|A white stag, as spotted in Lewisham - subject to the Millwall treatment|
Monday, January 14, 2013
What next for the Heygate Estate?
In the time since the Heygate Estate at the Elephant and Castle was emptied out (with the exception of some remaining leaseholders), it has led an active afterlife. Perhaps most notably it has been a favoured film and TV location for directors seeking gritty urban decay. In Harry Brown (2009) for instance it features as a crime-dominated riot zone in need of some vigilante violence from Michael Caine. In the real world though this dystopian vision has not materialised. Rather there has been an explosion of creativity, with the whole estate turned into an open air street art gallery with a garden project, storytelling sessions, fashion shoots and, on New Years Eve, a big rave. Oh and last June it was visited by Completely Naked, a kind of naturist performance art flashmob.
All of this is fine, I had a lovely time there myself over the summer sitting on a settee by a bonfire and barbecue at a friend's birthday party, playing a few tunes. But I do feel slightly ambivalent about the Estate's new found hip status. What sometimes seems to get forgotten is that this was a place where thousands of people from all over the world made their lives, often in difficult circumstances. A place where people were born, loved, and died. When the estate was full, your average radical/hipster was more likely to denounce it as an inhumane slab of brutalism than celebrate it as urban adventure zone - seems like everybody loves the Heygate now that (almost) nobody lives there. Or maybe Owen Hatherley, who has written about the Heygate, really has helped swing the argument in favour of an appreciation of the semi-utopian aspirations of some of the modernist architects (including the Heygate's architect, Tim Tinker).
The big question though is what happens next. Some people wonder whether it should just be left as it is, a ruin at the heart of the city gradually turning into an overgrown forest and playground. Certainly there is something appealing about this romantic idea, but even leaving aside the realpolitik of land, the asbestos-riddled buildings would presumably become quite dangerous at some point without further investment. However if the old Heygate Estate may be moving beyond the point of no return, there is still plenty of discussion about what could or should replace it.
Whatever the problems of the old Heygate, the Council Estate building programme of that period (1960s/early 1970s) did represent an attempt to create mass, affordable housing with modern amenities (central heating, indoor bathrooms etc) - in this case close to the centre of London. Today Councils are largely starved of money to build new housing, even where they might want to, and it is private developers who are being handed places like the Elephant to redevelop. Tomorrow, Tuesday 15 January at 6 pm, Southwark Council’s Planning Committee will be considering the Masterplan for the Elephant and Castle area, submitted by Land Lease. Local community critics of the scheme will be putting their views to the committee, and have asked for others to attend to support them. According to Southwark Notes, among the issues they will raise will be the fact that as it stands the proposed scheme replaces 1100 Council homes with 2300 new homes, none of which will have Council tenants and only 71 of which will be socially rented. Campaigners are arguing that a minumum of 35% of housing should be genuinely affordable.
Meanwhile on 29 March, London Dreamtime and Nigel of Bermondsey present 'Supernatural Urban Forest': 'As the barriers go up around the Heygate Estate, the moment of closure and demolition gets ever closer... The high walkways are now closed but the magical Urban Forest in the centre of the Heygate can still be accessed. Join us there after dark for stories and songs of death and the supernatural. Plus quite possibly some slides from the Urban Magic Lantern... Cost £3 email firstname.lastname@example.org for full details and to book your place'