Posts Tagged ‘Architects for Social Housing’

Central Hill and more

Friday, June 18th, 2021

One of the original tenants comes to talk with me She tells me she dreads having to move

I began work on Sunday 18th June 2017 on the Central Hill Estate at the south-east tip of Lambeth, built on a hill with splendid views towards central London. Across the road (also Central Hill) at the top is Norwood in LB Croydon, a few yards down from the estate takes you in to the LB of Southwark, while 5 minutes walk east brings you to Crystal Palace in the LB of Bromley.

As Ted Knight, the leader of Lambeth Council from 1978 until disqualified for refusing to cap rates in 1985 and demonised by the press as ‘Red Ted’, told us later in the morning when he came to express his support, the estate was designed and built in 1967-74 when Labour believed that “nothing was too good for the working people” and the estate was built to high specifications and is still in sound condition. Borough Architect Ted Hollamby had earlier brought in Rosemary Stjernstedt from the LCC where she was their first senior woman architect, and she was the team leader, working with structural engineer Ted Happold from Arup & Partners and architect Roger Westman.

The scheme was seen from the start as a living community, and included a burses’s hostel, a day card centre and a doctor’s surgery as well as a small row of shops, a club centre and community hall. It also had a district heating system, though this is no longer in use. The plans made great use of the sloping site and the estate is certainly one of the finest of that era. It has remained a popular estate, with relatively low crime rates, and quite a few of the original residents still live there and wish to stay.

It’s an estate that clearly should be listed, but Historic England decided not to do so in 2016, probably under pressure from politicians, particularly because of the scale of the site and the very attractive possibilities it presents for developers. The Twentieth Century Society were dismayed that their application was dismissed – and you can read their application on-line.

In 2017 Lambeth decided to completely demolish the estate and develop it with an extra 400 homes, roughly doubling the size, most of which will be for private sale. Many residents objected and Architects for Social Housing have developed alternative plans showing how the extra capacity could be achieved at lower cost retaining the existing housing and the main features of the estate.

Nicola Curtis, one of the elected representatives the council refuses to talk with

The council seem to have little concern for the current residents of the estate or their wishes. They have been banned from using the community resource centre on the estate, which was locked. A large mural was painted with council agreement on one of the walls in the estate – but the council then insisted that they remove the name ‘Central Hill’ from it. The council refused to talk with the two representatives of the residents elected to the Resident Engagement Panel. Normal maintenance of the paths and other aspects of the estate appears to have been stopped, and I found examples of very shoddy work by the council on the estate.


I took the train back into central London and to Parliament Square, wherre Veterans for Peace had organised a remembrace of Brian Haw on the 6th anniversary of his death. They held a small banner with the message ‘War is is not the solution to the problems we face in the 21st century’

Brian Haw began his camp here on 2 June 2001, and remained in place despite many attempts, legal and otherwise to remove him for almost 10 years, leaving only when arrested, for court appearances and to speak at protests at Trafalgar Square and Downing St until 1 January 2011 when he left England to receive treatment for his lung cancer in Berlin. He died in Germany in the early hours of 18 June 2011.

His ten years of protest and the frequent and repeated harassment undoubtedly hastened his decline and death. His protest in Parliament square was continued by Barbara Tucker who had joined him in 2005 and had been imprisoned twice for her role in the protest and arrested 48 times. The level of harassment increased and she went on hunger strike on 31st December 2012. Late in January 2013 she was taken into hospital close to death, and was treated for frostbite and exposure. Her protests continued on-line.

It was also the day of the annual Al Quds (Jerusalem) Day march in London, attended by several thousand from all over the country. Led by Imams and Neturei Karta anti-Zionist Jews, it called for ‘Freedom for Palestine’, and for all oppressed people’s across the world, and for a boycott of Israel.

As usual the march met with opposition from a small group of Zionists with Israeli flags and they were better organised than in previous years, with around 20 of them managing to block the route for around a quarter of an hour before police managed to move them on and allow the march to continue, though rather more slowly than usual.

Al Quds Day was inaugurated by Ayatollah Khomeini and some of the groups which support it may still receive support from the Iranian regime. Some of the protesters carried a small flag with both the Palestinian flag and that of Hezbollah and the message ‘Boycott Israel’. Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shia Islamist political party and militant group uses the same flag for both, and the militant wing is a proscribed group in the UK. The flag carried by some on the protest made clear in the small print it was in support of the political party.

Al Quds march
Zionists protest Al Quds Day March
Brian Haw remembered
Ted Knight speaks for Central Hill


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


XR October 2019

Thursday, October 8th, 2020

A year ago in October I was having a busy few days covering Extinction Rebellion’s International Rebellion in London. The event had started early on the 7th October when XR supporters occupied eleven locations at government ministries, outside Downing St, on The Mall, and blocking both Westminster and Lambeth bridges, bringing traffic in that area of central London to a halt. Outside the actual areas blocked, traffic was also largely gridlocked over a much wider area.

