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“I’m praying to god, ‘don’t regenerate my estate’ because regeneration has become a nasty word” (Social housing tenant, at a meeting held to discuss regeneration in the Tottenham area of north London, 2016).

This statement, made by an anxious tenant, encapsulates the main theme of this book. Regeneration refers to an urban policy involving spatially targeted reinvestment in and revitalisation of physically deteriorating, economically under-resourced and socially deprived areas – in this case public/council/social housing estates. Even though some regeneration aims can be considered laudable, the practice of regeneration in London has meant that it has become a ‘nasty word’ among estate residents as they see their homes bulldozed and their communities scattered. Much has already been written about this topic by academics, journalists and housing campaigners, but this is the first book to provide an in-depth account of what it means for London social tenants and homeowners to live through the regeneration of their estates over years and even decades. It focuses on regeneration schemes that involve ‘comprehensive redevelopment’ – demolition of an existing estate and rebuilding it as a ‘mixed-tenure neighbourhood’ with large numbers of market properties for sale or rent. Such comprehensive redevelopment fundamentally changes estates in ways that residents don’t expect, and are not properly told about by the politicians, officials and consultants who promote it as a way of solving London’s housing crisis.

In theory, the Carpenters estate in Stratford, in the east London borough of Newham, has been ‘regenerating’ since 2004. In reality, regeneration hasn’t properly started. Instead Newham Council has ‘decanted’ most of the tenants, leaving the estate half-empty for 15 years.

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This chapter outlines the rise and fall of public housing in London with reference to national and local housing policy. Two historical periods are identified: an expansionary period that covers the first 80 years of the 20th century, followed by a contractionary period from the 1980s until the 2010s. This periodisation is theoretically located within the development of the Keynesian welfare state and that form of welfare state’s unravelling under neoliberalisation, an unravelling that has intensified under recent austerity policies. Before outlining this periodisation, it is first contextualised with reference to housing as the ‘wobbly pillar’ of the welfare state.

Most nation states rely upon market and informal housing provision, with the latter prominent in the Global South. It is only within the cities and towns of the Global North that public/social housing has existed to any substantial extent. Public housing was a key part of post-war welfare states in Western capitalist societies (Harloe, 1995; Balchin, 1996). Many Northern European cities – and North American and Australasian cities to a much lesser extent – are physically marked by the presence of public/social housing estates (Urban, 2012; Jacobs, 2019). During the 1950 to 1980s, these estates were often large-scale and took a modernist architectural form (Urban, 2012; Hess et al, 2018). Public housing was also prominent in the former state socialist regimes in Eastern Europe, although the collapse of these regimes has resulted in wide-scale housing privatisation (Balchin, 1996; Hess et al, 2018).

Social housing is provided at sub-market costs due to state legislation and funding (although owner-occupation has also been heavily subsidised by the state in numerous ways; Merrett, 1982).

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This chapter reviews the various urban policy programmes which have attempted to renew and regenerate London’s deprived estates. The chapter begins with a brief overview of ‘old’ urban renewal in its post-war slum clearance form, and its ‘new urban renewal’ form as estate regeneration. It then traces the development of estate-based programmes from the 1980s to the 2010s, and in so doing employs a binary early-contemporary periodisation. The early period (1980s to 1990s) included relatively generous public subsidies. Contemporary regeneration dates from the late 1990s to 2010s and is the primary focus of this book. It was during this period that the private sector was expected to undertake the heavy lifting in terms of regeneration funding. The analysis concentrates on the New Labour years since this is when most of the research schemes in this book began. Following this chronological account, the next section examines the hegemonic ‘official discourse’ on estate regeneration and excavates the underlying rationale for such regeneration in London. Aspects of the ‘entrepreneurial city’ are then briefly examined in London, and the concept of the ‘entrepreneurial borough’ is introduced. The penultimate section compares early and contemporary estate regeneration schemes, including with reference to differential mixed-tenure outcomes, while the final section examines what regeneration-as-demolition costs residents both in financial and human terms.

Post-war urban policy in Western capitalist societies consisted of renewal programmes which involved tearing down inner-city ‘slum housing’ which in many cases was replaced with public/social housing estates, typically of modernist architectural design (Hirsch, 1983; Urban, 2012). While such urban renewal often resulted in improved housing, it also erased established working-class neighbourhoods, as seen in Herbert Gans’ (1962) classic study of the West End of Boston.

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The research focused on seven London boroughs – referred to as the ‘main research boroughs’ – while less extensive research was undertaken in four ‘supplementary boroughs’ (Figure 4.1). Six of the main boroughs – Hackney, Haringey, Lambeth, Newham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets – have been among the most deprived local authority areas in England for decades. These six are part of the cluster of ‘inner East boroughs’ that Hanna and Bosetti (2015: 9) identify as having ‘the highest proportions nationally of children and old people living in poverty’. These boroughs also contain large BAME populations that are disproportionately disadvantaged in terms of housing and employment (Chouhan et al, 2011; Elahi and Khan, 2016).

