Regeneration of Winstanley & York estates: Is the Council undermining current residents to push sales?

9 mins read
Darien House - Photo CJI

Reza Tolou is a 74-year-old pensioner and flat owner in Darien House, located on Darien Road in the heart of Winstanley Estate. This four-storey walk-up block of flats, built in 1934 to designs by Battersea’s borough engineers, was part of a redevelopment project in the 1930s.

Reza purchased the flat in the late 1990s and lived there until 2008. With two young children and needing more space, he moved out and began renting the flat. Now retired, Mr Tolou relies deeply on the rental income to supplement his pension.

However, since the Council bought the flat next door two years ago, Reza has faced numerous issues with the new tenants. He has reported antisocial behaviour, dogs urinating on the corridor carpet (despite pets being forbidden in the building), and multiple instances of broken doors and damage to the communal areas.

Communal doors have been smashed, blood found in the hallway, cigarette burns mark the windowsill on the shared balcony, and shouts, loud music, and disputes are heard in the middle of the night. These issues became so threatening that his tenant left in February 2023, and he has been unable to rent out his flat for the last 15 months. Reza said:

“I have been trying to rent out my flat as it is my only source of income. When I arranged a viewing for a potential tenant, they pointed out the broken door to Flat 5 and the debris in the communal hallway upon arrival. This incident deterred them from even entering my flat for the viewing.”

Another private tenant had their window smashed one night at 2 a.m., and due to the threat and insecurity, they moved out. The landlord then decided to sell the flat, which the Council subsequently bought.

Window smashed in one of the flat – Photo by Tony F.

Mr Tolou has reported all the issues multiple times to Wandsworth Council without much effect. Facing a loss of income, he is now asking for compensation and is threatening to go to court.

In December 2023, the Council evicted their tenant and regained possession of the flat next to Reza’s. However, they have since failed to fulfill their commitment to make the repairs. In January, he offered to make the repairs himself, estimating the cost to be around £550 for replacing the broken mailbox, doorbell, and repairing cracks, sanding, painting, and varnishing. Despite this, he received no updates. Eventually the carpet was replaced by the council’s new tenant who moved in a few weeks ago (and by luck is a young handyman), at his own expense.

Tony Fawcett, one of the freeholders in the block of flats and director for the management company responsible for maintaining the building, has also observed accumulating problems as the Council has bought 6 out of the 16 flats in Darien House in recent years. As an example, he pointed out that the garden in front of the property, which is the responsibility of the Council, is no longer properly maintained, with the vegetation out of control.

He has complained numerous times to the Council. In one of his recent emails, he said:

“During the last few years following the councils regeneration scheme for the Winstanley and York Gardens estate the council has bought a number of the properties from private ownership, to date this is now seven of the sixteen flats.

During this time, council tenants have been placed in these properties, which has resulted in considerable damage to the communal areas, broken windows, damaged doors, and communal stair carpets damaged with constant urinating from dogs. Not only that but we have had a stream of council tenants with anti-social behaviour, playing loud noise at unsocial hours, banging of doors causing further damage, arguing late at night, drug use, drink bottles, syringes, vomit, and food waste left on communal stairs. I have drawn these very serious matters to the attention of the council, and the breaches of the terms of the lease – pets are not allowed.”

Communal garden managed by the Council is kept unmaintained: overgrown hedges where reported in February 2023 using a Wandsworth Council website link, and there has been no action – hedges remain uncut for over two years, as evidenced in the photo – Photo by Tony F.

He said that one of the Council officers visited the property in December 2023, and he showed them the damage, but no effective progress was made, and most of the damage is still pending.

Struggles with Wandsworth Council and financial worries

As director and therefore effectively responsible for the maintenance of the building, Tony Fawcett expressed that his experience in dealing with the Council has been exceptionally painful and has caused him “a great deal of extra work, anxiety, and stress.” He said:

“I have been in correspondence with numerous people at Wandsworth Council. I have seen little progress, in fact a great many emails are ignored and not even replied to, frankly this is discourteous, even when emails are replied there is little commitment to resolving problems within a reasonable time frame, matters continue on and on for months.”

Even worse, the Council is reluctant to pay the building charges on their 6 flats. As a consequence, Tony worries that he might not be able to cover all the necessary costs, including building insurance, this year. He wrote to the Council:

“Total amount now payable in full is £3,120, including the two months overdue payment fee. Service charges must be paid as set out in the terms of lease, this is a legal document. I cannot continue to keep chasing Wandsworth Council for payment and will have to now consider instructing a debt collection agency to recover the debt.”

Service charges were agreed upon at the AGM on 14 December 2023, with each flat’s charge set at a modest £500 for the year. Despite invitations, Wandsworth Council did not attend the meeting, where all other owners gathered to discuss maintenance and costs. Tony expressed confusion as he had previously attempted to coordinate convenient dates for the Council’s attendance, receiving no response. This lack of attendance occurred at the 2022 AGM as well.

However, the Council is now in arrears to pay the service charges and is even threatening not to pay at all. Ben Stevens, Wandsworth Council’s Deputy Property Manager, wrote to Mr. Fawcett, stating that he could “challenge the costs via the mechanisms set out in the landlord tenant act.

