Financialized Municipal Entrepreneurialism and the Green Redevelopment of a Council Estate in London: Woodberry Down
Woodberry Down in Hackney is one of the largest social housing estates in London, made of 57 blocks of local authority housing containing 2,013 dwellings on an area spanning 64 acres and was built between 1949 and 1962.
Heralded as ‘the estate of the future’ by the press of the time (1953), and it represented a perfect showcase of the post-war Keynesian welfare “from cradle to grave” state vision: it included one of the first NHS health centres in the country, a primary school and the first comprehensive secondary school in the country, a library, a senior centre, churches, a parade of fifteen small shops, and numerous other communal facilities.
By the late 1980s, Hackney Council left many of the housing units in severe disrepair, with poor insulation, damp and faulty drainage. Residents started leaving the neighbourhood. Flats that had been left empty were occasionally squatted or boarded up.
2001: Decent Homes Mandate, Hackney Council ordered a structural evaluation of the estate, a little over half (31 out of 57) of the housing blocks at Woodberry Down was beyond repair.
2009: Hackney Council agrees to transfer the land on an incremental plot-by-plot basis to private development company Berkeley Group, with the aim to demolish all of the existing housing blocks and to develop over 4,664 new dwellings by 2029. Foreseen is a mixed tenure community with 41% of the new homes allocated for social rent and shared ownership. The contract also included the provision of facilities including a community centre, a secondary school, the improvement and expansion of the existing youth centre, parks and retail.
The 2014 revised master plan
including phase 2 (in detailed format) and phases 3 to 8 (in outline) increased the number of housing by 920 units for 5,584 total new units, of which:
59%, or 3,292 private homes
41% or 2,265 will be “affordable housing” (with 40% social rent and 60% intermediate housing)
The first phase, along with retail space, open green spaces, park improvements and a connection with the reservoirs, has been completed in 2014. It has delivered 1433 units of which 566 “affordable” (39%), of which 421 for social (housing association) rent, 145 for shared ownership.
By the end of phase 2, a total of 2,317 new homes have been delivered. The affordable component represents 887 units - of these, 537 are for social (housing association) rent.
In 2020, Hackney Council’s Planning Committee approved Phase 3, which is currently under construction. Phase 3 will deliver 584 units, of which 341 will be market rate (58%) and 243 will be “affordable” (42%, with 117 social rent units and 126 shared ownership and share equity units).
Tenure split for the affordable housing to be produced in phases 6, 7 and 8 will be determined by a viability assessment to be submitted by Berkeley as phases progress, “although the Council will be seeking a policy compliant 60:40 social housing to intermediate” (Hackney Council 2014).
In addition, the development partners are now embarking on another review of the master plan which will impact Phases 5-8.
The new figures for units for social rent (SR), shared ownership (SO) and private sale (PS) built, permitted and proposed as of 14 February 2023, provided by Hackney Council, are as follows:
- Total units proposed: 5,872
- Total units permitted (with phases 4-8 as of Masterplan 2014 assumptions): 2,881
- Total social rent units proposed:
- Total shared ownership units proposed:
- Total private units proposed: 3,408
(Figures from Hackney Council 2023).
In 2009, before redevelopment started, there were 2,013 housing units at Woodberry Down: 1,458 council rent, 522 leasehold and 33 private properties which did not belong to the Council (Greater London Authority 2009).
According to the Residents’ Charter signed in 2007, every secure council housing resident has a right to be re-housed in the estate, including leaseholders (which made about 30% of the population before the start of the development) who are offered a share in a new shared ownership unit (Hackney Council, 2007).
At the end of the first two phases of redevelopment, 537 council tenant households have been relocated into the new social housing units. Today, the older housing blocks north of Seven Sisters Road are home to another 900 households. Half of this number is represented by council tenants and leaseholders waiting to be re-housed in the new properties, while another half is represented by temporary tenants that are being provisionally housed by Hackney Council but have no right to the new housing within the development scheme. As of 2022, there were 322 secure council tenants at Woodberry Down still waiting to be re-housed, along with around 416 non-secure temporary tenants and 157 leaseholders.
