Plans for the proposed Whitechapel makeover look like they could give the historic district a much-needed facelift and economic boost.
New homes, retail space, jobs, leisure and community facilities, Med-City – a medical version of the nearby Tech-City, and a new civic hub for town hall services in the old hospital building on Whitechapel Road.
The aim, according to the draft proposals, is to ‘encourage people out of the [new Crossrail] station and to shop, socialise and live in the area’.
And of course ‘transform the area for the benefit of residents’, according to Tower Hamlets’ Mayor, Lutfur Rahman, who is up for election next year.
However, as previous regeneration projects have shown; residents who don’t own their own homes are as likely to suffer as they are benefit.
While there are no plans to ‘decant’ whole estates of their residents – akin to the Heygate, in Elephant and Castle, and Carpenters Road, in Stratford, a small number of council homes will be demolished in Durward Gardens.
But it is private tenants on low incomes and benefits who are likely to suffer most from dramatic rent-rises as the demand for limited stock increases following the opening of the new Crossrail station in 2018 and the wider redevelopment of the area.
Private tenants already pay around five times more in rent than a tenant in social housing, the recent Tower Hamlets Fairness Commission reported.
Although that’s hardly surprising when rents in the borough increased by 17 per cent between 2011 and 2012 – during a recession and long before a regenerating brick has been laid.
And with private tenants in Whitechapel increasing by 82 per cent between 2001 and 2011, according to the most recent census, the problem is likely to get worse.
So what’s the answer? More social housing is one. The proposals suggest 3,500 new homes will be built of which a third would be affordable.
At a recent ‘consultation’ road-show I was told it was hoped the affordable homes would be a mix of social, shared ownership and affordable housing for private sale.
I wont hold my breath for the former, although, as central government has ruled social rents should be 80 per cent of the market value they are hardly affordable in any case.
In 1981 97 per cent of homes in Tower Hamlets were social with 86 per cent under council control. The council now owns around 12 per cent.
Personally I don’t see a way out of this and as a private tenant on a low income I think my years in Whitechapel, along with thousands of others, are numbered.
The area is famed for its historic connections to immigration, the working class and social activists and their loss will seriously alter the character of the area. In a last-gasp effort maybe it’s time they were listed along with the buildings?
More Tower Hamlets housing stats:
- private rented accommodation makes up around 33% of homes in the borough and 87% of homes built since 2001
- Around 3000 new homes are built in the borough each year.
- There are 111,000 homes in borough, up from 82,300 in 2003.
- It is expected there will be 140,000 by 2026
- Around 60% of new homes built in London are bought by foreign investors