For the next couple of days the only ways to get around in the area was by tube and on foot. Police were initially overwhelmed by the sheer number of campaigners and the area covered by the protests, and added to the chaos by themselves closing off some routes to traffic and pedestrians.

The protests of course got considerable coverage in the press and broadcasting media, mainly around the disruption the protest was causing with rather less attention to the reasons why XR felt their actions were necessary to try and get our government to take the actions we need to avoid disaster and possible extinction of human life.

Probably few who only followed the media reports would have become aware of XR’s three demands, that the government tell the truth about the climate and ecological emergency, act to halt biodiversity loss, reduced emissions to net zero and create and set up a Citizens Assembly to ensure that proper action is taken. Our democracy is failing because politicians serve the sectional interests of the powerful few rather than the needs of us all.

I didn’t quite manage to get to all eleven of the occupied sites on Monday, though I did visist and photograph most of them. The highlight of the day for me was the wedding in the centre of Westminster Bridge between two campaigners, Tamsin and Melissa. I’d first photographed Tamsin when Climate Rush re-enacted the 1908 Suffragette storming of Parliament on its 100th anniversary and had got to know her better during later protests including those against the third runway at Heathrow, but hadn’t seen her for five years.

A year ago today, October 8th, was the second day of XR’s protests. By now the police were beginning to take back parts of the area, having made many arrests overnight.

I think many of the protesters were shocked as I was at the deliberate violence and destruction of property when occupied areas were trashed by police, and for some it perhaps made them question the XR policy of non-violence. Standing and shouting ‘Shame on You’ as police assaulted protesters and trashed tents and food stalls turned out not to be very effective.

The day turned out to be a long one for me, as after spending my time with XR I made my way to Camden for a protest by Architects for Social Housing (ASH) outside the champagne reception at the Royal Institute of British Architects awards ceremony for the Stirling Prize. Architects, like our politicians, are largely the servants of the rich and the awards reflect this. ASH were particularly angered by the new Neave Brown Award, supposedly honouring the recently deceased champion and architect of council housing at the Dunboyne Road Estate (formerly known as Fleet Road) and Alexandra Road Estate both in Camden, being awarded to a scheme for a commercial company owned by Norwich Council which demolished council housing to build properties which will not be offering secure council tenancies, with nothing to stop the company raising the service charges or converting the few social rent homes in it to so-called ‘affordable’ rents in the future.

The images here are a small and fairly random selection from the many that I took, and you can see more of them and read more about the protests on My London Diary:

Extinction Rebellion continues
XR Rebels marry on Westminster Bridge
Extinction Rebellion occupy Westminster

Stirling Prize for Architecture


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Stirling (or Sterling?) Prize

Thursday, March 26th, 2020
ASH mocks the champagne celebration inside with Cava on the street

I was pleased to get this picture of what was a very difficult event for me to get any worthwhile photographs. I’m a great admirer of the work of Architects for Social Housing, a small group that punches well above its weight in pointing out the crimes, profiteering and failures of current housing policies pursued by local authorities and national government which amount to an attack on the poor.

A poster from a Class War supporter

Their detailed studies have laid bare the terrible effects of demolition of council estates, driving those on low incomes out of the central areas of London in a huge exercise of social cleansing and making excessive profits for the developers, as well as providing well-paid jobs for some council staff and ex-staff. Most of those London councils are Labour councils, including Southwark, Lambeth and Newham, though Tory councils are following similar shameful practices, and at the root of all this are the housing policies of Thatcher and New Labour.

A man holding his Stirling Prize invite stops to photograph the protest

Their reports have shown the financial incentives that result in demolition and new build schemes with little or no low rent social housing replacing large numbers of council homes, as well as the hugely damaging environmental consequences of such large schemes. Their detailed alternative development plans have shown how estates could be renovated and the number of housing units greatly increased without the huge social costs of destroying existing communities and retaining existing low cost housing, without the need to evict existing tenants and leaseholders.

Following the disaster of the Grenfell fire, they published a report within weeks that clearly identified the problems which had made it inevitable. ASH called for those responsible to be brought to justice, pointing out that similar disasters in other countries such as Japan had led to prosecutions within a few weeks – while we have an inquiry that is still proceeding which seems to have as its major aim the deflection of blame from those responsible for the defects and failures to the actions of the emergency services on the night of the fire. It’s right of course that these should be examined and lessons learnt, but it wasn’t the Fire Service which created a fire trap through cost-cutting , avoidance of proper fire safety measures and a sheer disregard for the safety of the people who lived in Grenfell.

Oliver Wainwright, the Guardian’s architecture and design critic speaks before going into the prize event

ASH were protesting outside the highly prestigious Stirling Awards ceremony condemning architects for social cleansing, council estate demolition and housing privatisation and calling on architects to end wanton environmentally disastrous demolitions and to serve the needs of citizens with socially beneficial, financially viable and environmentally sustainable architecture rather than corporate profits. You can read more on their web site.

