Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Regeneration or State-led Gentrification: Woodberry Down, Berkeley Group, Hackney Council, social tenancies, affordable homes

Heaven and Hades…

... The Tale of Woodberry Down

By Paul Coleman

Donkeys’ years ago, Harold P. Clunn, the walking chronicler of changing London, rested his aching feet. Clunn paused his walk in north London amid 42 new council estate blocks that housed almost 2,000 working families.
Clunn heaped much praise upon the London County Council’s edifice: “About a mile along the Seven Sisters Road bring us to the splendid new housing estate at Woodberry Down.
  “The landscaping includes a promenade along the New River,” gushed Clunn. “For a large family to be removed from two rooms in the squalid Caledonian Road…to Woodberry Down must have seemed like stepping out of Hades into Heaven.” *

Fast-forward fifty years. Clunn might've shuddered at tonight’s narrative (5 June) where 21st Century property developers and architects are relaying how Woodberry Down deteriorated from “a Utopian ideal” of “uniform slabs…into disrepair…beset with high crime rates, unemployment, and the physical decline of the buildings themselves”.
  True, Woodberry Down’s depressing decay is not disputed. A local resident, who still lives locally, recalls: "My brother and I often walked through there as kids - and we'd get a shift on."
   But some local people contend Hackney Council, which had assumed ownership of the land and responsibility for the estate’s upkeep, is firmly to blame for the Down's decline.

Regeneration or gentrification
Hackney Council is effectively divesting ownership of this publicly owned land to Berkeley and Genesis Housing Association through long leases during the re-development.
   The Council say this is necessary for the area's ‘regeneration’. Scheme opponents say regeneration is 'state-led gentrification'.

Completed and occupied new tower and blocks
Visitors study model of part of Berkeley's vast 'Woodberry Park' scheme

The Berkeley Group prefers a 'quality' rather than 'volume house-builder' tag. But tonight the Berkeley men find it hard to escape from the vast acreage and ambition of their development. Building could go on until 2031.
   Berkeley is building 4,684 'master-planned' homes on Woodberry Down's 60 acres. Many of these homes will be in towers and blocks that overlook urban water reservoirs rippling across an adjacent 40 acres. The New River also courses through the site.
  So far, 860 new homes have risen from the footprint of the old Woodberry Down blocks that are undergoing phased demolition - and some of the 1,983 former Woodberry Down council tenants have moved into new 'Woodberry Park' properties. Of the 860 completed new homes, 550 are ‘affordable’. 
Council tenancies
Interestingly, other London regeneration schemes on a similar scale often include little affordable housing and often virtually no social or council tenancies (Heygate, Seven Sisters). But Berkeley say 41 per cent of the 4,684 new homes will be ‘affordable homes’, including shared ownership homes with Genesis Housing Association, as well as social tenancies.
   Some 25 per cent of Woodberry Down's council tenants had exercised their Right to Buy. Now, a clutch of these leaseholders are insisting they will not be moved - a headache for Neil Sams, Berkeley’s development director. Sams recalls: “It’s fair to say the Council turned their back on the people who lived here. But towards the end of the nineties, Hackney Council resolved to look at the issue of Woodberry Down.”

Neil Sams (2nd right) explains Berkeley's ambitious plans
"I think local people will always know this place as Woodberry Down,", adds Sams. "Woodberry Park is a brand." 
Before this blog returns to the story of how Woodberry Down declined – and, perhaps more importantly, where Sams and company might take it in the future – it’s worth pausing to dwell on one aspect that would’ve rocked Harold P. Clunn down to his worn out boots.
Clunn's Woodberry Down waterside heaven later dilapidated to such an extent that a production crew in the 1990s chose it as a location to film scenes for... Schindler’s List.

Part of Woodberry Down was used as a location in Schindler's List

More tales to follow from Woodberry Down…

* The Face of London, Harold P. Clunn, Spring Books.

The Berkeley Group tour of Woodberry Down was part of the 
London Festival of Architecture (1st-30th June, 2013)

'Woodberry Park' looks over two reservoirs and the New River

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, June 2013.

© Words and Photos, Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, 2013

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