Mayor Robin Wales’s Newham Administration was left with egg on its face on Tuesday as talks with University College London (UCL) about developing the Carpenters Estates in Stratford were abandoned.
It was not long after the millennium that Newham’s Cabinet decided it could not afford to refurbish the Carpenters Estate. The Council itself admits that the Cabinet gave the green light to decant and demolish the tower blocks on the estate as long ago as 2004 and 2009. In 2010 came more definite proposals for regeneration of the estate in the “Stratford Metropolitan Masterplan”. This document defined the Council’s aspirations for the Carpenters area: it should become a new “integrated Metropolitan Centre for East London offering new opportunities for residents including 46,000 new jobs, 20,000 new homes, new schools, shops, leisure facilities, local services and better transport connections.”
Aspirations are lovely things, of course, but it was not until November 2011 that the Council signed a memorandum of understanding with UCL over development of the estate. Negotiations between the Council and UCL over the commercial details of the scheme followed nearly a year later.
This had always seemed a strange way to develop an estate: decide to knock part of it down, and then scout around for a partner organisation which might help deliver the Council’s vision.
The whole process left residents quite in limbo. As the “commercial” talks between UCL and Newham continued, residents became increasingly frustrated. The lack of trust between residents and Mayor Robin Wales boiled over in front of the Guardian’s video cameras. ELN posted a link to the resulting video last summer: see http://www.eastlondonnews.com/having-a-wales-of-a-time/.
Quite what commercial detail it was that split the talking parties we do not know. Let’s be clear: UCL is a darned fine university and it would do it no harm at all to develop an overspill campus in East London, but it can build that campus on derelict or virgin land and it doesn’t need to disrupt a whole community to expand its academic offering. UCL seems to agree and the Council and UCL have both made it clear that they intend to find UCL a new Newham site.
Newham Council has spoken of its regret that the residents of the Carpenters Estate are plunged into a new layer of uncertainty, even as it announced that it will now attempt to restart talks, probably with one of the other interested parties which was sidelined when the borough began its exclusive flirtation with UCL. It is a shame that the Council should have regrets, and it should strive not to have any more. It should start by involving residents in the planning of the new Carpenters Neighbourhood.
Carpenters will probably go down in history as one of the worst examples of an executive mayor alienating residents of an estate which both sides wanted to redevelop. It remains to be seen whether Mayor Wales can manage a change of heart and bring the whole community into the process of developing the development.
For more information about the campaign to save the Carpenters Community, visit: