Friday, 23 October 2009

Call in Guardian for more council housing . . .

The new elephant. The Strata tower, looking down the tracks to Walworth Road.

From last week in the Guardian (busy week last week, knocked out with a bad cold so haven't had time to update):

High Time for More Council Housing:

Columnist Patrick Collinson bikes by the Hegate Estate every morning. Apparently, the Heygate is 'the best known and least loved' housing estate in Britain. I would have thought the much worse Aylesbury or the since-demolished North Peckham Estate (never mind a few choice estates in Liverpool, Salford, Edinburgh . . . . the list goes on) would qualify. But never mind.

He makes the very valid point that the architectural mistakes of the 50's and 60's have colored Britain's view of council housing, leading to a housing shortage. I certainly experienced this in London - the quality of housing for the non-rich was appallingly bad - which is partly why I moved onto the Heygate.

Of the new housing across the roundabout, he writes:

A grim walkway under a busy roundabout connects the Heygate to the first major new residential development in Elephant & Castle, built on the site of a demolished council block, Castle House. But the evicted residents of the Heygate can only look up in awe. You can find a selection of one-, two- and three-bedroom flats in the 43-storey Strata Tower, now nearing completion. But housing benefit won't quite stretch that far. Upmarket estate agents Savills is marketing a one-bed flat in the new block for £850,000. A three-bedder is in the millions.
   What struck me most about all the talk of 'regeneration' when I lived in the Elephant, was how little attention was being paid to the neighborhood that would result. It seemed pretty much a given that this nice new Elephant, with it's tram lines and boulevards lined with cafes, would no longer be working class. Sure, they'd put in a few low rent flats, but after how many years of development, what community had existed on the estate would be broken up and very unlikely to come together again. Certainly the posters put up around the Oakmayne site ('Believe in Oakmayne!'), showed nice white very middle class people on those boulevards or sitting in the terraces of their nice little flats.

   The Elephant has always been a working class neighborhood. When I first moved there in the 80's, it was Irish working class (or at least my section of it, on the Rockinham Estate, was Irish), in my most recent experience, it was populated primarily by immigrants. Either way, it was inhabited mainly by poor people, and that was it's identity and it's (sort of) charm. T|he Heygate, by dint of it's ugliness, was a kind of rampart against the ocean of gentrfication pouring in across the tracks. Take it away, and the Elephant will be just another boring Zone 1 neighborhood.

   I mean what kind of moron pays 850,000 pounds for a one bedroom flat? Anywhere? And next to one of the world's biggest construction sites at that. Will these people be going down to the East Street Market, I wonder?

View looking south from Ashedon House.

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