Demolishing Tower Blocks Vital to Pave Way for Quality Housing Future

New high rise building London
New high rise building London

The compulsory rehousing of up to several hundred people currently living in a community in a high rise block, in order in order to rebuild it to 21st century building regulations, is a complex multi million pound project involving many stakeholders, that many councils would not choose to undertake or afford voluntarily.

However the architectural lifespan of many post war high rise buildings means that many are now in need a total renovation, fifty to seventy or more years later, to conform to current fire safety legislation and building standards.

The Aylesbury estate in Walworth, south London, was built in the 1960s and 1970s and the London borough of Southwark is compulsory purchasing and knocking down the council blocks in order to rebuild it to modern quality standards “despite 73 percent of tenants who voted, (voted) to reject the idea.” (1) This may be because the tenants knew “The estate will be replaced by expensive flats for sale, with a net loss of nearly 1,000 social rented homes.” (1)

The demolition and building of “fifteen hundred new homes over the next nine years” (4) is now underway after the government put Southwark council’s plans on hold after concerns about low prices paid to residents who purchased their homes under the ‘right to buy’ scheme. (3)

Government officials discovered that the prices paid for apartments did not equate to purchasing a different flat in the local area. The inspector for the department of communities and local government said “the compulsory purchase order would not only deprive them of their dwelling but also their financial security.” (3)

A lack of council houses across the British Isles puts extra pressure on the system. Margaret Thatcher privatised council housing in the 1980’s and since “more than 2m council houses have been bought by their tenants but this (option) is harder (to afford) for the 2.5m people currently living in “social housing”, owned by housing associations.” (2)

Miss Smith in Hampshire explained how she and her partner of ten years “are both self employed and work full time but as we pay just 20% less than the market rental value for our housing association apartment, we are not able to save enough money for a deposit to purchase our own property.”

Treves House and Lister House are near the financial city in Whitechapel East London have plans for demolition as “the spiralling cost of repairs” have increased to “£120000 per flat.” (5)

“seven thousand demolitions” compared to “thirty thousand renovations” have occurred to date according to a recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation report on behalf of the Chartered Institute of Housing as part of a £500 million project in the North and Midlands funded by central government from 2003 to 2018.

The report also explains how “The process of demolition has a major impact on residents and communities and raises fundamental issues about the goals of neighbourhood regeneration, the use of statutory powers, and the process of community empowerment. A balance has to be struck between mitigating the impact on individual households and securing longer-term benefits for the community as a whole.” (6)

One can sympathise greatly with a home owner or tenant who has made a happy permanent home with important friendships with their neighbours for example. However buildings are not designed to last forever and they need maintenance and sometimes they need replacing.

Supporting residents of all ages and backgrounds with moving into new properties whether in the freshly constructed estate or if it is more appropriate for them to move nearby or to a new neighbourhood is crucially important. Considered as a key part of the process the demolition and rehousing of all the residents can be successfully achieved, with fair financial compensation and practical support all the way through the process from the council involved. A key aspect is providing options for bridging the affordability gap through loans and grants, so people whose homes are being compulsory purchased are not left out of pocket in the property marketplace.

Demolishing and rebuilding generates jobs in the construction industry and ensures that contemporary building materials such as asbestos that are harmful to building users are not used. The latest materials such as intelligent glass can help homeowners and tenants manage their lighting levels and their heating bills to reduce costs and give greater comfort. Good ventilation though both design and the right equipment means that damp and mould will not negatively impact residents lives with the associated health risks that can bring.

Much research has been done on the effect of a positive environment of the health and well being of families and communities. Regeneration is crucial to leave behind the scary dark alleys of well meaning post war brutalist architects such as those on the estates in Portsmouth in Hampshire.

Demolishing “not fit for purpose” housing and replacing it with exceptional housing for as many people as comfortably possible helps us become an advanced nation who values all its citizens, with good quality affordable housing to rival that of our more socialist neighbours on the continent and their popular housing association programmes.

The rewards are great for the next generation and future of the whole country in the long term if new, modern, spacious, environmentally and thermally efficient, fire resistant, safe, well designed, well lit family friendly housing, which is accessible for everybody is built incorporating all the facilities and amenities a 21st century community needs.

(1) Allen K. ‘To demolish or to refurbish, that is the urban question’ Financial Times 26 May 2015

(2) Allan K and Pickard J ‘London councils urged to demolish and redevelop council estates’ Financial Times 22 March 2015

(3) Turner G. ‘What the Aylesbury estate ruling means for the future of regeneration’ The Guardian 20 Sep 2016

(4) Southwark Council ‘Aylesbury Now Phasing’ May 2018

(5) Taylor D. ‘It’s social cleansing: the 93-year-old fighting east London demolitions’ The Guardian 28 Jul 2017

(6) Cole I and Flint J ‘Demolition, Relocation and Affordable Housing’ Joseph Rowntree Foundation on behalf of the Chartered Institute of Housing 2007