The building pictured above is not Trellick Tower, but is in fact Balfron Tower in Poplar, east London, which was also designed by Erno Goldfinger in the 1960’s for what was then the London County Council and was constructed a few years before Trellick Tower.
In the late 1990’s, Tower Hamlets council (in which Balfron Tower is situated) set up a housing association called Poplar HARCA (Housing and Residents Community Association).
As a primary example of brutalist architecture in social housing, Balfron like our very own Trellick Tower is a listed building and there was no chance of it being demolished. Instead, Tower Hamlets and Poplar HARCA had other plans……
Residents of Balfron Tower were duped into voting for the responsibility over the management of their housing to be passed over to Poplar HARCA. They were promised that their homes would be renovated. Yes, Poplar HARCA did indeed keep the promise to renovate people’s homes, but what they neglected to tell residents was that they would not be returning to them as this association was selling the building off!
Of course, not all brutalist social housing buildings have been fortunate enough to acquire listed status. One such example is Robin Hood Gardens, also in Poplar, east London (near the Blackwall tunnel) which was designed by Alison and Peter Smithson in the 1960’s. It is now under demolition, despite a campaign from residents, noted architects, such as Richard Rogers, Simon Smithson, the son of the architechts, and the Twentieth Century Society to save it.
The Estate had fallen into “managed decline” (an all-too familiar term for us) and many residents there had long fought to have their homes renovated, to no avail.
As it is the plans by Swan Housing Group for what will become of what was Robin Hood Gardens will have “1,575 homes; 698 of them affordable”. Of course we know that “affordable housing” means up to 80% of market rate, which is far from affordable to the vast majority of former residents.
As for the fate of the residents there, so far, only around a third have been rehoused nearby. These residents have now had to take up housing association tenancies with Swan Housing (which for some, spells the end of the lifetime tenancies they previously had). Many are now having to pay increased levels of rent and some are struggling financially. Most of the new flats that have been offered are smaller, which has meant that some families with grown up children have had to break up. Many homeowners there have been offered derisory compulsory purchase orders (around 40% less than their properties were worth) so are unable to afford to continue to live in their local community.
Phase 2 of this development is now underway, and out of the 242 homes included in this – just 36 are for social rent. The irony of “Robin Hood” is not lost on THINK as we see this as actually taking from the poor to give to the rich!
THINK express our solidarity with the former residents of both Balfron Tower and Robin Hood Gardens and also to anyone else in London whose housing is under threat of regeneration.
We recommend that anyone concerned about regeneration schemes and demolition of social housing reads this blog post by Anne Power, Professor of Social Policy at the LSE:
Just in case anyone was wondering what a North Kensington community blog was doing writing about regeneration in east London, let us point out that we believe that there is a very strong possibility of something similar happening here. The language and speech of RBKC clearly points towards ballots over handing responsibility to housing associations. They are not ruling out bringing back responsibility for social housing to be brought back “in house” , but do not exactly appear to be enthusiastic about this. We believe that they will adopt a very similar approach and we also will warn residents of Trellick Tower that they are at risk of a worse fate than the residents of Balfron Tower as concerns over the cost of maintenance of the building have been raised and RBKC has tightened its rules regarding social housing and time limits, housing points and placements – making it all but impossible if you are not very old or very ill, to get housed in the borough now.
We believe that all social housing, particularly estates, such as North Kensington’s Silchester Estate (which has also been under threat of regeneration before) and Chelsea’s World’s End Estate (there has long been talk – and we hope these are just rumours – about World’s End possibly being under threat of regeneration too) would be highly attractive to a housing association hoping to make a nice profit from such a scheme.
In fact concerns about maintenance in World’s End were raised by Chelsea Riverside Conservative Cllr Maighread Condon-Simmonds, at last week’s housing and property scrutiny committee who also did tell the council to “f*** off!” (We kid you not!)
Anyone interested in Brutalist architure further might want to check out this excellent TV programme with Jonathan Meades:
Jonathan Meades mentions World’s End in Chelsea in the south of our borough briefly in this article “The A to Z of Brutalism” (under W) here:
But getting back to the subject of our council and its social housing, THINK believe that if the TMO is disbanded, it will be replaced with a similar model to Tower Hamlets and Poplar HARCA, with people being similarly tricked into voting to hand over management of their housing to something like this or another housing association. tWe strongly urge anyone who hasn’t voted yet to go to the TMO AGM tomorrow – 6:30 pm at Kensington Town Hall, Hornton Street, W8 and vote NO to resolutions 5 and 6.
We think that what has happened in Tower Hamlets (and yes this is a Labour-run council we are talking about here) should be of concern to all TMO tenants and leaseholders, particularly those living in both Trellick Tower. We will also point out that concerns regarding the cost of maintenance of the building were raised at the Housing and Property meeting and we believe that it is more than likely that this landmark building is sold off. The realities of what many tenants and leaseholders in Poplar and also many other parts of London undergoing regeneration are going through echo the concerns expressed to us by residents of the Silchester Estate when the (now supposedly dropped) plans for regeneration were made there. Now many in our borough do not feel safe or reassured that their homes will not be sold off to developers and neither do we.
LATE NEWS: We recommend all attending the TMO AGM read this from the Grenfell Action Group and vote to adjourn the meeting for 21 days: