Continuing one of the themes that has preoccupied us recently, concerning the Council’s aspirations for a ‘scorched earth’ regeneration of the social housing estates of North Kensington, we turn now to the theoretical underpinnings of their disdain for the sixties architecture that characterises these estates and their alleged aspiration to recreate some notional earlier period of architectural excellence, referring back to the Georgian Edwardian or Victorian architecture and streetscape which they claim they intend to recreate througout the borough, including and especially in North Kensington.
The ‘Local Plan’ which is currently the subject of yet another round of public consultation, is no more or less than the RBKC ‘Core Strategy’, the final approved version of which was implemented in 2010 following extensive consultation and public hearings presided over by a government inspector. The Core Strategy is a lengthy and complex document, 457 pages long, that supposedly set out the RBKC boroughwide planning strategy for the forseeable future. In a section called ‘Renewing the Legacy’ it contained the following, along with other passages that invoke and celebrate a ‘golden age’ of superior neo-classical architecture which it aspired to recreate;
“Our strategic objective to renew the legacy is not simply to ensure no diminution in the excellence we have inherited, but to pass to the next generation a Borough that is better than today, of the highest quality and inclusive for all, by taking great care to maintain, conserve and enhance the glorious built heritage we have inherited and to ensure that where new development takes place it enhances the Borough.
Careful incremental improvement is needed to ensure our conservation areas remain of the highest quality. However, there are a number of small areas in the south and two large areas in the north of the Borough which are not within conservation areas. It is important that these areas are not regarded as ‘second class’ in terms of the future quality and contribution for which we should be striving. We should aspire for these areas to be our future conservation areas and exceptional design quality is needed to create a new design legacy for the Borough.”
To say that these are ambitious aspirations would be an understatement. The Council appears to have committed itself to a massive improvment in housing and community design and standards in the working class ghettos of North Kensington. So can these claims be taken at face value? Not according to Emma Dent Coad, one of the Labour councillors representing the Golborne Ward, who recently published on her personal blog a scathing critique that exposed, in no uncertain terms, the realities behind the Council spin on regeneration and the theme of ‘Renewing the Legacy’.
Councillor Dent Coad wrote;
“The proliferation of bland, sub-standard, bricky, blocky, lowest-common-denominator pseudo-K&C architecture being spewed out around the borough is breath-taking… We are decidedly NOT ‘Renewing the Legacy’….
Designing new developments with deliberate irregularity does not create an interesting town or cityscape that mimics evolution or history, or indeed anything of any integrity. Instead it creates a cloying uniformity that erases history and makes a mockery of architectural history and diversity. It is pastiche. You cannot recreate authenticity.”
“We are or are planning to lay waste, in RBKC as elsewhere, to swathes of inhabited and beautifully patinated neighbourhoods housing actual living beings and communities. Some of these are social housing estates, but 19th century schools and other public buildings are also under threat. Demolishing venerable old buildings that need a little love and care and reconfiguration, after years of deliberate managed decline, with yet another bricky blocky and banal lump of construction materials, makes no sense long-term.”
It is worth noting that Councillor Dent Coad has considerable experience and expertise as an editor, writer, critic, researcher and visiting lecturer in schools of architecture and planning and has been a writer and author on design, architecture and planning for 30 years. Her comments and criticisms deserve, therefore, to be taken seriously, both from a professional standpoint and also because of her proven record as a humane and empathic champion of the rights of the communities she was elected to represent.
One of the policies that underpins the Council’s approach to its proposals for the massive redevelopment of social housing estates is Policy CR1 which appears on page 191 of the Core Strategy. It states that;
“Postwar estates do not follow the historical street patterns, and this has often given rise to functional problems…the Council will require, in areas of regeneration and large scale redevelopment, the new street network to be inspired by the Borough’s historic street patterns to ensure optimal connectivity and accessibility.”
Bearing in mind Councillor Dent Coad’s comprehensive demolition of the myth of North Kensington transformed, under the Council’s long term planning strategy, into an area of architectural and design excellence – a future conservation area – we feel compelled to ask how wise it would be to accept Policy CR1 as part of a genuine aspiration to recreate in North Kensington communities modelled on the grand Georgian, Edwardian and Victorian terraced streets referred to above? An alternative and more cynical view would posit Policy CR1 as a facile and shoddy attempt to justify the wholesale destruction of postwar social housing estates in order to serve the narrow interests of property barons and developers, to facilitate gerrymandering via the imposition of so-called mixed communities, and because the existing working class communities are despised by tory councillors and their stooges in the planning department.
No prizes for guessing which interpretation of Policy CR1 the Grenfell Action Group considers to be the more accurate. And, by the way, we would highly recommend to our readers that they read Cllr Dent Coad’s most recent blog in full, along with her earlier blog exposing the very shoddy workmanship on the recently redeveloped Wornington Green Estate in her own ward.