, replacing the low-rise buildings and concreting over the green estate lay-out. Opponents of the proposals question the lack of planning for the additional pressure this huge increase in population density would put on transport, schools or health services.
The activists also question the council leadership’s motives in pushing through their Truslove House plans in the middle of the covid-19 pandemic, when the capacity of residents to organise and resist has been much-reduced.
Lambeth Council has refused to hold an estate referendum over the redevelopment among estate residents – as is required under Labour Party policy. In September, that saw Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, withdraw offers of grant funding for Homes for Lambeth, in an embarrassing reverse for the council’s Blairite leadership.
Residents maintain that the council has failed to listen to the community’s preference for refurbishment, rather than costly and environmentally destructive demolition.
Alternative designs for Central Hill by Architects for Social Housing in 2019 found room for an additional 242 dwellings through infill and roof extensions without demolishing any homes, increasing the estate’s capacity to 718.
“If the plans are not halted, the demolition work at Truslove House would be but the first phase of at least two decades years of development in the area, with HGVs and construction clogging local roads and worsening air quality,” the campaigners warn.
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