UPDATE: 21/11/16 Buy the book – “The Dynamics of Local Housing Policy” by Keith Jacobs. (At the time of writing available second hand for £22.52 – 21/11/16) HT @municipaldreams

In the early 1990s I would periodically return from a long trip overseas to notice fewer and fewer tower blocks standing on an estate once well known to me as a carpenter with the GLC . . .

Read Hansard on Trowbridge

. . . I would drive past on the Eastway and the Trowbridge Estate would have lost a couple more of its tower blocks. I began to forget how many there were to start with.

Opposite, between Eastway and the factories along the railway and the cut, the G.L.C.’s Trowbridge estate left only the north-south line of Osborne and Prince Edward roads from the centre of the old street pattern. First opened in 1965 and completed in 1969, the estate included 117 bungalow homes but was most striking for its seven 21-storeyed towers, (fn. 68) with mosaic facings and glass balconies.


In time I came to enquire why this was happening, and on driving by the estate itself noticed houses going up where green space had been before, and the absence of towers.  This was all part of what I now understand to have been the Comprehensive Estates Initiative, a Hackney born plan to improve the housing conditions of estates that had, for a number of reasons, got into trouble.

UPDATE: I have recently found out that they were pulled down because they were falling down, poorly constructed by people who didn’t care.

Film here -> The Great British Housing Disaster

This was all long before the present round of regenerations for profit making, and so intrigues me since I believe the CEI to be the first major project of this kind, although from this distance one with far more worthwhile motives than some of those in place, and in planning today.

These are the estates that were improved under the CEI and I hope in due course to vist them all.  I have already been around Holly Street which therefore has its own article linked from this page.  Holly Street is perhaps the most well known and has made its way into the pages of the Open House brochure for the second year running.

Clapton Park, Nye Bevan and Millfields

Trowbridge Estate

New Kingshold Estate

Nightingale Estate

Holly Street Estate

Film links below:-

The Occupation

The London Particular

In the Occupation many of the issues that surround both the CEI and Holly Street are discussed:-

KS – Hackney was the pioneer in terms of the approach to these large estates. There was the frank admission that these great estates don’t work and we need to get back to normal street patterns, doors onto the street, so as you go in to your street door there are other people walking around and lights switched on to the street, you can see where you’re going, you’re not going round three alleys and nooks and crannies in which you can get mugged six times before you get to your street door.” – Kevin Sugrue – Head of the Hackney Regeneration Agency Renaisi

PS – What a lot of people thought was if we just take down the tower blocks and effectively build the same houses but build the same type of housing, just lay a tower block on its side and make it a terrace of houses that’ll solve all the problems.” – Peter Sutton – Hackney based community activist

PS – It doesn’t because you’ve still got the same poor health services, people still haven’t got work, it isn’t the housing in itself that is a problem, it’s the poverty, it’s the break up of our society that is the problem.”

KS – The whole approach to the Comprehensive Estates Initiative, Holly Street was one of five estates, was not just the physical fabric, it was people regeneration, it was about ‘have you got a job?’, ‘no’, ‘have you got skills?’, ‘no’, and helping people to develop skills, to get work.  Some of the regeneration of the estate itself provided work.  But it was social as well as physical regeneration.”

PS – If you look around Holly Street they all say it is going to be much more than the buildings, it is going to be people but their solution to regenerating the area is, it isn’t about finding work for the existing people in the area it’s about shipping people out and bringing in people who do work and then ‘hey presto look at what we’ve done for the employment rate in the area'”.

AP – Holly Street is primarily social housing re-let through housing associations to low income families. There’s a small amount, I think it’s probably about a third of the development, that’s privately developed, for high cost owner occupation and private letting.  It never was the idea of a council estate that you’d create a lump of housing with a thousand units on it, that would only, or mainly be available to people without incomes and without work.  The idea of mixed tenure is to open it up to a more normalised community process where people in moderately paid work, people in low paid work and people who aren’t in work actually live within some kind of proximity.” – Professor Anne Power LSE

PS – It’s always interesting the way, it’s always mixed tenure in our areas, it’s never mixed tenure in their areas so why don’t we take a street in Hampstead and open that up to council tenants from Camden to move into their estate because if it’s good for us to mix then surely it would be good for them as well. ”

AP – There’s a lot of scope for creating more mixed communities by a natural process of simply opening up areas to a less excluded group of people. It doesn’t help excluded people only to live on their own with other excluded people, it’s not what people would choose.”

PS – I don’t think it improves communities, any of the studies show that people don’t mix on estates. I think it’s meant to  improve us in some way by having professionals living there. What actually happens on the mixed estates on the whole is that walls go up and you have a middle class ghetto and you have a working class ghetto.”

AP – Urban authorities like Hackney try and create more owner occupied housing of relatively low cost within their regeneration areas in order to try and hold on to and attract back some of the mix of workers that they think they need in order to for example be able to staff their schools, or be able to collect council tax and pay for core services so mixed communities are very very important to councils for those reasons so they should be trying to increase the proportion of paid workers in those communities, they certainly  shouldn’t be displacing people who are there.”

PS – The figures I’ve got are that only 10% of the original Holly Street residents are on there now.  If you can get anything better out of Hackney Council to prove me wrong then fine.  But they say that it’s regeneration it’s better for the area then if only 10% stay at the end of it then it isn’t better for the area. If they can guarantee that everyone who wants to remain gets to stay then that’s fine.”

AP – The fact that we can’t recruit teachers and nurses because of the housing difficulties and housing pressure of London tells us that we shouldn’t be knocking down Hackney tower blocks. We should be renovating them so that we’ve got lots of affordable housing for people in work.  The tower blocks that actually have been renovated like at Clapton Park or at Holly Street are hugely successful they could let them many many times over, and it’s just a terrible shame that they didn’t know that before they knocked the others down.”

PS – It was very popular when they took down parts of Holly Court and there were all kinds of problems with those designs.  Didn’t have to take all of it down though.  Some tower blocks are popular and popular for some people. For young people and for older people as well.  They didn’t have to take them all down.  It’s an agenda about reducing the amount of social housing in the area”.

With thanks to Benedict Seymour who made the film from which this transcript is taken.


Cost study: Council housing refurbishment

Improvements to Alma House were carried out as part of the London Borough of Hackney’s innovative £300m Comprehensive Estates Initiative.

The elongated slab block was remodelled by cutting out two full-height sections containing eight flats each. This resulted in three detached eight-storey blocks, each with their own lifts and access decks.

Entrances to the block and refuse stores were reconfigured to provide access directly from the street, rather than from a dark, cramped alley at the rear as had been the case.

The flat roofs were overclad with new profiled aluminium wave-form roofs. Cantilevered balconies were added to both sides of the block, the concrete access walkways and the private flats.

Double-glazed windows and external render to exposed reinforced concrete areas improved the appearance of the block. They are also part of an energy-efficiency package that includes cavity-wall insulation and individual central heating and hot-water systems.

All dwellings were refurbished internally, with new bathroom and kitchen fittings in a variety of finishes, according to the resident’s choice.

Security was improved by installing CCTV cameras in the entrances and lifts. These are linked to an entry-phone system and can be monitored from each flat, or remotely by an off-site concierge. Also, high-security front doors were added to all dwellings.



Open and shutter case



Culture shock



Hackney keeps partnering



Initiative Description
1991 The Comprehensive Estates Initiative £200 million supplementary credit approval under Estate Action to tackle a range of social and economic problems on 5 dilapidated system-built estates. A key feature of this was tenant involvement in the design and management of their estates, and employment and training arising from construction and refurbishment.



Radical housing initiative puts tenants in control

Article Abstract:

The borough of Hackney in London, England, is transforming five run-down housing estates under its Comprehensive Estates Initiative (CEI). The CEI is an ambitious project which aims to tackle problems on the estates, for example, physical problems, image problems and rent arrears, by involving tenants in the change process. The project, designed by ECD Architects, involves blowing up tower blocks; recladding buildings; turning balconies into conservatories; improving the street layouts and parking areas; and landscaping the surrounding areas.
Author: Slavid, Ruth
Publisher: EMAP Architecture<
Publication Name: Architects’ Journal
Subject: Business, international
ISSN: 0003-8466
Year: 1996
Housing, Contracts, ECD Architects, Hackney, England


Tony Panayiotou started his career in the Race Relations Unit in the London Borough of Hackney, working with BME community organisations. He later became the Council’s refugee officer and in the summer of 1989 found himself trying to house and support 3,000 Kurdish asylum seekers. In 1991 Tony joined Hackney’s central policy unit, where he co-wrote the Comprehensive Estates Initiative, a programme that led to the demolition of 25 tower blocks and rebuild of 5 system built estates including Holly Street.


Holly Street is one of the largest housing regeneration projects of its kind in the world.  It  took  shape  in  1991,  in  a  proposal  to  demolish  one  of  Hackney’s  most notorious 1960’s system-built housing estates. The area has now become a mixed-tenure  residential  neighbourhood  of  streets  and  squares,  containing  a  mixture  of mainstream  housing  for  sale,  in  shared-equity  ownership,  self-build  housing  and housing association rented homes. The tenants of the old estate were involved in the design of  the new neighbourhood  from  its  inception.
Having appreciated all  too well that  architecture  can  discriminate  or  stigmatise  by  its  appearance  and  imagery  as well as  in  its  layout and detailed design, most wanted  to  live  in ordinary houses on an  ordinary  street,  in  a  neighbourhood  that would  not  be  perceived  by  others  as either municipal or obviously experimental. Many of the tenants had moved onto the estate with young  families  in  the 1960’s and then  ‘aged  in place’, and  the area had an unusually high concentration of older  residents who had survived  the decline of the area into a ‘sink estate’. The intention was that these could form the nucleus of a more stable and buoyant local community, if only they could be persuaded to stay.

The Council has identified programmes of improvement works and major estate redevel-opment under Comprehensive Estates Initiative and Estates Regeneration Strategy prog-rammes, details of which can be obtained from the Council’s Director of Housing. This Plan contains proposals for major works on the Trowbridge and Clapton Park, Holly Street,
New Kingshold and Nightingale Estates.


More information here:- Asset Management Strategy 2008-2012.doc

And finally . . . the bad news


More from one of the authors of the CEI below:-


More from the Hackney Archives:-

“We do have some printed material on the Comprehensive Estates Initiative, such as a 1999 pamphlet entitled ‘Holly street estate: blueprint for success’ and ‘Comprehensive estates initiative: progress report 1995’; we also possess a video on the CEI.”




Developments in Housing Management and Ownership

edited by Ricardo Pinto

Holly Street



Simon Slater

Between 1994 and 1997, he was the policy adviser to the London Borough of Hackney’s Chair of Housing during the development of Hackney’s Comprehensive Estate’s Initiative, the Hackney Housing Partnership and the Hackney Estate Regeneration Strategy, where he gave support and advice on all aspects of housing regeneration policy.


Follow ups . . .

Of course government policy would see this as a move in the right direction towards a social and tenure mix and a more balanced community. It probably does not feel like this if you are on the waiting list – mixed communities don’t seem to work in the opposite direction, as the recent nasty little episode about ‘million pound Council houses’ illustrated.


Another excellent blog by Douglas Murphy @entschwindet about the CEI in passing:-
One striking thing about the East End of London is how much it as physically changed form in the last 20 years. At around the time that the warehouses and lofts of Shoreditch were being rediscovered by the art crowd, Hackney Council was engaged in a huge programme of destruction, as various housing estates were demolished.

Nowadays there are large areas you can walk through where the Victorian terraces give way to a strange, oddly suburban landscape of semis, apologetically detailed, measly in scale and generally nondescript. More often than not, if you scratch the surface you find that you are walking through an area which was at one point a large and notorious housing estate.
[ . . . ]

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