The estate stricken by the Grenfell disaster has a future through community ownership, a new report says.
With the tower site seemingly set to be a memorial, residents are recommended to take ownership of the adjoining Lancaster West estate as a Community Land Trust.
A new report from the Legatum Institute and Create Streets says that for too long the development and management of estates like the Lancaster West has been carried out without the local community having real power over the decisions that affect their neighbourhood.
But the response of the community in the immediate aftermath of the fire shows that it has the capability to decide the future of the estate – with all those displaced by the disaster having the right to a tenancy on the same terms as they had before, either on the Lancaster West or close by.
Any new homes created on the estate – which will only happen with the support of residents – are seen as being available at social rent or affordable to those on average local incomes.
The report – A Community Led Future – was informed by a series of discussions with residents and other stakeholders on the Lancaster West where, the report suggests, the apparent failure of the authorities to heed the concerns of residents about fire safety reflected a wider and historic pattern.
Over many years, the report says, the perception grew that those who managed the Lancaster West Estate were not accountable to residents but to a distant bureaucracy.
At the heart of the report is the principle that never again should residents be at the mercy of a system that can disregard their views and downgrade their interests – no matter how personally well-intentioned are those who operate it.
The authors of the report, Nicholas Boys Smith and Danny Kruger, argue that the community should be the decision-makers about the future of the Lancaster West Estate.
They suggest that the Community Land Trust model of collective ownership is a possible way forward for the estate.
Community Land Trusts are a form of community-led housing, set up and run by ordinary people to develop and manage homes which are let at social rent levels to local people.
The report reflects on what would have happened if, like many apartment blocks around London, Grenfell Tower had been privately owned by the people who lived in it.
Each household would have had shares in the management company that owned the freehold and from which they rented their flats, and, when the question of refurbishment came up, the residents would have exercised direct control over the budget, the specification and the appointment of contractors.
Close to Grenfell Tower are the Walterton and Elgin estates in north Westminster. Walterton and Elgin Community Homes (WECH), is as a ‘mutual community-owned housing association’ which could be a model for the community of the Lancaster West Estate to follow.
In 2017, local people in North Kensington formed the Kensington Community Housing Forum, with the aim of setting up a Community Land Trust in the borough. Its convenor, Elizabeth Spring, says the forum’s first public meeting in October 2017, a central theme was agreed by everyone: “We want to take back control of our own lives”‘.
Boys Smith, a fellow of the Legatum Institute and director of the social enterprise, Create Streets, said: “No change in the governance or management of the Lancaster West estate can make good what happened on 14th June last year – but if the right decisions are taken for the future, the legacy for the community and for society can, in part, be a good one.
“This powerlessness of local people is not particular to RBK&C, nor is it recent – it is an approach that has driven far too many regeneration and renewal schemes.
“It is clear that this can’t be allowed to happen again, the future of the estate needs to be place fully in the hands of the local community.
“An approach that gives the community control about the future of the estate may make something positive for the future: a new model of community living that could inspire the rest of London and the UK.”
Kruger, a fellow of the Legatum Institute, said that while the council and government struggled to assemble a coordinated system of support following the tragedy, the community assembled its own. charities, community centres, churches and mosques opened their doors.
“From my discussions with residents of the Lancaster West Estate it is clear that this community have the ability and should have the right to shape their own future.
“Examples such as Walterton and Elgin Community Homes show how communities in London can take control of their neighbourhoods and develop and successfully manage their home,” he said.
Kensington & Chelsea Council is currently discussing with the residents of Lancaster West the future of the estate.
Funding from central government and the council – around £30m so far – has been assigned to a refurbishment.
In January, an ‘Ideas Day’ was held at the community leisure centre, organised by Lancaster West Residents Association and supported by a consortium of architects.
The day attracted hundreds of residents who gathered round tables and drawing boards to explore the options for their neighbourhood.
Each block and street had an architect to explain what might be possible, and take suggestions and feedback from residents.
Ideas discussed include new lifts and stairwells; new landscaping to include ground floor access to the green spaces, some of which may be enclosed for residents’ private use; and improvements to flats, including new bathrooms and kitchens and even the possibility of conservatories extending outwards from each flat.
The idea was also mooted of converting the lower-ground floor spaces beneath the walkway buildings into new accommodation.
All told, 151 households lived in Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk, which runs along the foot of the tower and which was also made uninhabitable by the fire.
Since then, owing to changes in family structure, the number of households from the Tower and the Walk has risen to 207.
As of 1 February this year, 170 of these households have accepted an offer of temporary or permanent accommodation with 116 of these moving into new homes, 60 into temporary and 56 into permanent accommodation.
This means that almost seven months after the fire 151 families from the Tower and the Walk – 73% of the total – have not yet moved into a new permanent home, with 91 households still in emergency accommodation such as hotels and B&B.