Looking towards tower blocks and Richmond Park from the balcony of Binley House on the Alton Estate, Roehampton

Some very lazy blogging here, but below is an article I wrote for the LGIU’s C’llr magazine. It isn’t very profound, but when thinking about the subject a web-search didn’t find a single reference to the Kübler-Ross model of grief being applied to regeneration (other than regenerations in Dr Who which seem to provoke strong senses of bereavement among some).

Although written a few months ago, last week I was talking to a Roehampton resident who seemed somewhat depressed when expressing support for regeneration. I enquired further, and he told me why his words and demeanour didn’t match: “I’ve lived here since 1959. I know it will be better for my grandkids and their kids, but I’m losing my home for them.” However hard we try, there will be some human cost, in this case the resident saw it as sad but worthwhile, the challenge is making sure that cost is worth it for everyone.

However noble the intention regeneration projects sometimes seem to bring nothing but grief. From the big arguments over vision to the tiniest details that suddenly become all-consuming, it’s easy to sometimes wonder if regeneration is just a series of segues between tension, disagreement and frustration.

Any regeneration project will inevitably spend much of the process dogged by criticism. Aside from the human tendency to dissent vigorously but assent apathetically, is the simple fact that even well supported regenerations will still have been opposed by a significant minority of people: nine out of ten supporting still means one out of ten don’t.

In Wandsworth we are currently involved in three big regeneration projects. Nine Elms is the one that attracts the headlines: central London’s biggest opportunity area will see industrial land along the Thames transformed, creating over 20,000 new jobs, a revitalised Battersea Power Station and a new diplomatic quarter which will be home to the US Embassy. No less important are the schemes currently running in two of our most deprived areas which will see up to £100 million invested to transform estates that have, for different reasons, not aged well.

At first sight all three are no-brainers. Nine Elms transforms inaccessible brownfield sites and creates jobs and amenities while providing access to the Thames riverside. Our estate regenerations will see the creation of high quality homes along with the creation of new jobs and better communal spaces and facilities.

Yet for those directly affected, the benefits are not always that obvious. I have come to realise the process does not only cause grief to those of us involved in delivery, but also causes grief for the beneficiaries.

It is easy to be overwhelmed with the technicalities of regeneration: the homes standards and densities, phasing studies, the permeability of the new neighbourhood. But no-one lives technically, they live emotionally. They live in homes and neighbourhoods measured in memories, not by space standards.

These emotional aspects are not lost on the council. We try hard to engage whenever possible; community engagement involves the whole council, from housing to schools and even the council’s arts team. Despite that, there is a regeneration to deliver and residents sometimes can not help but think the council is doing, but not feeling.

Increasingly, I wonder if the classic Kübler-Ross model of five stages of loss can be applied to regeneration schemes. First is denial, a belief the council will not deliver. Second is anger, perhaps a suspicion that it is motivated by ulterior motives. Third comes bargaining; I met one resident who wanted their block demolished, but only if we kept and rebuilt around their ground floor flat. Next is the depression of residents thinking the council just will do what it wants.

Finally comes acceptance; and with it engagement, understanding and—hopefully—enthusiasm. Wandsworth’s experience may just mirror the regenerations seen elsewhere: but that should not detract from any individual experience, because once trust and ambition is shared, the magic starts to happen.

Residents understand, better than anyone, the problems we want to address, and are able to contribute to the process. They can see how their views and opinions are incorporated as regeneration plans take shape and, just as importantly, understand when they are not. When the plans start to become reality, residents start getting the tangible benefits: in Wandsworth the number of people getting jobs on the developments through the council’s jobs brokerage service grows almost daily. When they see the benefits residents can become champions for regeneration, as So Solid Crew’s G-Man surprisingly did in Wandsworth, and will undoubtedly influence some people who are unmoved by the council’s information.

It is when you see those unexpected contributions and realise that people’s imaginations are turning to the possibilities of the future, rather than the suspicions or inconveniences of today, that the grief is well worth it.

Various stages of construction work taking place in the developments at Nine Elms
Nine Elms, as viewed from a grubby window in Market Towers.

One of the privileges of being a councillor over the past few years has been the opportunity to be involved—however tangentially—in the council’s three regeneration projects in Battersea, Roehampton and Nine Elms. I’ve posted a few times about the Battersea and Roehampton regenerations, but sometimes feel I’ve not been that forthcoming about Nine Elms (although there have been a few posts on related topics.)

Nine Elms, of course, needs no help in promoting itself. Even before you consider the marketing budgets of the individual developers or the work of the Nine Elms team its central London location and iconic buildings, whether present or future, means my occasional musings can only be on the fringes of relevance.

However, one aspect I have been involved in is the employment aspect and this is somewhere the council is playing a big rôle. I’m hugely proud of the work of Wandsworth Work Match who are already getting jobs for local residents in Nine Elms (and elsewhere). If forced to think of highlights from being a councillor then getting the feedback from Work Match after I’ve referred people to them would easily be among them.

Much is made of the more than 20,000 jobs that Nine Elms will create when complete. Rightly so. It has to be the chief benefit of the development for local residents. However, when we push that we tend to overlook the construction jobs created while development takes place.

The Nine Elms Strategy Board last week had a presentation from Mace who have undertaken skills forecasting work for the board. The idea is to understand what sort of jobs would be required and when, so training providers can adapt their offer accordingly. The sheer scale of Nine Elms means that the skills that will be required do not exist in sufficient numbers in London: we either have to import workers from elsewhere, or train them.

The numbers required are huge. Without going into the detail of various skills or phasing there will be over 8,500 people working on construction sites at the peak in 2016 when there will be 25 separate projects. Between 2015 and 2021 the number of workers will never drop below 5,000 jobs, overall there’s anticipated to be at least ten years of construction at Nine Elms.

The challenge for the council is ensuring that a fair share (or maybe more than a fair share) of those jobs are taken by Wandsworth residents. If you, or someone you know, think you right for one of them then get in touch with Work Match.

Introducing the Alton area masterplan to residents
Introducing the Alton area masterplan to residents

The Alton Area Masterplan was launched at a public meeting in Roehampton at the weekend. And there was, perhaps predictably, a little controversy in the meeting. But not, perhaps, as controversial as it might have been.

Indeed, the complaints seemed to focus on one issue: the Danebury Avenue barrier[1].

Quickly looking through my previous posts on regeneration topics I’m astounded that I’ve not written something about seemingly small and tangential issues taking on new importance during the process. We are consulting on a major regeneration project, demolishing and creating hundreds of homes, but during the public meeting part of the session the barrier became the hot topic.

And for some people it is a hot topic. For a start it has the advantage of being something that is easily understandable and relatable: if you have a belief about the effect of a traffic barrier, you know what that barrier does. And that is much easier for anyone to comprehend and far less abstract than trying to re-think how people relate to an area.

Large blocks, in large spaces. The initial vision for the Alton was remarkably good.
Large blocks, in large spaces. The initial vision for the Alton was remarkably good.

It is also something of a lesson for those, like me, who are involved in an area in which, however deep our involvement, we do not live (I did hear a few mutterings about ‘outsiders’). Almost by definition we look at an area with a degree of objectivity, since we aren’t as emotionally involved, but also with views coloured by our own experiences. Personally speaking, I live somewhere that is almost the physical opposite of the Alton: small houses with small gardens on a traditional road layout, compare to the Alton’s large blocks of flats set in expansive green spaces that (should) relate to Richmond Park.

However hard I try I cannot remove my housing experiences from my memory and that’s why it’s important to give the due weight to concerns about the possibility of removal of the Danebury Avenue barrier. My experiences of living on streets that have varying levels of traffic, and different methods of controlling volume and speed, have not been shared by long-term residents on the Alton estate, where Danebury Avenue has only been open or closed.

Generally, though, the session seemed positive. Listening to various people afterwards there were concerns, but not negativity. People are naturally anxious about their homes and their futures, but equally pessimism and cynicism are giving way to optimism and ambition for the area.

There will undoubtedly be difficult times ahead, and we will never persuade everyone that the final Masterplan is the best way forward for the Alton, but strolling through the estate after the meeting, and seeing how large parts of the estate already work remarkably well (although I concede a blue sky always improves a scene) it was easy to be upbeat about the future.

  1. I should caveat my record of this meeting by stating the acoustics were bad when people were speaking without a microphone, and standing at the back (it was a standing room only meeting) I struggled to hear a lot of the debate.  ↩

Looking towards tower blocks and Richmond Park from the balcony of Binley House on the Alton Estate, Roehampton
The Alton boasts a remarkable setting

This week saw the start of the next stage of consultation on the Alton Estate regeneration. I’ve not written as much about the work of the council in improving the Alton estate in Roehampton as I have about the Winstanley and York Road work, possibly because of my proximity to the latter, possibly because the Alton programme is, to my mind, more subtle.

It isn’t the first time the council has tried to tackle the Alton. Though it’s the first time in my memory that we seem to have the support to see it through. It was interesting after the last Roehampton Partnership meeting talking to members who suggested they had felt a change: the partnership felt more positive, more professional even, and progress was being made. Pride may come before a fall (and I recognise we’re approaching a rather febrile election season) but there are reasons to be optimistic.

But why are the plans for the Alton more subtle than for the Winstanley and York Road programme?

To answer, you have to look at the Alton estate’s conception. It’s easy to look at council estates and assume they are, somehow, automatically dysfunctional. The original plans for the Alton, however, came some way towards the post-war Utopian vision for social housing. Modern architecture in a park setting: the blocks looking and feeling very much like they in an extended Richmond Park. Viewing the original plans, and hearing the original architect’s vision, I found myself finally understanding why so many long-term residents could speak of the jealousy they encountered from those who were not allocated housing there. Indeed, I had some of that jealousy myself.

Unfortunately the subsequent development took most of the shine off the estate. Later additions were, frankly, done on the cheap. They re-used designs from elsewhere, and built what could fit, rather than what should fit.

The masterplan option on which we are about to consult moves us back towards that vision, at the junction of Danebury Avenue and Roehampton Lane there will be new buildings that properly frame the estate’s gateway, the area behind providing new, higher quality homes that face the right way rather than having gardens on the road, Portswood Place will be revitalised to create new centre and through it all a central park will provide an attractive link into Richmond Park, creating attractive views and pathways.

And the subtlety? A lot of the buildings remain exactly as they are. The road layout will be unchanged. This is not like the Winstanley and York Road scheme that proposes a lot of demolition in the York Road Estate. It cannot be seen as purely physical regeneration[1].

It cannot be viewed just as shiny new buildlings, though there are some, but instead should invite you to imagine a new relationship with the area: from a new park area to enjoy, new shops providing not only retail, but employment and vibrancy, and new facilities for services and recreation. Fundamentally, it recognises that a lot of the original estate is good, it just needs the setting to make it work.

The consultation is just another stage of an evolving process, but the master planning exercise is drawing to a close and reflects a lot of the feedback that has been received. I think they are incredibly exciting and promising, and hope those responding to the consultation think the same.

  1. The Winstanley and York Road regeneration should not be seen as purely physical regeneration either, but if you choose to view it in that way it can still make sense, providing better homes and facilities close to Clapham Junction. ↩

The preferred option for the Winstanley Estate and neighbouring York Road Estate is taking shape
The preferred option for the Winstanley Estate and neighbouring York Road Estate is taking shape

The preferred option exhibition for the Winstanley and York Road estate regeneration starts this weekend at York Gardens Library (taking place this Saturday from noon–3pm, then Monday 5–8pm and Wednesday 10am–1pm).

Throughout the process so far I’ve been surprised at the appetite for change. There was undoubtedly a consensus that improvements were desperately needed, and a significant majority of people recognised that—for whatever reason—the estates don’t ‘work’. I have my own views on why they don’t work, although re-reading them I’m struck that I didn’t explicitly mention the loss of a traditional street pattern which has to be one of the biggest problems (and hardest to address because it means removing buildings).

Despite that appetite, I remain surprised at how strong that appetite for change has been. I perhaps blithely assumed people would plump for the middle option, but when I’ve been there and talking to residents I’ve seen demand for radical change, some even wanting to go further than the council’s options.

Of course, not everyone shares that desire. The fact I’ve met so many people keen on change owes much to chance, because there are those who prefer other options, including the minimal refurbishment, and those who prefer hybrid schemes, taking elements from different options.

The whole process is evolutionary, and while the suggested designs are becoming more detailed, feedback from this stage will be incorporated as the plans and delivery are more fully worked up. So if you are affected it’s worth attending one of the sessions.

More details are on the council’s website.

The first presentation of the options to Winstanley and York Road residents
The first presentation of the options to Winstanley and York Road residents

If there was anything from last week’s launch of the Winstanley and York Road consultation exercise that surprised me it’s that it was generally positive.

To those looking at it from the outside that statement itself might be surprising. Why on earth wouldn’t anyone be positive about the council potentially spending millions improving your neighbourhood? Well, there are lots of reasons.

From the emotional (people develop strong emotional ties to their homes), to the cynical (what is the council’s ulterior motive) to the pessimistic (the idea is nice, but it just isn’t going to happen): there are those who are not happy with any of the proposals. And there is, undoubtedly, a big job for the council to do in addressing all three, whether it’s reassuring people that they won’t lose out because of the plans or persuading them that the council’s motives are honourable.

Generally though, it seemed people were there to find out more and engage positively in the process that will shape the outcome.

Certainly among those residents to whom I spoke I could feel some warming towards the council. They were all in the pessimist camp, they’d seen such things suggested before and they amounted to nothing so why would this time be any different. But talking to them I felt that a change was taking place, not necessarily because of anything I said, but because as the consultation process progresses there is a better mutual understanding between the council and residents, and a growing faith and trust that something is, actually, going to happen.

