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.
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.
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.
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.
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. ↩