Despite their enduring social problems, there has also been some reduction in the extent of poverty and deprivation in the six inner East boroughs over the last 20 years which reflects how ‘poverty rates have increased in outer London and decreased in inner London’ (Hanna and Bosetti, 2015: 6). Table 4.1 shows the national ranking of the seven main research boroughs based on their average area-based deprivation scores in the 1998 Index of Local Deprivation (ILD) and 2015 IMD. Leaving aside Barnet as an outlier, these featured among the 20 most deprived local authority areas in England in 1998, with four appearing in the ten most deprived areas. By the 2015 IMD, the ranking of their average scores had all improved such that only Hackney and Tower Hamlets remained among the 20 most deprived areas (Smith et al, 2015: 58).

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Since the 1970s, social housing estates within Western capitalist cities have been linked to marginalisation processes in relation to poverty and deprivation. This chapter examines marginalisation at London’s estates with reference to three analytical frameworks: residualisation, social exclusion and socio-tenurial polarisation. While acknowledging that such approaches have considerable credibility – especially in socioeconomic terms – the chapter develops a multi-stranded critique of how they frame and analyse marginalisation. This critique embraces three main themes: employment and class; social inclusion and diversity; and tenure preferences. This critique draws upon interview data regarding tenants’ labour and housing market experiences. The final section focuses on the shifting interrelationship between homelessness and social housing.

The marginalisation of UK public housing has been examined through various analytical frameworks including residualisation (Forrest and Murie, 1991), social exclusion (SEU, 1998) and socio-tenurial polarisation (Hamnett, 2003). Residualisation means public renting transformed during the 1970s to 1990s from general needs housing, catering for a broad swathe of the working class, to a residual ‘tenure of last resort’ for a poor, largely ‘non-working class’ (Forrest and Murie, 1991). The latter include deprived and socially marginalised groups that were too poor to enter owner-occupation – the unemployed, sick and disabled, lone-parent families, the homeless, BAME groups, unskilled workers, and so on (Forrest and Murie, 1991; Hamnett, 2003).

If residualisation began during the 1970s, it intensified during the 1980s due to a series of policy and social developments. The Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 contributed towards residualisation by allowing those with ‘priority need’ greater access into local authority housing thereby eroding its base in the general population (Somerville, 1994; Fitzpatrick and Pawson, 2016).

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This chapter assesses how and why residents came to value their estates as places to live. It begins by considering their attachment to their dwellings as homes. The importance of place belonging is then analysed at the spatial scale of the estate in relation to neighbourliness and community. This leads on to an examination of the intermediate scale – blocks of flats and rows of houses. The next two sections show how estates have been affected by the Right to Buy policy in relation to place belonging, by considering, first, RTB owners and, second, middle-class homeowners who bought their homes on the open market from the original RTB owners. The final section considers whether London’s estates form 21st century urban villages.

This section focuses on the domestic dwelling space and shows how residents valued their houses and flats as ‘homes’. Most secure tenant and leaseholder interviewees expressed place attachment to their dwellings, albeit that owners were more likely to be positive than tenants. The NES found that nearly three quarters of respondents were satisfied with their flats or maisonettes, with satisfaction higher among leaseholders (91 per cent) than tenants (68 per cent) (Watt and Allen, 2018). Homes provided ‘ontological security’ (Easthope, 2014) and this attachment is related to the dwelling’s physical qualities, their own home-making efforts, and sentimental attachments.

In terms of physical qualities, two facets stood out: solidity and generous space standards. The term ‘solid’ – meaning well-built, structurally sound buildings – was commonly invoked when people described their homes. Frank was a builder and when I asked him about his flat at Northumberland Park estate, he hit the kitchen cupboard wall in order to demonstrate its sturdiness: “this is four inches thick, it’s old school, well-built, they’re solid and warm flats”.

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This chapter illustrates five ways that estates have become devalued places to live in residents’ eyes, beginning with the domestic scale in relation to overcrowding and un-homing. Second, it examines the crucial impact of landlord neglect in relation to repairs and maintenance. Third, the RTB is revisited with reference to its acceleration of population transience due to the rise of private landlordism. The fourth devaluation theme is crime and disorder, while the final section discusses symbolic devaluation through territorial and tenurial stigmatisation.

Despite generally positive evaluations of their homes, residents – but especially tenants – also expressed reservations which in some cases spilled over into outright rancour and frustration at the poor housing conditions they were forced to live in. These included overcrowding, poor quality (age, damp, fixtures and fittings) and inadequate landlord repairs and maintenance. One fifth of NES tenants were dissatisfied with their homes, but only 6 per cent of leaseholders (Watt and Allen, 2018). Tenant dissatisfactions at Northwold estate included:

‘Old and infested with rodents, bugs and all sorts.’ (R242)

‘Flat is full of damp, leaks but was covered up by condensation. I’ve taken further action, hopefully get somewhere this year. Mice problems! Works are not taken seriously. Cheap works!’ (R263)

‘My family have lived on this estate, in this block for many years and are happy living here. The only issue is the small size of the flat.’ (R370)

As R370 highlights, lack of space and overcrowding was a significant problem for some families. Worsening overcrowding is intimately linked to the shrinking aggregate size of the social rental sector since councils and housing associations are unable to transfer their overcrowded families to more suitable, larger properties; this situation has worsened under austerity (Orr, 2018).