I mentioned in my last post on the topic that I didn’t think the minimal option would be that well supported, and certainly from the conversations I had and responses I saw on the day (admittedly a very small sample) it seemed fairly clear that there was appetite for some of the wider ranging options, which bring more disruption, but also more benefits. Despite my desire not to prejudge I hope that remains the case. It’s perhaps easy for me to say, since I’m not one of those who is going to be directly affected by the scheme, but I think the benefits of the options which involve various degrees of demolition are worth far more and will last far longer than the disruption and inconvenience they will entail.

The next stage of the process involves more direct consultations, often on a block-by-block basis to ensure as many people as possible have their say. I’m planning on attending a few of these sessions as well, and am looking forward (I think!) to meeting more residents to hear their views so I can better represent them as the Winstanley and York Road steering group chairman.

There will be difficult times ahead. However well supported the final proposals are, there will still be some who oppose them–for whatever reason–and may well oppose them vociferously. Ultimately, the council will have to decide based on the balance of support, benefits and opposition to whatever option or options emerge. For the time being, though, it’s pleasing that the process remains largely positive.

You can find out more from the council’s regeneration pages

The Winstanley Estate, and neighbouring York Road Estate, might be getting a new look
The Winstanley Estate, and neighbouring York Road Estate, might be getting a new look

The consultation on the options for the Winstanley and York Road estate will be formally launched this weekend. It is the first step in a process that will, ultimately, lead to a regenerated neighbourhood in one of Wandsworth’s most deprived wards. Though what that will actually look like depends on the outcome of the consultation; something I don’t want to prejudge.

My involvement in the Winstanley and York Road master-planning exercise (along with my involvement in the similar exercise taking place in Roehampton) has been one of the most interesting periods of my time on the council, and certainly one of the most exciting, since it is likely that the scale of change will not have been seen in Wandsworth since some of these estates were built.[1]

That creates an interesting paradox. If we are to look at large housing estates, or collections of housing estates (there are actually three distinct council estates and the private Falcons Estate on the island formed by Plough Road, York Road, Falcon Road and Grant Road), and decide that they ‘don’t work’ we must also accept the possibility that anything we do to improve might well face the same accusation ten, twenty or thirty years from now.

The past year has been the first time I’ve wandered around the estate actually looking at what the original architects were seeking to do and not knocking on doors or delivering leaflets. While it’s easy to criticise the design of council estates the country over you cannot avoid the fact that none were designed or built (or at least I hope none were built) by planners, architects or councillors who were seeking to make people miserable or compound deprivation; they were all looking to make life better for the residents.

You can imagine how the original planners must have envisioned the original York Road estate, with roomy flats in big blocks surrounded by green spaces. Or how Pennethorne Square would have been a small town square. Or how the smaller scale of some of the Winstanley estate blocks came closer to replicating the old street pattern.

But it’s also easy to see how the mistakes were made. The big open spaces are uneven because they were used to hide the rubble from demolished houses and where they are flat, games were prohibited, so they were nothing like the gardens the flats lack. Pennethorne Square has no active usage on several sides, meaning there was nothing there to give it vibrancy and life. And community safety issues meant the surviving street pattern in the Winstanley became constrained in a bid to reduce crime.

But these are only my opinions. In all my meandering around the estate I learnt two things: first, I’m always pegged as being ‘from the council’ (this even happened when I was in jeans and a t-shirt wheeling a push-chair around) and second, that everyone there has a different opinion. I once found myself refereeing a friendly argument between two women, one from York Road and one from Winstanley, who both felt that all the good bits of the estates were in their estate, while all the bad design features existed in their friend’s estate.

The consistent feature of all the discussions was a sense of pride in their neighbourhood, even though they could see faults and recognised the estates were not all they could be.

We’re now starting a process that will help the neighbourhoods realise their potential. We hope it will result in improvement, huge improvement, for the residents and the wider Wandsworth community. Lessons have been learnt from decades of estate building, and decades of estate regeneration elsewhere. And consultation is at the heart of the process, because we cannot forget that this is a scheme that will affect people’s homes and lives.

It is still at the beginning of the process, and as the options are discussed and refined and a preferred option emerges, it is clear that won’t find a solution that will please everyone, but I hope in a few months time we are closer to something that has majority support and in which everyone involved can take pride.

  1. Although I said I didn’t want to prejudge the outcome of the consultations, I’m doing just that and assuming there is enough consensus that the minimal option–basically a bit of tarting up–won’t be the one that gathers most favour.  ↩

The Workmatch office sign
Wandsworth Workmatch’s offices on Lavender Hill

Wandsworth’s Workmatch service was officially launched with a small ceremony at its new Lavender Hill offices earlier this week. The service acts as a brokerage, matching local employers with potential local employees, its first priority is ensuring that local people benefit as much as possible from the development taking place at Nine Elms.

The idea is simple. The team at Workmatch, because they know the needs of employers and the skills of their candidates can help both find each other easily, so employers can fill their vacancies easily and job-seekers have an easier route into employment. And while it will be Nine Elms focussed to begin, it can help anyone–employer or potential employee–in Wandsworth.

While it’s new here it is a concept that was used successfully in many other places, most notably in the Olympic boroughs where their equivalent service helped ensure the success of the games while creating a tangible benefit for east London residents. Ben, one of Workmatch’s early successes spoke at the launch, telling everyone how he went from a general enquiry to the jobs@nineelmsonthesouthbank.com email address (which despite the address is managed by Wandsworth on behalf of Nine Elms) to a placement and then a job in a matter of weeks.

Huge thanks and congratulations on the launch of the Workmatch service are due to the council’s Economic Development Team and the new Workmatch staff, who have taken it from an idea to an already successful service in a matter of months. And at the risk of being parochial someway ahead of Lambeth’s equivalent service, meaning Wandsworth residents have a great head-start on getting jobs in Nine Elms!

If you are interested in the Workmatch service you can find out more on the council’s website or contact them directly at wandsworthworkmatch@wandsworth.gov.uk

Various stages of construction work taking place in the developments at Nine Elms
Nine Elms, as viewed from a grubby window in Market Towers.

I represented Wandsworth on a tour of Nine Elms by Greater London Assembly regeneration committee members yesterday. Similar tours of the area are a fairly frequent event, reflecting the size of interest in what is central London’s last big development opportunity. However, diary clashes have meant I haven’t taken part in too many of them.

An upside to this is that I’m always slightly taken aback by the amount of work that has taken place behind the hoardings (although I run along Nine Elms Lane at least once a week, you don’t actually see that much from ground level). And every time I seem to be made aware of something I already knew, but hadn’t quite fully grasped for some reason.

This time it was how quickly this is all happening: I may have been filled with confidence by the Power Station ground breaking or news of sales on the developments but hadn’t fully realised that the first new residents of Nine Elms will be moving into Riverlight (the buildings in front of the Power Station in the poor quality snap above) about this time next year. Those residents will be joined by the first phase of Embassy Gardens and the completion of One St George Wharf1 next year.

Nine Elms is rapidly moving from an abstract vision to provider of homes, jobs and leisure.

  1. Be warned, this page automatically plays music that leaves you wondering what super-hero film trailer is playing. I will award a Mars bar to the best suggestion for a super-power that matches the music. 

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in a bad photo from the Power Station's ground-breaking event
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in a bad photo from the Power Station’s ground-breaking event

Battersea Power Station’s development was ‘started’ last week with a joint ground-breaking by the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and Malaysia.

Ground-breaking ceremonies are, arguably, a little pointless. If anything they tend to delay development because work has to stop to allow the ceremony to take place, and you can’t even argue that the ground-breaking does even a tiny bit of the work needed. Boris Johnson ‘broke’ the ground at Riverlight by sitting in a digger that had been turned off and the keys removed (despite this there was still a safety zone marked out around the digger, which perhaps speaks to the developers confidence in the Mayor around heavy machinery).

But there is a symbolism to the ceremony, and having a foreign head of government adds to that. I was fortunate enough to be invited to the celebration1 and while there is always something special about visiting the Power Station—something I have been inordinately fortunate to be able to do on many occasions—this was marked by something different: a very real sense of that things are going to happen.

It’s very hard to put my finger on exactly why I felt that, but thinking over the seven years I’ve been involved—to varying degrees—with Nine Elms I can begin to see why. Parkview may have had the money, but never seemed able to finally settle on a scheme. Treasury came up with plans, but ultimately the money was not there. Finally we have developers who not only have a scheme with consent, but the money to see it through.

There is, of course, a long way to go and not all of it will be universally welcomed, many are wary of the change of chimney demolition phasing, for example (although I’d harboured the view that would be necessary for much longer than I dare to admit). Indeed, there is so much left to do I may not even be around to see it completed (politically, I mean, I’m not that morbid), but at the very least I can say I was there when we were finally confident the iconic heart of Nine Elms Battersea would be saved.

  1. A very rare occasion, one of only a handful in my fifteen years on the council, when I’ve had hospitality I need to declare.