Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The London Clearances (continued)


Walterton Road, North Paddington 1975
My first useful work as a photographer came about through involvement with housing campaigners at the tail end of the slum clearance programmes of the 1960s and 70s. In London, streets of poorly maintained, privately rented Victorian terraces were being torn down and replaced by a brave new world of modern homes in publicly owned estates of concrete apartment blocks.

Forty years on, that world has turned full circle. Now it is the 'castles in the sky' that are coming down, streets are all the rage, and council housing, now renamed 'social', is struggling to survive.

Gloucester House and the rubble of Durham Court, South Kilburn Estate, 2008
Across the road from the sub-standard flat that was my home back in 1975 (toilet and cold water sink on the shared landing, no bathroom), work has begun on Phase 2b of Brent Council's 15 year South Kilburn Estate regeneration scheme. Demolition of the low rise Durham Court blocks is underway, and the now deserted 18 storey Gloucester House awaits the wrecking crew.

If all goes according to plan, by 2029, when the final phase is scheduled for completion, 2400 new homes will have been built, 1200 for private sale, and 1200 let at social rent to existing secure tenants.

Partly demolished blocks, Durham Court, South Kilburn Estate
The buildings and landscaping completed so far are impressive, a big improvement on the bleak brutalist concrete they have replaced, and the scheme has attracted much praise. The council has also been lauded for its financial strategy, using income from the private sales to fund the homes let at social rents.

So what's not to like? In a convincing piece on Haringey's controversial partnership deal with Australian developer Lendlease on the Red Brick blog, Steve Hilditch argues that the most straightforward criterion for assessing the wave of regeneration deals being done by councils across the capital should be the number of social rented homes there will be at the end of the process.

Thousands of mainly social rented homes will be knocked down and thousands of mainly private homes will be built. There will be many more homes overall, but, how will the proposed mix of market and sub-market homes tackle homelessness and the needs of people on the waiting list?  The type and tenure of new homes is as important as how many homes are built in total. Social rent remains the only truly affordable option for many people on lower incomes.”

On that measure, the figures for South Kilburn don't stack up. By 2029, 2400 new homes will have replaced 1610. Of the latter, 1420 were occupied by secure tenants and 190 by leaseholders. It's hard to know whether the prices leaseholders are getting for their compulsorily purchased homes match the prices demanded for the new (unlikely). But it is certain that 1420 secure tenants will not fit into the 1200 homes available for social rent. It is probable that enough of them will have been rehoused elsewhere to make the scheme work, but the net effect will be to reduce the number of social rent homes available across the borough, and to clear even more people on low or average incomes out of central London.

Kilburn Quarter, completed phase 2a of South Kilburn Estate regeneration scheme

Brent, like many others London councils, has been forced into this trade-off between private sales and publicly owned social rentals by central government funding cuts and the long-term disempowerment of local authorities. The new estate looks like it's going to be a nice place to live, and will provide much improved homes for the tenants who are rehoused on it - albeit at higher so-called 'target' social rents.  It will also increase the number of homes available for private sale and market rental – in itself not a bad thing, as long as they're occupied once bought. It's just a pity it won't be of any help in cutting the waiting list and housing the homeless.  More pictures here. More words and pictures here and here.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

HS2. The Wrecking Begins


Reverend Anne Stevens and local resident Jo Hurford, Euston Square Gardens

On Friday the Reverend Anne Stevens, vicar of St.Pancras Church, spent two hours chained to a 100 year-old plane tree outside Euston station, whilst local residents handed out leaflets to passing commuters. Work has already started around the planned London end of the HS2 high speed rail link to Birmingham, but the protest marked a significant escalation in the disruption which will turn the area into a building site for an estimated 17 years. On Monday Euston Square Gardens will be fenced off, and the felling of its century-old trees will begin, clearing the park to make way for construction vehicles, expected to average 650 trucks a day.

As many have pointed out, HS2 as planned is seriously flawed. It is extremely expensive (and getting pricier by the week), poorly integrated with the existing network, and its London terminal is in the wrong place, a densely populated area already home to three of the capital's principal railway stations. To cap it all comes news that Carillion, one of the major contractors involved in construction of the new line, is in serious financial difficulty.

Whilst all taxpayers will be forking out the cash for this, local residents have the added nightmare of living through it, windows closed, day in day out for almost two decades.  More pictures here.  More words and pictures here and here.


Tuesday, January 02, 2018

An Archival Impulse


Committee Meeting, 510 Centre, North Paddington 1978
In the spirit of archivism, I'm making accessible an article I wrote for the British Journal of Photography in 2010 to mark the demise of Photoworks Westminster (formerly North Paddington Community Darkroom), a community-based photography project that I set up in the 510 Centre, a busy grant-funded advice and community centre at 510 Harrow Road, in 1976. A PDF of the piece can be downloaded here.

This archival impulse has been prompted by a request from the Four Corners project in Bethnal Green which, in addition to documenting the heritage of its own film work, is creating a new archive exploring the photographic practice of its onetime neighbour, the Half Moon Photography Workshop (later Camerawork), from its creation in 1972 to its closure in 2004.

The travelling exhibitions, workshops and, above all, the roughly quarterly issues of Camerawork magazine (1976-85), were hugely influential at a time when a wave of community-based photography projects were springing up in various parts of the capital and elsewhere. As a self-taught photographer working in uncharted territory, the opportunity to read about and discuss the work of those with greater knowledge and experience was invaluable. I contributed what I could, but learned a lot more.

For those wishing to explore this bygone world further, there is now also a North Paddington Community Darkroom Archive at the Bishopsgate Institute, which includes a collection of laminated exhibition panels dating from the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Meanwhile Gardens, North Paddington 1983
Dominica Democratic Association meeting, 510 Centre, 1977