According to the latest figures provided by the Council in February 2023, If all goes as planned, on completion of the redevelopment there will be enough units (1,264) to relocate all existing remaining secure council housing tenants by the end of Phase 5. However, there will be a net loss of around 190 units for social rent as compared to pre-regeneration numbers.
Voices of Woodberry Down
What I would like is, central government to give subsidies to local councils to build new council housing. And if they've done that, we wouldn't have had any of this, and all would have been so much quicker (...) And then, we wouldn't have had this financial system of building new, and selling to private owners to build new social housing. But that's my politics, you know?
(Interview 2021, independent tenant and leaseholder advisor working in WD)
The reason why the blocks are in an unlawful state is because the local authority has not upkept them…they've let them run down and then turn around and say “the area is a slum because the blocks are no good”.
(Interview 2022, longstanding council tenant)
The leaseholders have a very difficult time because they're not getting like for like. So you may have a two bedroom flat here, but the council will say, OK , we're going to buy these off you (…) But that won't give you enough money to buy outright another leasehold flat in the new buildings. So what do you do? You're a pensioner. You can't go back to work. You have no extra income to spend on this (…)
(interview 2021, CEO London Trust)
They started to build in 2007…2008 was the financial crisis, and English people were not buying (…) As they continued to build, their first marketing was in the Far East, they went to Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore, and Malaysia before they actually marketed them here. This is where all the one-bedroom apartments went.
(Interview 2021, new homebuyer)
They're really expensive (…) I couldn't be able to afford one of the new blocks if I wanted to come out social housing. They say…we provided “affordable housing” -- no, it’s not affordable. Anybody in social housing who wanted to buy and they want to get out, they can’t. It's really impossible.
(Interview 2022, third-generation council tenant)
I mean, putting people together, trying to bring them all together is a good idea, in theory. I don't think it works as well as they would like it to work, because… how do you get people from the private blocks to mix with the common people (….) And, you know, we're all just trying to be together, but we're not...
(Interview 2022, third-generation council tenant)
Back in the day, it was packed. People used to queue to come in here. Now we see no one because of this regeneration... Most of our people that were coming here lived in the blocks that were down this road. When they knocked them down, we lost seven blocks worth of people and went from 400/500 members down to 150 members overnight.
(Interview 2022, council tenant running the Woodberry Down Club)
The people walk around the estate, they take their kids to the park, they go for a walk around the reservoir and you bump into people, and so there is more and more mixing going on, and I would describe it as a win-win actually. I really would.
(Interview 2022, council tenant relocated to the new homes)
So for the development, we hear two views, you know? And you have those that think the development is bad and the money grabbing, blah blah blah. But me, I'm a lawyer, I'm a businesswoman. I see things in a different light (…) Of course, in everything, you have advantages and disadvantages. But I also know that with the regen going on, it brings a lot of positive change which I can see around me (…). And the changes to the people in the community with the job opportunities as well that is created.
(Interview 2022, council tenant and manager of charity working in WD)
Growing up here, I know a lot of talented people that if they had the energy redirected to the right areas, they could be world leaders, you know, visionaries, there's so much talent in these areas, it is just not recognized, ‘cause people don't feel like they can go into certain rooms and places. So my goal is giving people this empowerment to do whatever they can to take advantage of the multitude of opportunities that this area has to offer.
(Interview 2022, young from council tenant household, leader of STAY youth advocacy group)
Financing: Self-financing Public Private Partnership
between Hackney Council, Berkeley Group, Notting Hill Genesis, WDCO community organization, London Trust
Cost: aprroximately £1 billion
Social Impact: Increased density, significant gentrification, no displacement of longstanding secure council tenants, displacement of majority of leaseholders.
Redevelopment area: 64-acres
Existing housing units before redevelopment: 2,013
Estimated housing provision: 5,782 units
Housing provision (market): 3,408 units
Housing provision (social rent): 1,264 units
Housing provision (shared ownership): 1,110