While Mr. Fawcett expressed concerns about the Council’s lack of care, his complaints were dismissed by Mr. Stevens, who wrote:

“It would be helpful to me not to have to keep emailing you about things that are nothing  to do with me, so now you know we deal with homelessness perhaps that will cease.  “

Tony Fawcett and Reza in Darien House – Photo CJI

Some speculate that it could be a tactic from the Council to pressure and ultimately eject property owners

In March 2013, a spokesman for the Council said:

“We want to help bring about more positive changes in the area and are prepared to commit up to £100m to help achieve this as part of the Winstanley and York Road regeneration project.”

In 2014, the Council presented 4 different options for the regeneration of the estates and the full redevelopment was eventually presented as the chosen option.

The plan evolved and in 2017 a new masterplan was presented with vague illustrations of what the area could look like with much bigger towers alongside York Road.

This is when Tony Fawcett attended a presentation on the Winstanley and York Road regeneration scheme. Initially, plans for consultations showed buildings of 5 to 9 storeys maximum. However, he was surprised to see that the full scheme now included towers of 20 storeys or even a 32-storey tower in the middle of York Gardens.

What was more shocking was realising, without any specific notice, and unlike the initial consultation, that Darien House, where he lived, was now part of the scheme and pinpointed to be demolished.

In the original Masterplan presented in 2014, Darien House was not included

And this time, Darien House was replaced by new taller buildings up to 12 storeys, alike the rest of the area.

Darien house replaced in the 2017 vision of the redevelopment plan

Two years later, on 18 January 2019, a meeting was organized at York Library with Wandsworth Council and Taylor Wimpey. Philip Morris, the team manager for the regeneration project, explained the project plan and its potential impact on freeholders/leaseholders in the area. Tony Fawcett said:

“A lot of the important questions were never answered, and after the meeting Wandsworth Council failed to maintain any regular communication with Darien House owners about the regeneration and the particular impact for Darien House.”

Mr. Morris denied that residents were misled by the first exhibition in 2013. However, our article published in 2018 showcased how the project evolved since the initial consultation in 2014, without any approval from the local residents since then.

Evolution of the size of the leisure centre proposal from 2013 to 2018

An article published by the Evening Standard in 2019 illustrated what Darien House could potentially be replaced by.

In February 2021 we revealed that the redevelopment plan was already in trouble at the start of phase 1. Originally budgeted for £1bn in 2017, it slipped to £1.4bn in 2019, and with the current situation, it might exceed £2bn, as we anticipated 2 years ago. Financing for phase 1 was also in limbo, leading to a delay in the main elements of phase 1, including the leisure center and the 32-storey tower block, by at least 4 years.

In July 2023, a report by the Director of Housing and Regeneration presented an updated situation on the Winstanley and York estates regeneration project. It outlined a revision of the Joint Venture (JV) annual business plan between Taylor Wimpey and Wandsworth Council, scheduled for completion by Summer 2024.

The 2023 Plan proposed a strategic pause to some elements of the scheme whilst continuing with Block 5 on-site and proceeding with the next scheduled block: Block 6. The pause was also to enable a strategic review of the JV and the scheme. The outcome of the review and of the performance and future of the Joint Venture structure beyond Block 6 will be reported as part of the decision on the proposed 2024 Business Plan.

Three years after announcing the decision to drop the promised leisure center to be built in the first phase of the project, phase 1 remains incomplete. It was announced in 2021 that the leisure center would be delayed by at least 4 years, but its commencement in 2025 now seems highly unlikely.

The project is significantly behind schedule, with no clear indication of its future plans. As of March 2024, only a third of phase 1 has been completed. Extrapolating based on the announced plan, the project could extend beyond 2040.

Original schedule for the project as presented to the community in 2018

The reviewed plan presented in 2017 showed that Darien House was scheduled for demolition in phase 5 of the plan, by 2025-26.

Information provided to local residents on redevelopment plans – Brochure published in 2017

In the past, the Ganley Court homeowners on the Winstanley Estate have encounter similar issues and have fought the proposed plans to demolish their homes.

Ganley Court homeowners protesting at the latest Council’s exhibition for the Winstanley/York estates redevelopment

Ganley Court resident Clara Barbossa, aged 50, explained in 2017:

“I have been in my house for over 10 years. I have raised 2 children in this house which they still call home. I love my home because I have spent a lot of time making it nice. I was very distraught when the council said that they would be demolishing my house to make way for this regeneration. They say they want more affordable housing but where does that leave me? I bought my affordable house and would not be in a position to buy another family house in the borough with the money the council is offering. I am so stressed I am struggling to sleep.”

As a direct consequence of the regeneration project, flat owners are unable to sell privately via an estate agent and must instead sell directly to the council.

Moreover, the project has introduced significant uncertainty for managing the block. Owners are unclear about the timing of potential demolitions—whether it will occur next year or in 10 years’ time. This ambiguity complicates decisions regarding major decorating and maintenance expenditures, leading to the degradation of the property over time. Without clear guidance from the Council, owners are left in a state of limbo, unable to effectively plan for the future upkeep of their property.

With Darien House’s freeholders lacking proper information, damage caused to the property by the Council’s policy of temporary housing, and a lack of communication with Wandsworth housing services, some local residents are now accusing the Council of pushing them to sell and leave.

We have contacted the two local ward councillors, including Simon Hogg, leader of the Council who is overseeing the Winstanley Estate’s regeneration project. None of them have responded at the time of publishing. Council services have also been contacted but failed to respond.

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CJI editor and Clapham Junction Action Group co-founder and coordinator since 2008, Cyril has lived in Clapham Junction since 2001.
He is also funder and CEO of Habilis-Digital Ltd, a digital agency creating and managing websites and Internet solutions.

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