The picture above is of Union Square in Islington. It shows newly built social housing. As part of a redevelopment of Packington Estate, these houses, in sympathy with the rest of the square, replace the 1960s ugly slab blocks.

The Hyde Group housing association who are responsible for the scheme say:

The terrace of four and five bedroom traditional town houses on Union Square, are all for social rent. The 17 family homes on Union Square are designed to mirror the existing Edwardian street properties.

Hyde is replacing 491 council homes, and adding 300 new homes which will be sold on the open market to finance the £130 million scheme (not completely – there is a £33 million "gap funding" subsidy from the Government.) There will also be new community spaces, a youth centre, retail units, and employment spaces.

Perhaps the scheme could have been made self financing – this will increasingly be the requirement in the future. The social housing seems to be entirely for fully-subsidised social rent tenure rather than for affordable rent or shared ownership.The Guardian are naturally pleased that the tenure mix does not make room for the aspirational squeezed middle.

But I think they miss the point in seeing such new housing as the antithesis of the Policy Exchange proposals for high-value social housing to be sold. If creating new housing through schemes like this does require subsidy then surely the way of achieving it is for councils like Islington to sell off million pound street properties to help finance them?

The rights of existing tenants must be respected. Decisions to sell high value social housing must be made as and when properties become vacant. Where there is a redevelopment scheme it is important to win the support of the existing tenants by offering them better homes. Often council estates are high rise but low density.  This raises the possibility of creating new homes in the same area.

At any rate, what has been achieved in Packington fulfills important criteria of estate redevelopment. It offers better replacement homes and ends the closed ghetto of poverty by opening up a mixed community with new private housing.

The 17 new houses in Union Square are only a small part of it and their design was a particular concession based on the virtue of blending in. However, it is interesting that had these houses been of hideous modernist design their building costs would have been equivalent.

These houses offer a reminder that there is no reason why a new building must be a modernist building.

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