Demolition begins on first phase of Cambridge Road Estate regeneration

The first phase of the Cambridge Road Estate regeneration started last week as the beginning of demolition works got underway.

The first phase involves knocking down Piper Hall and two other housing blocks.

Phase 1A of the development will produce 44 new homes. The majority (42) will be for council housing and two will be available for private ownership. Construction is set to start in the new year.

Cllr Emily Davey, housing portfolio holder for the council, said: “The redevelopment of the Cambridge Road Estate is central to the council’s plans to build the homes we need.”

According to Davey, there are approximately 3,700 households on Kingston’s housing register waiting for a home. There are a further 900 people currently living in temporary accommodation in the borough.

‘An absolute disaster’

Each phase of construction is to be carried out consecutively so once the building work has been completed residents can move back into their new homes. 

Residents for phase 1 were notified in December 2021 that they would be relocated into alternative accommodation in the summer. 

Despite the council providing them ample warning of the move, some residents said they felt the council was unprepared to rehouse them.

Views to Cambridge Road Estate, Norbiton. Photo: Suzanne Seyghal Buckingham, Kingston Society.

Jill Preston, a resident on the estate, moved into her new dwellings on July 28. “It’s been an absolute disaster,” she told the Kingston Courier. “The house wasn’t ready. Nothing had been checked…it was only last week I was able to put my heating on.”

Despite council assurance that they provide support, the project of rehousing residents was not an easy undertaking.

Preston said: “They forgot to take half of my clothes. I lost my cat.”

Other residents told Preston they had moved into alternative accommodation and found windows not attached to the frames. One woman told her that her child was hit by a cupboard door falling off. 

Preston said: “People have given up their homes, their neighbours…Don’t you [the council] dare think that you’re doing us a favour.”

A major undertaking for Kingston Council

Councillor for Norbiton Olly Wehring said that this was the biggest project that Kingston Council had undertaken. 

Wehring said: “The estate has been smeared with an unfair reputation which is not representative of the people who live there. The regeneration plan will open up the estate and make it feel safer and welcoming.

“You walk through the estate and feel that Kingston can do better…The plan is for the greater good for the community, worth the disruption to provide more housing.”

The regeneration project was launched in 2014 by the Conservatives in attempts to respond to the need for more housing in the area. The proposal was then taken over when the Liberal Democrats took control of the council in 2018.

Cllr Ian George, housing portfolio holder in 2014, was underwhelmed at the Liberal Democrat’s plan. He said: “It will still be an estate and I think that’s a shame.”

Despite being overall in favour of the regeneration project George was critical of the height, density and layout of the proposal.

The current Cambridge Road Estate has four blocks of 15 stories high as well as low-rise blocks. Whereas the new plan will see 12 blocks between 3-13 stories high being built.

George wanted each block to have a maximum of 6 stories to merge with the surrounding terrace houses.

George said: “It’s rare that you get a chance to start again [on an estate]…this is a missed opportunity.”

Housing figures

The Cambridge Road Estate regeneration will introduce 2,170 homes on the existing 820 housing blocks. The redevelopment will also add green spaces, disabled parking and children play areas. 

The plans include demolishing the existing estate to build 1,338 genuinely new homes, creating a 114 boost in social housing and an uplift of 1,050 private dwellings.

Bar chart comparing the distribution of social and private housing on the existing CRE start to the proposed regeneration. Photo: Emily Dalton.

Kingston Council’s 2013 social housing policy said that on sites of 10 dwellings or more, the council would require 50% of the units to be affordable housing. The council added that it should be based on the total number of houses proposed in the development, rather than the net figure. 

The current plans for the Cambridge Road Estate would fall short of this promise by dedicating 767 (35.3%) of houses as council housing.

Kingston Council has formed a limited liability partnership with Countryside developers to build the project. Meaning, both partners collaborate together but each is responsible for their own conduct. According to Wehring, the partnership allows the Council to oversee the whole project so the council has “skin in the game”.

Wehring said: “If the council’s profits are higher than expected they will buy more properties off the developer.”

George said: “The number of council housing may not be as much as promised at the beginning.”

With a combination of an uncertain housing market and high inflation, Thomas was concerned that the increased building cost could cause the council to decrease the the number of affordable housing. “The while thing has to pay for itself,” he said.

The residents voted for the regeneration plan on March 18th 2020. A turnout of 86% saw 73% of eligible residents vote in favour of redevelopment on the estate

The joint venture was first approved in 2017 and is predicted to take between 10-15 years.

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