Under Threat: 1960s Central Hill estate
by Rosemary Stjernstedt, London, England, 1966
DATE: 0/0/0
"Central Hill in south London is a case in point. It is an estate of more than 450 homes built in 1966-74 on the steep slopes that rise near the hill on which the Crystal Palace once stood. [...]

Now is endangered by the borough of Lambeth’s plans to redevelop the estate so that it can contain 400 or more additional homes, as part of a borough-wide plan “to improve the conditions for existing residents and explore opportunities for new homes so the next generation of Lambeth tenants and residents have somewhere they can afford to live”. The idea is to build new homes for private sale, to help finance new council flats and the refurbishment of old ones.

There is nothing wrong with the basic intentions, and Lambeth deserves credit for trying to achieve them despite severe pressures placed on it by central government, and they do not have to mean the destruction of all of Stjernstedt’s work. There is scope for infilling slack pockets of space between the housing blocks with new development, or selective demolition of the existing. The council has been discussing such options with a panel of representatives of residents. [...]

This suggests sensitive, incremental and respectful changes, but those residents who have been meeting the council say that it is now considering only demolition of the vast majority of the estate. [...]

At the very least, the existing community will be severely disrupted by having to move out during construction and then move back in. And the replacements promised to tenants and leaseholders probably won’t include the outdoor spaces, the terraces and patios that are the best features of the existing ones. [...]

No one should imagine Lambeth has an easy job, but Central Hill is accused of failings it doesn’t have because it is of a type – 1960s council housing – to which these failings are usually ascribed, and perhaps because it looks administratively easier to sweep it all away and start again. This attitude gives no value to what might be good about the existing or the qualities that almost any place acquires just from people living their lives there for several decades. It takes no account of the colossal cost in energy and carbon of destroying so much existing fabric and building it again. Which kind of mistakes sound very much like history repeating itself."

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