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This chapter examines the beginnings of regeneration including consultation. It briefly reviews the impetus for regeneration, and then goes on to analyse two examples of early-stage regeneration: the first is the long-running Canning Town/Custom House scheme in Newham, and the second is Northwold estate in Hackney. The consultation process is then examined in depth from the perspective of residents, followed by a briefer analysis of professionals’ perspectives. The final lengthy section teases out the complexities of residents’ responses to comprehensive redevelopment involving extensive demolition.

Residents are by no means necessarily opposed to regeneration per se. Given that their homes and estates had been neglected, unsurprisingly many welcomed regeneration of some kind – at least initially, as noticeable at the NDC estates. The immediate impetus for regeneration has primarily originated with councils and housing associations in a top-down manner, either by responding to central government regeneration programmes (for example SRB, NDC, and so on), or by addressing their own regeneration agendas which have latterly involved ‘solving’ London’s housing crisis via estate densification. Somewhat less often, regeneration has been prompted by bottom-up pressure as residents have lobbied the council to do something – anything – to improve the quality of their homes and estates other than merely reactive repairs. For example, in 2003 Carpenters residents formed a protest group called ‘Tower Block Action Group’ which staged a series of actions to highlight the problems they were having, including an infestation of ants, asbestos, poor repairs and lack of safety (Strauss, 2007). This protest helped to prompt the long-running and still unresolved regeneration scheme at this estate (Chapters 4 and 12). Another example is Bacton estate in Camden, where residents approached an architectural firm to improve their blocks (Wainwright, 2016; Karakusevic Carson Architects, 2017).

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This chapter examines what happens once regeneration-as-demolition begins in earnest. In stark contrast to the official regeneration rationale – creating better places and lives – it argues that residents experience physical, social, symbolic and psychosocial degeneration. If regeneration involves spatially targeted reinvestment in and revitalisation of physically rundown and socially deprived areas, degeneration is regeneration’s demonic alter ego in the form of financial disinvestment in those areas and their accelerated physical, social and symbolic deterioration over and above any original problems they might have. Such degeneration encompasses multiple overlapping strands: enhanced landlord neglect, loss of valued estate facilities, boarded-up properties, increased population transience, living on a building site and heightened stigmatisation. As degeneration takes hold, estate residents’ support for and engagement with regeneration dissipates, and trust breaks down. Degeneration/regeneration elongates into the distant future and creates a psychosocial limbo-land in which residents put their lives on indefinite hold.

Regeneration ushers in degeneration via heightened landlord disinvestment which is experienced as ‘enhanced neglect’. Such enhanced neglect involves ‘managed decline’, which refers to the notion that ‘the area’s problems could be solved by allowing the neighbourhood to get worse and worse until it was no longer viable and had to be pulled down’ (Davidson et al, 2013: 62). Residents thought managed decline was occurring via the actions and inactions of the official regeneration partners, initially to soften them up for major redevelopment, and then later to pressurise them out of their homes. An exhibition held at a ‘Northumberland Park Decides’ meeting included photographs of rundown areas and asked, ‘Is this managed decline?’ (Photograph 9.1) at Northumberland Park estate.

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This chapter focuses on residents’ displacement experiences, both before and after physical relocation.1 It begins by providing an overview of dispossession with reference to social cleansing. It then analyses displacement among social tenants, the tenure with the greatest rehousing rights, including the right to return, and examines the displacement anxiety theme. The next two sections examine the physical displacement experiences of secure council tenants – those who have returned to new properties in the redeveloped neighbourhood, and those who relocated away from the estate. The displacement experiences of owner-occupiers are then discussed, followed by the temporary tenants. The penultimate section scrutinises what the right to return really means, while the final section discusses agency, control and power in rehousing.

The Introduction summarised the notion that estate regeneration involving demolition forms part of what Harvey (2003) calls accumulation by dispossession. Urban working-class populations are dispossessed of publicly held resources, including land and housing, to make way for new predatory rounds of capital accumulation. In the case of estates, this occurs via the springing of the state-induced rent gap (Watt, 2013). This section presents residents’ views on dispossession.

Many residents displayed a profound distrust of the official rationale for demolition as expressed by their routine invocation of ‘it’s not for us’ – meaning us (ordinary working-class people) will not be the prime beneficiaries of regeneration, not least since we will be physically displaced away from the area (Watt, 2013).

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