The Estate We are in – Photos

This month’s photos are of three major estates and some of Blackheath.
Two of the estates – at Elephant and Castle in Southwark and Woodberry Down in north Hackney are being completely re-built over extended timescales. The third – Rockingham Estate – also in Southwark is not being changed. Blackheath is a pleasant well-to-do middle class suburb not too far from Greenwich and Canary Wharf.

The Rockingham Estate – from the 1950s – and Blackheath – lots of Edwardian villas are each presented as different contrasts to Elephant and Woodberry Down.

The main estate at Elephant and Castle that is subject to redevelopment is (or rather was) the Heygate. This notorious estate has now completely gone and the new posh developments by Lend Lease are already going up. My photographs of the Heygate are from July 2013 – so some 18 months ago. There are those who still argue that poor working class people were unfairly displaced from the Heygate and some of them now have to commute from Slough and such distances. There is some truth in what they say because although the development has some affordables there are not many of them and too many developers have recently learnt their way around the requirements for affordables and all too often put in new planning applications at a late stage of the main project that plans them out.
On the other hand most of the people who read this blog would not be seen dead in the Heygate (well they might have been…) and the local authorities, who no longer have the ability to build significant quantities of State sponsored housing are desperate to find a solution to such problem areas.

However, both of the estates that are being redeveloped are largely of over expensive housing that provides no help to many ordinary Londoners – including those couples earning joint salaries of even £70K or even £80K – and clearly much less so to those earning less.

On the Woodberry Down Estate, some of the new ritzier properties are already selling for £1M+ and the starting price is nearly £450,000. Similar prices can be expected at the Elephant and Castle. In both instances the development costs are huge – some £1.5Billion for Elephant and Castle, for example – and so no one can expect that the new properties could be sold at low prices. The problems are that far too many of them get sold as “buy to rent” properties and far too many to foreign investors who then keep them empty as appreciating assets. On both estates the proportion of properties that are being built at affordable prices or by housing associations is small. Certainly Woodberry Down has been marketed overseas – and probably Elephant also. However you look at it far too many of these (very attractive) new properties are out of the reach of ordinary Londoners and make too little contribution to solving London’s housing problems. In my opinion, without a bigger contribution from more shared housing – from housing associations and (good quality) State housing, London’s housing problem will remain. In addition Government must make it significantly less attractive for overseas buyers who then merely keep the property empty. Sometimes it is rather like building top of the range BMWs and leaving lots of them un-used in the car compound. Moreover, non of the main-stream political parties seem to have any housing policies of practical value as we move towards the next election. Without a doubt the major factor in price is the total number of homes being built – currently far too few – and whilst there are a great many new houses being built in London, the numbers are not keeping pace with the London population growth. There is a very good article about this on the BBC.

The contrast between say the former Heygate Estate and the pleasant suburb of Blackheath could not be greater but all too many people could not possibly afford the prices in Blackheath. The problem of housing is worsened when the replacements for places like the Heygate is also not affordable to too many ordinary (and not poor) Londoners.

My title, a slight variation on The State we’re in is indicative of the housing state that we are indeed in at the moment in London and whilst it is producing lots of new housing units – many of them of very attractive architecture – it is still nowhere near enough and something must be done to stop them, all too easily, being bought by overseas buyers who then just keep them empty as trophy properties. If this doesn’t happen, London will loose too many of its young people and its vibrancy will decline.