Beyond Demolition – what’s the future of estate regeneration?  


A report on Inner Circle’s panel event as part of the London Festival of Architecture 2022. 

By  Lucy Webb, Managing Consultant at Inner Circle Consulting.

14 June 2022

The redevelopment of post-war estates is an important source of sorely-needed new homes but the traditional approach of levelling everything and rebuilding new is now under pressure due to the environmental impact of demolition and understandable objections from residents about the breaking up of communities who are often not involved in the remodelling of their local housing.

At Inner Circle Consulting, we are working with our clients, communities and the industry to create a new model for doing estate regeneration better. As part of the London Festival of Architecture 2022 we hosted a lively debate to share best practice and discuss the challenges.

The event was held in a beautiful new space at Pollard Thomas Edwards Architects (PTE) who first offered a tour of their King Square regeneration project in Islington: a great example of increasing density through infill with minimal demolition and no compulsory purchase order. Key learning from the project included the importance of building community voice into the design and specification of the buildings and spaces, and an allocations policy that gave existing residents first refusal on the new homes.  We bumped into two residents on the visit, both of whom spoke of the virtues of the new homes and community infrastructure provided. One noted in particular the energy efficiency and warmth of the buildings.

Back at PTE the debate then got under way. Lucy Webb set the challenge: How do we tackle a national housing crisis and an international climate emergency – and always also ensure residents’ opinions are integral to future estate regeneration?

Kaye Stout, partner at Pollard Thomas Edwards, shared the experience of supporting communities to work out the best options for their estates via resident ballots – including an example when it was decided that regeneration was not the way to go – and posing a good question about whether the ballot system should be extended outside London and for infill projects. She also spoke to the importance of creating meaningful social value in estates so that the importance of lifetime neighbourhoods and increased green spaces, particularly post Covid, are understood; and urged architects and clients to fully consider climate impacts in undertaking options appraisals for estate regeneration.

Peter O’Brien, assistant director for Regeneration & Economic Development at LB Haringey, then set out the complex challenges he and his team face on a daily basis in driving forward inclusive regeneration and delivery of affordable housing in the context of reduced funding, spiralling costs and stagnating values.  He offered another positive voice on ballots, describing how they had shifted the power balance in estate regeneration. The drive towards more co-design is an opportunity for the industry to learn and get better, he suggested.

The term ‘estate regeneration’ was challenged by Kyle Buchanan from Archio Architects as being too focussed on the buildings. Our third panel member reminded everyone that ‘good’ regeneration is about the people and should bring meaningful, positive change for existing communities. He championed co-design as a way of helping the architect ‘get to grips with what residents actually want’ and challenged the industry to ‘be brave’ and work with people to show that regeneration can happen with them rather than to them, offering examples of infill and community-led housing projects that had received unanimous support from the local community.

The audience offered many great insights during the debate that followed. Richard Lee from Estate Watch asked the industry to collaborate with his organisation and the GLA to explore the right approaches and protocols for ensuring meaningful engagement with local residents.  Claire Bennie, from Municipal, put forward the idea of replicating a Citizens’ Assemblies approach for estate regeneration and housing developments so local communities can together weigh up the competing factors of housing numbers, climate, resident amenity, viability and more. Rory Olcayto from PTE challenged the architects in the room about the balance of influence in design between an architect and a community member – and brought forward a conclusion from all that the role of architect has now become much more of an enabler.  Further discussions touched on integrating Passivhaus standards, including helping residents to understand them; the role of sustainable building materials that can be locally sourced, or even grown, to counter the rising cost of materials; and the importance of real resident involvement in the early options appraisal process.

It was clear that the audience of architects, engineers, students, and representatives from local authorities, housing associations, charities and community groups, were united in appreciating the role that community voice must now play in rethinking regeneration. It was equally clear from the experiences shared by those in the room that resident involvement is now key from the very outset of each project to help explore the options available and weigh up the relative benefits/impacts of each. It was encouraging and uplifting to conclude together how much more could be achieved in delivering homes and addressing the challenges of climate change if everyone’s voice is heard. And so to the work of doing that!