A pioneering housing estate in Lambeth is under threat of demolition by the local council.
Cressingham Gardens is a council estate of a style that was pioneered by the architect Ted Hollamby as providing domestic scale housing, away from the monumentalism tower blocks that he had previously worked on and was supported by the likes of Erno Goldfinger, Lubetkin and Le Corbusier. Despite its low-level development, high-density housing was still achieved by pedestrianising the estate and having car-parking outside the estate.
As Borough Architect for Lambeth Council in the late 1960s, Ted Hollamby had become disillusioned with high-rise developments and their failure to provide good family homes. He was also increasingly concerned about the lack of private gardens in social housing developments.
An estate was being planned to replace a row of 20 large and rather shabby Victorian flats conversions with huge back gardens. In 1969 Ted Hollamby submitted his team’s design for Cressingham Gardens to the Housing Committee, deputised by the future Prime Minister, Sir John Major. The committee recognized the exceptional importance of the innovative design and minuted ‘congratulations to Cressingham’s architects on their ‘bold and imaginative scheme’
It took seven years to complete the development.
The resultant estate is a mix of houses with gardens and a row of flats with balconies that also act as a sound barrier from the road for the houses behind. Although developed as a single estate, the rows of houses are staggered around in a semi-haphazard manner that’s closer to the piecemeal development that would have preceded it.
Although the gardens and balconies are small, long term observation suggests they are more intensively used than larger communal gardens. And cheaper for the council who doesn’t have to cover the cost of maintaining them.
The use of a yellow stock brick gives the estate a more domestic feel and lighter aspect on the main road it faces. The yellower bricks and white detailing also work well with the garden estate concept. Despite the years, the use of brick means that the external walls haven’t soiled and aged as badly as many council estates built from concrete have.
Now though, Lambeth council wants to demolish the estate, replacing it with modern blocks, of which the majority would then be sold to private buyers.
It argues that the houses need upgrading to modern standards, and as with most councils, they choose to fund that by expanding the number of homes through demolition and rebuilding, and selling a portion of the estate on the open market.
It’s estimated that the cost of refurbishing the existing homes would be in the region of £30,000 per home, and while a portion of that is due to some of the architectural quirks of the design, a large portion is due to maintenance neglect by the council itself in the past. They now seem to be of the position that the council’s own failures in the past are a cost to be borne by the residents today.
To fund the redevelopment, apart from the architectural loss, the current plans would see 306 council homes replaced with just 190 council flats, plus 274 private flats.
Although the council is now scaling back its plans, it’s clear that it’s likely to be engaging in a salami tactics, taking out one slice of the estate at a time until it has eventually demolished the whole lot.
To try and save the estate, three groups, SAVE Britain’s Heritage, the Twentieth Century Society and Save Cressingham Gardens Campaign are calling on Lambeth Council to include Cressingham Gardens in the Brockwell Park Conservation Area.
The boundaries of the conservation area are currently under review and a decision to include the estate would make it harder for the council and future developers to demolish the buildings.
However, as it’s the council that has to both approve the plan, and is also the council that wants to demolish the estate, candidly, hopes are unlikely to be high.