Demolition of 1960s estate will change the face of Kentish Town

Only 13 new council homes but Town Hall says existing tenants need help with overcrowding now

Friday, 29th July — By Richard Osley

camden28 Image 2022-07-28 at 9.17.23 PM

Cannington is among the blocks which will be flattened

THE Town Hall is set to embark on one of its most ambitious regeneration schemes which will flatten a council estate it says is falling apart.

Cabinet members agreed to press ahead with plans to demolish the West Kentish Town Estate at a meeting last week and press ahead with drawing up contracts for a rebuild.

More than 500 private homes will be added to the sites south of Queen’s Crescent, with the addition of just 13 new council flats.

But the Town Hall says the scheme will be a life changer for those already living on the 1960s estate and suffering from overcrowding, who will transfer into bigger homes.

Some critics have warned demolition is environmentally unfriendly and a retrofitting strategy should be followed.

Ccouncil chiefs, however, say the estate has endemic repair issues and the best move is to bring it down and start again.

Cllr Danny Beales

It is part of Camden’s Community Investment Programme (CIP) – a policy now running for more ten years which uses private investment to bring in cash for new homes, school upgrades and community facilities.

Critics have warned that the council gives too much away in these deals to developers or to private home buyers, but Camden says the scheme is the only way it has been able to build more homes and radically improve the existing stock while public spending has been squeezed.

The scheme on the West Kentish Town Estate is so big that the final new home may not be finished until 2038, although most current tenants will have moved into their new homes within four years.

Nobody, the council has pledged, will be forced to leave the borough,

Residents had already backed the scheme through a ballot and Town Hall leaders said they regarded any suggestion that tenants did not realise what they were voting for as offensive.

Camden itself had lobbied hard for a ‘yes’ vote during the local referendum.

Regeneration chief Councillor Danny Beales told last Wednesday’s meeting: “I disagree with the critics who say they didn’t understand or say it’s easy because they are going to get a new home. It’s not easy at all – it’s incredibly difficult and not something that I envy having to do: weighing up the disruption that will happen in the short term with the potential opportunity in the long term.”

Cllr Beales added that after all the discussions, people now told him they “just want the council to get on with it”, telling the meeting: “Time and time again I’ve had emails from residents asking what the situation is – ‘Why hasn’t this happened? We’ve made our decision’.”

While there has been an ongoing challenge over the direction of the overall CIP running for several months from opposition councillors, none were there to speak at the meeting against the works.

Former Mayor of Camden Jill Fraser – a Lib Dem – said she had loved living on the estate since the 1980s but there were issues with mice, condensation, poor water pressure and a lack of lifts for the elderly.
“It’s time for us to move into the 21st century,” she said.

Among the buildings that will be demolished are blocks close to Grafton Road first constructed in 1964.

“There is no doubt that retrofitting is a massive priority for this council,” said Cllr Beales when asked about a suggested alternative strategy.

“The vast majority of our council homes are improved through refurbishment and retrofit measures but there isn’t a one size fits all approach and it’s not environmentally or socially responsible to ignore the facts and frankly seek a less optimum outcome just because you nihilistically focus on retrofit as the only solution.”

He said retrofitting West Kentish Town estate would not be “affordable or practical.”

Teens plead for their own flats to be knocked down and replaced with somewhere to call home

TWO teenagers were among the speakers calling for Camden to flatten their own homes at last week’s meeting,

Anisa Chowdhury, 16, who lives in the Cannington block, said: “I lived through three months of constant ceiling leaks, followed by six months without a functioning bedroom door – caused by the flawed roof above my head.”

She added: “I cannot feel at ease knowing that our buildings are slowly falling apart,  that our showers will give up on us, that our energy is expensive and temperamental.

“The house I grew up in no longer holds the qualities that make it a home. I am no expert, but it is clear to me that the structure of these buildings is poor – entirely not fit for purpose.”

Anisa Chowdhury and Emi Oke at last week’s meeting

The meeting also heard from Emi Oki, 17, from the Milverton block, who said in a deputation: “The accessibility in the block for residents needs to be updated such as including a lift as I know that my parent who has various health conditions and others would benefit from this.

“I do not feel comfortable bringing a friend here for many reasons including the outdated appearance and holes in the ceilings or walls which give way to unwanted insects such as spiders.”

You don’t have to bulldoze the whole estate, insist critics

COUNCIL chiefs were urged to press pause and have a rethink by a campaigner who argues the estate does not need to be bulldozed.

Deputee Katy Dent told the cabinet meeting that she wanted better homes for the tenants of the West Kentish Town Estate too, but other strategies should be considered.
Speaking as a member of the Queen’s Crescent Neighbourhood Forum, she said: “We are all concerned about how the many planned CIP developments of majority private homes will affect our community.

“And we’re concerned about the terrible impact of demolition on the climate crisis. Everyone in the community wants better homes for the community. No one has ever been against development, but I would like socially responsible and environmentally responsible development.”

Ms Dent said the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) had funded an architect to map out an alternative development and urged councillors to look at the designs.

“This was a major retrofit and refurbishment scheme that met everything in the residents’ brief, was massively less expensive, whilst keeping the sound core of the existing buildings. Yet why was no major retrofit option on this scale given at the ballot? To see the CIP dismiss a retrofit option in their report is very confusing because this design by this architect proves it can work.”

She then told councillors she feared they were “unfortunately potentially being misled” and that surveyors’ reports from five years ago actually said the buildings are “structurally sound and can even take on more floors”.

She said the Forum represented a host of people including residents and business owners in the area.

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