How we did it: Securing approval for an estate renewal

The trust behind plans to rebuild a south London estate rethought their approach from scratch. Colin Marrs reports.

Clapham Park Estate re-makers: the project team behind the new plans for the south London estate, including Richard Harvey (front, second from left) and Christopher Browne (second from right)
Clapham Park Estate re-makers: the project team behind the new plans for the south London estate, including Richard Harvey (front, second from left) and Christopher Browne (second from right)

PROJECT Planning approval for Clapham Park Estate regeneration

ORGANISATIONS INVOLVED Metropolitan Housing Trust, PRP, Mace, JLL

Estate regeneration in inner London is becoming increasingly difficult for scheme promoters. A number of projects have recently hit the headlines due to growing scepticism – and vociferous protests – about the benefits of schemes involving the demolition and rebuilding of municipal housing estates.

Metropolitan Housing Trust has taken a different approach on its Clapham Park Estate project in south London, which secured full planning permission last month. The scheme will provide 2,532 new homes along with shops, offices, community facilities, an energy centre and upgraded public open space. Metropolitan believes its approach has helped to avoid the problems encountered elsewhere.

An outline planning application to rebuild the existing 2,000-home estate was approved in 2008, but has only been partially implemented. "Every time Metropolitan went back to apply for subsequent reserved matters, they would lose a year," says Richard Harvey, design director at architecture practice PRP, which advised the housing trust. "Planning rules were continually evolving and each new application meant the section 106 agreement had to be renegotiated."

PRP was called in to review the project in early 2016, after which the trust decided to go back to the drawing board. It appointed a project team to apply for full permission to avoid the problems it had encountered before. "Some similar projects I have worked on have taken two to three years," says Mace project director Christopher Browne.

Guy Palmer, head of strategic asset management at Metropolitan, says: "One of the key priorities in developing the new plan for Clapham Park was to ensure that we maintained all of the commitments made to residents in our original masterplan." These included a new or refurbished home for every resident, high-quality open public space, including a park, improved community facilities and pedestrian and cycle routes. "We’re pleased to say that this challenge was met and that these commitments remained central to the new planning application," Palmer adds.

PRP’s project team also included cost consultants Mace and planning consultants JLL. Mark Connell, director of planning and development at JLL, says that going for a full planning application means preparing much more detail at an early stage. "Things like the impact of wind around buildings and new densities can be worked out in detail if the process is frontloaded," says Connell. "This helped us show residents that there was nothing to be afraid of from the development. An eight-storey mansion block might sound tall, but if you can show people what it looks like and the impact on neighbouring properties, it helps put their minds at rest."

The same project team worked together on another estate regeneration at nearby Stockwell Park and was able to import and refine techniques from that project. "Some of it was mundane stuff like putting bin stores underground to avoid them making the street look unsightly," says Connell. "But it also meant we were able to create tenure-blind buildings. We have removed the concept of ‘poor doors’, where you have private blocks built separately from public housing."

Building information management (BIM) technology was used to plan the whole estate in detail. This had the advantage of providing residents with a clear, computerised vision of their new homes, says Harvey. "We can show everyone exactly what home they will move into after the rebuilding is complete. They can put on virtual reality goggles and see how many taps there will be in their new home. It has been reassuring for them."

Connell says a detailed approach to the phasing of development also helped give greater certainty for residents. "Each phase can be delivered with its own landscaping and car parking," he says. "Often the problem with a phased approach is that residents sometimes have to wait for the infrastructure to be delivered. Each segment is delivered separately here, avoiding the need for people to move into homes surrounded by a building site."

Collaboration and the use of BIM helped the team submit the detailed application within ten months of starting work in mid 2016. For Harvey, the timescale was the biggest challenge. "Although we were all quite tired by the end, the short timescale also helped keep the momentum and focus. Nothing was allowed to slip."

While the Lambeth officers’ report largely backed the applications, some details still need to be addressed. For instance, conditions have been proposed to remedy reservations over cycle parking and to curb dust nuisance during the construction, and other matters will be addressed through section 106 negotiations. Overall, however, the project now has councillors’ backing – not least on the key issue of affordable housing. Officers advised that the provision of 53 per cent affordable rented and intermediate homes would be "acceptable in creating a mixed and balanced community across the estate", including tenure mix and unit sizes.

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