Tuesday, 18 December 2012

SAVE TRELLICK TOWER - from Council games

Does the richest Council in Europe 
want historic assets to be cost neutral?

Trellick Tower with the original cornice in place, 1970s

At the foot of North Kensington’s Trellick Tower Erno Goldfinger completed his ‘cradle to grave’ Cheltenham Estate (1972) with an old people’s home. Until 2008 Edenham Residential Care Home housed 45 people, many with dementia, plus a mental health day-care centre surrounded with beautiful mature gardens. In 2006 the Council deemed it ‘not fit for purpose’. 

Despite a huge community battle to save the home the Council demolished it, leaving a gaping wound, then to add insult to injury turned it into a coach-park.

We kept track where possible of residents; many became very distressed at their forcible removal and nearly half died within a year. Two tragically ended their lives by refusing to eat, including William Rogers below.

Our horror at what had been done to older people we should honour, protect and care for, turned into a dogged insistence that whatever came next on the site would include housing for older people. Indeed, we were promised this, and a commitment was enshrined in the Council’s ‘Older Persons’ Accommodation Report’ that emerged the following year.

No doubt they hoped we had forgotten after three years. We have not.

After this first heartless act, when the Council then turned its avaricious eyes on the 100 houses and low-rise Goldfinger flats next to Trellick Tower at Edenham Way with a plan to redevelop, residents were ready. A huge campaign was launched that went worldwide and amazingly resulted in a Council commitment not to demolish. To seal this commitment the savvy residents lobbied English Heritage, and in November 2012 Edenham Way was listed Grade II.

A Vision for Edenham 2009, by Edenham Way RA 
and Novarc Studio (now LBMV Architects)

The future of the care home site is hugely problematic as there is no trust whatever between residents and the Council, or indeed between the Council and residents. In 2009 residents put forward their People’s Plan with the ‘Vision for Edenham’, working with local Councillors and Novarc Studio (now LBMV Architects). This included various facilities demanded by residents and evidenced by local need such as a health centre, the extra care housing which Council officers had promised, a public space, community rooms, history centre, and a proposed use for Trellick Tower’s half-demolished car park.

This of course was before Localism and the Council seemed horrified by the idea of planning by residents, though some of the proposals appeared in the Core Strategy.

Then earlier this year the Council finally got around to addressing a future use for the site. We are part way through a feasibility study, which has had a pathetically low response from distrustful residents who believe it will all be private housing, whatever they say or do.

The Council is playing the ‘too-early-too-late’ game. It goes like this: there are some very early proposals for which they are asking some feedback - over Christmas. But they say we mustn’t worry as it is ‘too early’ to comment in detail. Then some concrete ideas will be put forward to be consulted upon, probably over the summer holidays. By the time we have seen something tangible, it will be ‘too late’ to make any material change.

This is the ‘too-early-too-late’ game which the Council excels in.

Another game is even more dangerous to the future use of the site. There is a hidden agenda that the purpose of any development would be to support the costs of keeping the Grade II* listed Trellick Tower in good repair - breaking the ‘culture of dependency’? How much this involves has been variously reported – and often includes large sums that have been spent already – but the latest sum is ‘£13m over the next ten years’.

If this sum is accurate – it is open to challenge – this is a new move for the Council. If buildings must now be cost neutral or self-financing, we will have to review the running costs of several K&C heritage assets. Leighton House and Linley Samborne House must pay for their own upkeep, and of course Opera Holland Park must now cease its parasitic existence and pay for the repairs of its host building, the listed Holland House – which the Council was so careless with that English Heritage listed it on ‘Buildings at Risk’.

Street art. Not a crime; cool. OK?

The current study – the fourth or fifth we know of – seems to have been informed more by preconceptions than by any genuine research or understanding of the area. It is easy to misunderstand when you don’t actually care. Thus we have been informed that the area suffers terrible anti-social behaviour, and this is evidenced by the graffiti wall. In fact the wall is tolerated or even encouraged by the TMO and the Council; we treasure our local artists many of whom exhibit in the three street art galleries on Portobello Road. The Council actually commissioned some of these artists to paint a wall, and here (above) is the Council Leader up a ladder with spray can proudly pretending to paint. This was quite cool for him, frankly, and that day I shook his hand in all sincerity for the first and possibly the last time. As for crime, you can check the crime stats for yourself below, where you will see that Golborne is joint lowest for theft from motor vehicles, just three instances in 12 months. Brompton ward (Knightsbridge darlings) is highest by far for anti-social behaviour, with Golborne around half-way down the list of shame for ‘all crimes’. 

So, enough stigmatisation. Just. Don’t.

So what will happen now? We have one of the best architecture practices in London working with a derisory consultation input, with scant interest, no understanding and apparently no love whatever for either residents or the neighbourhood.