In particular they had come to point out that the winning entry, widely lauded in the press as marking a new era in social housing, is actually a  a commercial venture owned by Norwich council and will not be offering secure council tenancies and that council homes were demolished to build it. They were particularly incensed that it was also nominated for (and won) the new Neave Brown Award, set up to honour the recently deceased champion and architect of council housing; they see this as an insult to the memory of our great architect of council housing.

A woman came to shout at Simon Elmer and pushed him

ASH’s approach represents a threat to many architects who rely on the highly lucrative projects of major developers (named for Sir James Stirling (1926-92) whose 1977 major public housing scheme in Runcorn was demolished only 15 years after it was built, it should perhaps be better re-named as the ‘Sterling’ prize) and the protest was not well received by many of them – with one woman going as far as coming to assault Simon Elmer of ASH. But there were also some largely younger architects who expressed support.

It was a small protest and started rather late, when many had already gone inside to enjoy the ‘free’ champagne their very expensive tickets provided. The light was falling fast and it was hard to find an angle which worked to connect the protest and the event. I was pleased when the protesters decided to mock the champagne celebrations inside with a few plastic cups of cheap Cava (and I was holding cup of it myself when I took the picture at the top of this post. I left as it got too dark to photograph without flash, though perhaps I should have stayed, as more people arrived and the protest apparently got livelier later. But I’d been on my feet far too long and needed to get home and eat.

More at Stirling Prize for Architecture


Another Grenfell protest

Wednesday, November 13th, 2019

It seems increasingly unlikely that we are ever going to see justice for the victims of Grenfell as the establishment use all the tricks in their book to protect those responsible.

Perhaps in the end after years of purposefully drawn out inquiry by police and judges a few small companies will be found guilty of failing to follow some aspects of building regulations and be given insignificant fines, though I doubt even that. But the real culprits seem almost certain to escape scot-free.

THe RCG have a fine banner by Andrew Cooper

So far we have only seen the first stage of the official  Grenfell Tower Inquiry which appears to have been a travesty, with the judge shifting blame on those responsible for fighting the fire and coming to a conclusion that not only flies in the face of what experienced fire-fighters say, including those who were there on the night, but could well lead to more deaths in other high-rise fires. People are almost certain given the publicity by the report to die in some future fires because they try to escape rather than staying safe in their homes. And quite clearly had the idiotic Jacob Rees Mogg lived in Grenfell he and his family would have died there.

These blocks – Grenfell included – only got approval on the basis that any fire would be contained within a flat and would be expected to be able to burn itself out even if fire-fighters did not attend. Building regulations made sure that this was the case, and the towers were built to enable any firest that did occur to be safely fought from within the building. The flats were essentially small self-contained concrete units, isolated from each other, with dry risers to supply water on the landings when needed and smoke traps.

Simon Elmer of ASH who produced a report on Grenfell

The blame for Grenfell lies squarely with the government ministers who altered the regulations and allowed building owners to make their own fire inspections, with owners who saved money by arranging inadequate inspections and employing contractors to add unsuitable cladding and otherwise compromise the building safety. Contractors too bear some resposiblity for agreeing to install unsafe cladding and for doing so in a way which removed the gaps essential for safety.

Another small left-wing group declined the offer to join the RCG protest

Kensington & Chelsea Council and its TMO must bear the main responsibility for this particular building, with councillors and others taking the decisions which made the building a fire-trap. They were more than incompetent, bullying those who informed them of some of the problems.

The council too failed to properly deal with the survivors, despite some extravagant promises made in the early days after the fire by Theresa May and others. A full year after the fire only 41% of the households from Grenfell Tower and adjoining Grenfell walk had been permanently re-housed. Of those in the wider affected area, 29% had been able to return to their homes and 1% – one family – permanently rehoused. The other 70% (90 families) were still in some form of temporary accomodation. This despite Kensington & Chelsea being one of the wealthiest boroughs in the country.

Many of those most closely involved are still suffering intensely from trauma and both initial relief and counselling were other areas where the council and other official response are felt by many to have been inadequate – and put to shame by the community response. As an outsider I don’t feel entitled to comment, though I’ve certainly heard the pain expressed by some of the community.

People pose on the council steps at the end of the RCG protest

Various groups formed after the fire, some with more support among the victims and wider community than others. Although all have I think taken part in the monthly silent walks which aim to keep the memory of the events alive, there have been arguments with some groups urging a more radical stance is needed to get action.

Two of these groups, both relatively small, had come to protest at the Kensington & Chelsea town hall outside the council meeting. I had gone to photograph the protest by the Revolutionary Communist Group who have run street stalls on Ladbroke Grove close to Grenfell and organised other protests in the area as well as taking part in the silent walks. As well as their own speakers they had invited others to talk, and as main speaker Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing, whose report and film produced within a few weeks of the fire remains the most authorative account of the reasons why Grenfell was a tragedy waiting to happen.

More at No Justice for Grenfell


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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