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Will award-winning Packington Estate in Clerkenwell be a one-off?

Construction boss warns cuts are likely to mean social housing project won’t be repeated

20 September, 2019 — By Emily Finch, Simon Hunt

Mayor Rakhia Ismail opens the estate, along with Bernice Ramchandani (right) and Jan Dubridge (left)

THE head of construction at a housing association which transformed a structurally dangerous estate has warned that the project cannot be replicated as government housing grants are no longer available.

Residents, housing executives and Islington South MP Emily Thornberry attended a ribbon-cutting event at the Packington estate, in Clerkenwell, to mark the completion of the 12-year “regeneration” project at the estate.

It was led by Hyde housing association, construction firm Rydon and architects Pollard Thomas Edwards.

The £198million scheme exceeded its budget and ran over by five years, but 490 of its 790 homes are available for “social rent” – 65 per cent below market level.

Bernice Ramchandani, head of construction at Hyde who has steered the project for 12 years, said the social housing element was made possible by “gap funding” from the government.

“We were given £32m and that kind of kick­started what we wanted, which was to provide social housing first,” she said. But Ms Ramchan­dani warned that estate regenerations similar to the Packington “cannot be replicated” because “the government don’t give gap funding now”.

“If the government was still providing that resource we could do so much more,” she said.

The private flats have also helped subsidise the social rented properties which are located in the best locations over the Regent’s Canal.

Almost 500 homes at the Packington estate in Clerkenwell are available for ‘social rent’

Ms Ramchandani said: “We knew what we were doing and created a 60-year business plan that mapped out of the all costs.”

She blamed the delays on complexities of removing the Large Panel System (LPS) without moving residents out of the estate.

The LPS – a form of building system in high-rises which was popular in the 1960s – was found to be structurally dangerous and a decision to demolish the entire estate was taken in 2004.

The council decided to transfer the estate to Hyde in 2006.

Ms Ramchandani said: “We had to do it [demolish] very carefully. We had to lift each panel off separately because of the danger of progressive collapse and because the residents were on the estate we couldn’t use traditional demolition methods – we couldn’t just bulldoze our way through.”

She added: “We would rather that it was slightly delayed and everyone was happy.

“We were concerned how the residents were feeling and we wanted to make sure they were looked after.”

The estate scooped the “Overall” award along with “Best Regeneration” at the National Housing Awards this year.

Jan Dubridge, chair of the Packington residents’ board who ensured they had a voice throughout the development, said her new estate “was something beautiful” and added “we couldn’t have wanted for better”.

“I like it because it’s all open and if you look at these flats you wouldn’t know they’re social housing. We have achieved our objectives and it’s a nice place to walk,” she added.

“We told them what we wanted, which was to blend in with the community. We wanted to go back to bricks and mortar, we wanted all the old streets back, we wanted to maintain our space standard, and the building on the canal would have to go to existing residents. They delivered those.”

Residents at the launch party on Tuesday also praised the changes.

Resident Peter Flack said: “It’s lovely, it’s a much better use of the space. It’s much better with a housing association than it was with the council.”

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