This cocked-up process could make or break the future of one of the most iconic buildings in London. So if you care about the future of Trellick Tower and Cheltenham Estate, please go to the Council website (link below) and comment. Or you can give me your comments here.

We only get this chance once; we have to get it right.

A Vision for Edenham (The People’s Plan: residents proposals from 2008 working with Novarc/LBMV Architects)

Early proposals for the Edenham Care Home site (Levitt Bernstein)

Monday, 3 December 2012


Residents of Edenham Way next to Trellick Tower, which together form the remainder of Erno Goldfinger’s Cheltenham estate that the Council has failed to demolish, were delighted two weeks ago to discover that English Heritage had listed their properties at Grade II.

The campaign to list Edenham Way (ringed in red in axonometric below) began in 2008, when the Council – unknown to residents – had considered flattening their homes and redeveloping the site, conveniently next to the canal and beautiful community-run lateral park and wildlife garden, Meanwhile Gardens. Once the demolition plan was discovered, the highly resourceful residents found a number of ways to scupper it.  Many were original tenants who had lived there since being decanted from their neighbouring ‘slums’; some had subsequently bought their home under Right to Buy. These former ‘slum’ dwellers appreciate the quality of their homes and were not about to let the avaricious Council destroy them and the tight-knit community that houses three generations of local people, comprising innumerable nationalities working and living in harmony.

The very sad story of the Edenham Residential Care Home (hatched area below), a Goldfinger building in front of Trellick Tower, had hit residents hard. In 2006 the Council had ‘consulted’ on its future, and in a disgraceful episode that still turns my stomach, decided it was no longer fit for purpose. Residents were turned out, and whatever the Council says about how ‘sensitively’ it was done, half were dead within a year. Two stopped eating and starved to death. We know that because we went to the funerals. It was shocking, and it woke Edenham Way residents to the reality of what could happen to them.

 From an architectural point of view, the care home had formed a carefully planned balance to the massing of the two Trellick towers and the lower blocks and houses at Edenham Way. It was a foil to the striking Trellick, surrounded by lovely gardens and trees, a vital element for the elderly care home residents many of whom suffered dementia and were unable to potter freely around the neighbourhood. The buildings themselves – we were told by an architect who worked with Goldfinger – were designed as load-bearing structural shells so that internal walls could be reorganised at will to accommodate changing need. But the Council didn’t give a fig for this, their deterministic ‘consultation’ found its mark and the buildings were ground into the dirt despite our very best efforts, which included BBC News coverage with Tony Benn, myself chained to the gates, and countless heart-breaking intercessions between families and hard-faced officers.

From a social planning aspect, Cheltenham Estate was a 'cradle to grave' or Lifetime Neighbourhood; now it's a development opportunity.

By the time I caught up with  this latest episode in 2008, a group of Edenham Way residents had already started the process of listing. Within no time at all a petition against demolition had been published in Building Design magazine and had gone global. Architects, academics, students and Goldfinger aficionados around the world signed up in support of local residents, and in the face of this strength of feeling in 2010 the Council admitted defeat – for now.

Residents living in the shadow of Trellick are now facing two onslaughts – or opportunities, depending on your viewpoint. Tomorrow Monday 3 December, an exhibition of ‘three options’ for the future of the care home site will be presented to the world. Will the architects have heard what the meagre 33 residents (from 320 households) who visited the first presentation told them? And will they have listened?

The second attack on residents’ views will emerge in the next few months. We are told that the Council is to challenge English Heritage’s listing of Edenham Way. Apparently, these unique and amazing homes are ‘of no architectural significance’. Have they visited them? This could be the most philistine, despicable and petty action of a Council that among other ‘environmental crimes’ over the years was responsible for:

-      - Demolishing the old Town Hall overnight in 1982 when a listing was imminent (I remember it well; I was there at 2am with half the neighbourhood out in their dressing gowns weeping with helpless fury)
-      - Covering an internationally-recognised mural on Portobello Road by the artist Banksy with plastic cladding, and when challenged asked, ‘who’s Banksy?’ – the same year they spent £240,000 on a painting by Lord Leighton
-      - Stating that the Grade II* listed Trellick Tower was ‘a monstrosity not worth putting a lightbulb in’

Before I see the exhibition tomorrow, before I hear the grounds on which the Council wishes to challenge the Edenham Way listing, I would like to say the following:

-      Dear Council, you are not always right. Sometimes you are very wrong indeed. Listen to your residents. Sometimes, former ‘slum’ dwellers are more knowledgeable and appreciate value better than you. You are elected to serve them.

While listing can be seen as a mixed blessing, it is not a curse. Listed buildings can be a positive force and can pay for themselves. This is not a fantasy; this is a fact.