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By the 4 Housing Architects

Estate regeneration in the spotlight
In the 1960s and 70s nearly three million homes were built by local authorities in Britain. Most of them incorporated new ideas about town planning, the design of the home and methods of construction. 
It is these estates which have been - and continue to be - the main focus of subsequent major regeneration initiatives, including David Cameron’s recent declaration of action on ‘sink estates’.

The Prime Minister accuses the worst estates of ‘entrenching poverty in Britain - isolating and trapping many of our families and communities’. Like many observers he believes that non-traditional design is a significant part of the problem. Regeneration specialists know that the issues are far more complex, but most would at least agree that design can contribute to the social and economic success or failure of places.

The four architectural practices behind this report have been involved with the regeneration of housing estates for four decades. We started to advise communities and local authorities on estate improvements soon after the last concrete panel was craned into place in the mid-1970s. Since then we have worked under successive political initiatives and funding models to improve, remodel or replace dozens of estates in London and around the UK. We have seen what works and what does not.

In response to the renewed political focus on estate regeneration, this report contains a distillation of our combined experience into a series of recommendations on how best to meet the challenges of today. One intended audience is Lord Heseltine’s Estates Regeneration Advisory Panel, although our interest is broader than the government’s focus on the ‘100 worst estates’. We hope our work will also be of interest to communities, local authorities, housing associations, our developer clients and professional colleagues, including other architects who have come more recently into the challenging field of estate regeneration. 

Whose estate is it anyway?

There is another reason why we have produced this report at this time.

There has always been tension between the priority to be given to the wishes of existing residents and the potential of estates to provide a greater range of housing opportunity for the wider population, but now this has become politicised and polarised into two fiercely opposed positions. 

In one corner are those who believe that housing estates belong to those who live on them and only their views should count in determining the future - and increasingly their preference is to be left alone. In the other corner are those who regard housing estates as public assets, which local authorities have a right and duty to use to meet wider needs - including the growing clamor for more homes, at affordable prices, for middle-income households. The views of both camps deserve respect.

Part of the reason for this polarisation is obvious to those who have been facilitating successful estate regeneration for decades: it revolves around the concept of ‘balanced communities’. A genuinely balanced community will contain a wide range of housing types and tenures for a wide range of households across the spectrum of age, ethnicity, income, occupation and household size. It will also balance the needs and aspirations of all the stakeholders, including existing tenants and leaseholders, and also ‘outsiders’ who would like to settle in the area and invest in it if only the opportunity was there.

The perception of many existing residents - and their champions in parts of the media - is that estate regeneration is no longer delivering balance: the proportion of affordable to market homes is dwindling, the definition of affordability is shifting, the cost of market homes is soaring, and the buyers of those homes seem like remote aliens - far removed from being ‘people like us who have a bit more money’. They condemn estate regeneration as ‘social cleansing’ and a ‘war on social housing’.

In our view it is essential that we are clear about the objective of estate regeneration: is it to improve the lives of those who live on and around existing estates, or is it to make more effective use of public land to help solve the ‘housing crisis’ by creating additional homes and widening access to home ownership? Managing and resolving this tension has been a key objective of community engagement for the past 40 years.

With care, patience and respect we can and should be able to do both. We have managed it in the past, and there are many examples of successful outcomes in a set of case studies in the back of this publication.

You can read the publication here: