Sunday, 22 June 2014

'Renaissance Elephant' Guided Walking Tour: Chartered Institute of Housing survey, Grainia Long, New London Architecture, Caroline Dale, Strata, Heygate Estate

Some Londoners on a Saturday morning walk the dog, enjoy a Full English Breakfast or work out at the gym. But a few choose to go on a guided 'regeneration' walk.
Paul Coleman reports.

A Lend Lease agent speaks to 'regeneration tourists' near to the Heygate Estate
© London Intelligence

Walking out of bounds

It’s not just that they don’t see a solution - they don’t even see a problem, writes Paul Coleman.
Some people say this 'head-in-the-sand' attitude towards growing inequality applies to London’s ‘regeneration’ advocates and ‘developer community’.
But inequality seems to matter to the 25 folk embarked on a 90-minute ‘Elephant Renaissance’ guided walking tour around the Elephant and Castle area of south London.
Blazing Saturday morning sunshine garlands their every step through Tabard Square, Trinity Church Square, Newington Gardens and Heygate/‘Elephant Park’. 
They’re a mix of men and women, but mainly professional types.
One woman comes from a wealthy Washington DC neighbourhood. “I’m curious about the inequalities produced by London’s real estate market,” she admits. "Is it just a playground for rich Russians?"

But inequality isn't really on the agenda of the 'regeneration tour'. Tour organisers New London Architecture describe the Elephant and Castle as an area ‘synonymous with social deprivation and poor quality buildings’ - but ‘now on the threshold of an urban renaissance…Tall buildings will both signal its regeneration and provide interest on the skyline’.
The NLA walk, part of a London Festival of Architecture, takes place on the same day (21 June) that a Chartered Institute of Housing and Ipsos Mori poll finds 34% of London residents believe the high cost of housing means they may “have to move out of their local area” in the future.

Out of bounds
CIH chair Grainia Long says: “It is deeply disturbing that a third of Londoners think they might have to leave their local area because the cost of housing is too high.
“Many areas are well on the way to becoming out of bounds to all but the very wealthiest – if things carry on as they are ordinary people will simply not be able to afford to live in many areas of the capital.”
For several years now, this has already hugely worried long-term Elephant and Castle residents whose families have lived in the area for generations. Residents claim a phalanx of developer-led and Southwark Council-backed regeneration schemes are pricing local families out of their traditional homes.

Author and journalist Caroline Dale tells 'regeneration tourists' about Newington Gardens
© London Intelligence

The NLA ‘regeneration’ narrative breezes over this problem. Fortunately, our experienced London guide happens to be Caroline Dale, the Angel-based author and journalist. Like the sunshine, Dale is a London soul not shy to shed a revealing light onto the shadowy propaganda pushed by developer-led ‘regeneration’ narrators.
Dale highlights how local council tenants and leaseholders on average and lower incomes contest Elephant and Castle developments, especially the lack of genuinely affordable housing offered by these schemes.
Dale pauses the cluster in Newington Green and points their gaze to the “ubiquitous and controversial Strata” tower, a purely residential building that looms over Elephant and Castle. With ‘affordable homes’ on the first ten floors, Dale says Strata’s remaining higher-level apartments “have been bought as buy-to-let investments”.

Static non-functioning wind turbines top the Strata Tower's penthouses
© London Intelligence

Dale points to the three static wind turbines at Strata’s peak. “They only went round for a couple of months,” says Dale. The architects said Strata’s turbines, originally designed to generate enough juice to power the tower’s lifts and communal lights, might be too noisy for people dwelling in Strata’s £2 million summit penthouses.
“Local people call them Strata’s green gimmick,” explains Dale. “The affordable housing element was meant to be for people moving out early from the Heygate Estate, now undergoing demolition. But it isn’t now, as it’s been taken over by an estate agent promoting the area. Strata hasn’t gone according to plan.”

Around the corner, Dale leads us mob-handed into Lend Lease’s sales gallery for ‘Elephant Park’, part of the global developer’s phased demolition and redevelopment of the 1,200 council and leaseholder homes on the Heygate Estate.
“There’ll be a small element of affordable,” says Dale, pointing to Lend Lease’s grandiose scale model of Phase One of ‘Elephant Park’ with its mansion flats and towers.
“You get the picture that almost everything planned around the Elephant and Castle is being resisted,” says Dale.
“But developers and Southwark Council like the huge land plots ripe for regeneration.”

Developer Lend Lease's sales cabin for its 'Elephant Park' first phase
demolition and redevelopment of the Heygate Estate
© London Intelligence

© Paul Coleman, LondonIntelligence, June 2014

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