Residents of North Kensington’s Silchester Estate have accused the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea of “socially cleansing” the neighbourhood, after “regeneration” plans were proposed which could see most of the estate demolished.
Although plans have not yet been formalised, consultations between residents and the council developers, Porphyrios Associates, could see virtually the entire estate demolished and redeveloped to “reduce the number of under-occupying households”, thereby “relieving overcrowding.”
Green Party Mayoral candidate, Sian Berry, and London Assembly candidate for West Central London, Jennifer Nadel, recently drew attention to the “regeneration” project, meeting with some of the families who live on the estate in March.
KCW Today was told by residents that the council had “not listened” to their complaints, and that there was already a “strong community which will be broken up by these plans.”
Jo Poole, secretary of the Silchester Residents Association, invited KCW Today into her family home to demonstrate that, contrary to what the council had told residents, the Silchester properties are not in a state of disrepair. She adds the regeneration project is “an enormous, and massively destructive” option which is “entirely unnecessary.”
Poole is particularly affected by regeneration schemes in the area, with her bespoke dress making studio, The Dress Doctor, at risk of being moved out of its premises by a similar scheme.
“It’s not a sink estate”, she says, “it’s really lovely, and it has a really strong community which is great for families.” Joining Poole, was her young son who, throughout much of our conversation, was eager to play in the community playground which is at the heart of the estate’s leafy gardens.
Jennifer Nadel has said “there are around 700 homes here, some in 20 storey tower blocks and some in mews houses and cottages”, and yet “the preferred plan is to completely demolish everything and rebuild regardless of what it is.”
Nadel argues that “it’s a massive proposal that affects so many people in so many ways”, and that instead of this “nuclear option”, surveyors and architects should “look at the buildings, many of which do not need replacing, and for there to be a gradual change.”
“This is a happy, flourishing estate and it is completely wrong to demolish it” she adds, “the council have failed to offer residents the only option they favour – which is a gradual and respectful regeneration” preferring instead to “attempt to socially cleanse the area”.
An RBKC spokesperson said “We have made it clear to all secure tenants that if a redevelopment did take place they would have the right to return to a home in the same area, in a property on the same terms and conditions, if they wish. We are at a very early stage in looking at what could be done to improve the Silchester estate”.
Adding that the Council’s “main objectives in any redevelopment are to build more affordable housing and to make our Council housing as good as possible”.
Mrs. Helen Irwin, 82, who raised her family on the estate with her husband, currently lives in a three-bedroom flat, however, in the regeneration proposal, she has only been offered a one bed replacement flat. “It’s not at all like for like” she Irwin explained, “and it’s because we have a spare room.”
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea councillor responsible for the Silchester regeneration projects, Cllr Rock Feilding-Mellen, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Housing, Property and Regeneration, recently bought a property just streets away from the estate.
Socially Conscious Capital, a property developer company that Fielding-Mellen is an Executive Director for, describes the Councillor as having 10 years experience managing “major housing and regeneration opportunities” and “hands-on experience in financing, planning, building, and marketing development projects.”
Just like Mrs Irwin, Fielding-Mellen’s terrace home has three bedrooms. However, residents have raised concerns that the councillor is benefiting from the decision to regenerate the area, as his property will stand to benefit from the scheme.
Despite attempts to contact Cllr Feilding-Mellen through RBKC, he was unavailable for comment.
However, a Council spokesperson said that they “are still at the very early stages” of planning and no decision to redevelop the estate has been taken.”
“If the redevelopment does go forward one day,” the council explained “then all secure tenants would have the right to return to a home on the redevelopment or very nearby if they wish, and those new homes would be on the same rent levels and terms as their current tenancies.”
Leaseholders on the estate would be offered “the opportunity to buy a new home on the redevelopment on a “shared equity” basis, in order to preserve the existing community”, the council confirmed.
An integral part of this process is moving residents “straight into their new homes”, dubbed the “one and done” policy, whereby residents will not be left out of home for long periods. The council did, nevertheless, accept that there would, most likely, be “a need for temporary decanting whilst their home is redeveloped”.
When KCW Today asked the council if residents would be offered a “like-for-like” exchange for their current property, the spokesperson said:
“Our offer is of a brand new home in the same area that meets the needs of the tenant’s household, but the Council cannot commit to providing tenants with flats that are much larger than they need, when there is so much overcrowding within the borough.”
When asked how the proposals will improve the lives of residents on the estate, the council explained:
“Over recent years, many residents of the Silchester estate have made various complaints about their homes and the estate ranging from problems with their heating, insulation, and windows to problems with the communal lifts and shared outside areas.”
“Any new redevelopment would aim to tackle all those problems and ensure that, unlike many of the post-war estates that were built with a 40 year life expectancy, the new properties are built to the highest standards delivering excellent homes for our current and future tenants.”
“The Council is also well aware of the many good qualities of the Silchester estate, such as the strong community and plentiful green space, and so if redevelopment goes ahead, it will endeavour to preserve and strengthen those qualities. At the same time, it is important to remember that the Council also has a responsibility to the many hundreds of families currently housed in temporary accommodation, many outside the borough, and it is only by building new affordable homes on its own land that the Council can realistically hope to improve the lives of those families.”
Finally, the council vehemently denied the accusation that plans are an attempt to “socially cleanse” the area, describing the “socially cleansing meme” as “ugly and divisive” and without “basis in reality”. When KCW Today recently spoke with London mayoral candidate, Zac Goldsmith, he agreed with the sentiments of RBKC, explaining that “this is a very divisive issue” for many Londoners, and “mostly for political reasons.”
For more information about the Silchester regeneration project visit the RBKC website: https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/housing/regenyour-neighbourhood/silchester-regeneration
Or visit the website of community activists Greenfell action group: https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/tag/silchester-estate/
Or the Silchester website: