Homes for Londoners

One of the duties in my teaching past, when I was a group tutor for 16-18 year olds was careers advice. Of course there were special careers advisers, but I would have to discuss careers with my students and get them to take a computer careers questionnaire before there careers interview. And so I several times took those same multiple choice quizzes myself, and the career recommendation that came out on top for me was always ‘architect’ though photographer generally came out after that. I don’t think ‘teacher’, which is what at the time I was, ever made the top five.

But when I was 17, careers advice was non-existent, at least at the grammar I attended, and the idea of being an architect was a non-starter in any case for those of us from penniless backgrounds. So I went off – thanks to government maintenance grants – to university to study chemistry (it could have been physics or maths, the other subjects that seemed acceptable at that boy’s school.)

As a student, particularly as postgraduate student (more grants) I became heavily involved in the campaigning over the large-scale redevelopment of areas close to the university and where I was living, and when I did finally learn enough about photography and start earning enough to take more than the annual holiday film, housing remained an issue in some ways behind much of my work – notably my first major project which ended up as the 1983 show ‘Still Occupied – A View of Hull‘ and now appearing day by day on the web.

Housing in London was the subject of contention at several events I photographed in the middle of last June. The first Advance to Mayfair, was outside the London Real Estate Forum taking place in Berkeley Square.  I wrote quite extensively about it on My London Diary, so won’t repeat myself here.

Two days later I was back in Mayfair, with housing protesters outside the Municipal Journal Awards for Local Authorities, which were honoring some of those London councils, Southwark and Newham,  who have been at the forefront of London’s shameful housing scandals over the past few years – and continuing. That we were in Mayfair, London’s wealthiest area, again says much about the priorities behind redevelopment, more about enriching the wealthy than housing the poor.

Two days later again, the Axe the Housing Act March gathered on the edge of Mayfair to march to Parliament against an act that even enrages those same Labour councils for its full-frontal attack on social housing. Friction was bound to make itself known between them and the housing activists on the march and it did.

Later that day I went to cover the UCL Rent Strike Victory, an event which had been planned to further press the student’s demands as an Open Day Manifestation but the Complaints Panel decided that the residents of Campbell House West would be compensated in full for the final term last year – up to £1,368 per student.  The students were instead celebrating their victory (although the rent strike has started again more recently as rents are still too high for students.) I left too soon, as they decided to go on a victory march which gave other photographs some rather dramatic pictures as they celebrated with coloured flares.

But I was by then on my way to Crystal Palace in South London and the Central Hill Open Gardens Estates. Central Hill estate is at the southern edge of Lambeth – cross the main road and you are in the London Borough of Croydon. It’s a fairly spectacular development designed by Rosemary Stjernstedt working under Lambeth Council’s director of architecture, Ted Hollamby and built between 1966 and 1974 and described by the Twentieth Century Society as “one of London’s most exceptional and progressive post-war housing estates” – they were dismayed when their application for its listing was turned down by Historic England last year.  You can see my photographs of the estate earlier in the year at Central Hill Estate which give a good impression of the architecture and its general condition.

Local residents were surprised (and some enraged) to find that one of those attending the open day was local Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood Helen Hayes who had backed the decision by Lambeth Labour councillors to demolish the estate. When Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing (ASH) confronted her about this she was unwilling or unable to answer his questions about this and stormed out, after making an emotional statement about the recent killing of Labour MP Jo Cox, a tactic which disgusted many of those listening.

ASH were showing alternative plans for a proper regeneration of the site at the open day, which have been dismissed without any real consideration by Lambeth, retaining the existing properties but increasing the site density by sensitive infill of some of the spaces. It would achieve the same housing results but at significantly lower cost and without displacement (and shamefully poor compensation) of existing tenants and leaseholders – but would not give the same profit to developers. The refusal to consider such schemes is a clear indication of the priorities of private profit which are driving schemes such as this by councils like Lambeth and neighbouring Southwark and their consultants including estate agents Savills.

Later, after her supporters had left, the more pleasant atmosphere of the afternoon – despite the treat hanging over the estate – returned, and I was sorry when I had to leave, though not before watching and photographing a Marxist puppet show by Andrew Cooper and comrades from the Revolutionary Communist Group lampooning the Lambeth councillors and Councillor Matthew Bennett, Cabinet Member for Housing in particular for their cooperation with estate agents Savills and developers over the planned development of the estate, a prime opportunity for private profit in South London with its extensive view over the city and good transport links.

Advance to Mayfair
Municipal Journal Awards
Axe the Housing Act March
UCL Rent Strike Victory
Central Hill Open Gardens Estates


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My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

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