Beyond the Alton Estate: What will determine the Success of Post-War Council Housing Regeneration
In 1948, the London County Council purchased 305 acres of land in suburban Roehampton, a site empty at the time and notable for its beautiful landscape and a few surviving Georgian villas. Within a decade, a large-scale estate was built, housing 9,500 people.  The programme was completed when the last piece, Allbrook House, was erected opposite Roehampton village in 1961. Thereafter, the Alton Estate has become widely considered as a successful combination wherein architects of different values and beliefs worked symbiotically.
Since the 1990s urban regeneration in the UK has resulted in extensive demolition of post-war council housing. While some blocks are retrofitted, others are being replaced by new housing forms. Between 2013 and 2020, Wandsworth Council commissioned a Roehampton regeneration scheme that proposed changes primarily to the Alton West area. Following the council’s initial masterplan, a proposal was submitted for planning approval (No: 2019/2516). Known as Alton Green, it was developed mainly by Hawkins\Brown and partly by Barton Willmore, involving large-scale demolition of existing buildings. Yet, although the council approved this plan in 2020, the project is currently interrupted for various reasons.
Many express concerns about disruption to the social and cultural value of these post-war housing estates. As of yet, however, no-one has specifically addressed the recent regeneration proposals for the LCC’s Alton Estate. Hence this dissertation, initially by asking why the 2019 proposal has not yet been implemented, has studied recent controversies about the Alton Estate’s regeneration and heritage debates. Within a wider context, the dissertation also discussed what lies behind the production and reproduction of housing estates as examples of architectural, material, political and economic change.
This study explores documents produced for the 2019 planning application (No: 2019/2516), alongside other sources about the Alton Estate’s regeneration published by Wandsworth Council. Furthermore, I conducted semi-structured interviews with four participants, including Catherine Croft as Director of the Twentieth Century Society, David Roberts as a writer on the Balfron Tower’s regeneration, Hawkins\Brown Architects, and Pablo Sendra of the Bartlett School of Planning, who worked with residents in the Alton Action group on a protest document titled ‘The People’s Plan’.
Chapter 1 has reviewed Wandsworth Council’s regeneration plans prior to 2019. The council emphasised the site between Roehampton Village Square and Danebury Avenue as the focus. The site is occupied by mainly four-storeyed maisonettes, plus a few shopping terraces and the iconic Allbrook House. There is a clear tendency in the 2013-14 masterplan to problematise these maisonettes even if part of the LCC's original design. The regeneration masterplan implies densification because Wandsworth Council’s solution is to replace all the terraced maisonettes with higher dwellings that offer 800-1000 new homes,  almost triple the number of existing homes.
Chapter 2 has studied the controversial part of the Hawkins\Brown’s 2019 proposal, known as the ‘Urban Quarter’. That site was to become a mix of housing, commerce and community facilities, representing the idea that is to create a decent street frontage lined with shops and dwellings along Danebury Avenue culminating in Village Square. U-shaped blocks are the main character. In Hawkins\Brown’s words, their design was to be 'busy, diverse and outward-looking.'  However, the urbanised proposal is seen to overwhelm other buildings in the conservation area, the five listed slab blocks in particular. It also leads to the question of whether the Hawkins\Brown scheme was imposing a universal and entirely rational development, against the original but contrasting Alton imagery where rigidly aligned modern blocks set next to a Picturesque topography, as the original wishes of the LCC architects. Another criticism is the lack of upgrades to the local transport infrastructure. Yet to gain funding, the Wandsworth Council relies on the successful delivery of Alton regeneration.
Chapter 3 highlights the role of green open space in the Alton Estate. Residents expressed a better understanding of landscape than building design, which made them focused on the retention of green space. An idea about ‘defensible space’ was being applied in Hawkins\Brown’s proposal, owing to the Wandsworth Council’s opinion: 'CCTV keeps a watchful eye in the absence of natural surveillance, but fails to provide a sense of security.'  The original Alton Estate layout had incorporated buildings such as maisonettes as part of a wider landscape – whose whole setting was loose and informal – and so Hawkins\Brown’s design for denser redevelopment and hardcore materials would ineluctably conflict with that. For the planners and architects, they were trying to provide enough homes whilst ensuring a high-quality environment to live in, and the compromise, therefore, was to reduce the green open space surrounding the buildings.
Chapter 4 addresses community involvement in the Alton regeneration. The influence of rehousing and Compulsory Purchase Order are widely concerned, and the scale and approach of public consultation are suggested as insufficient. However, Hawkins\Brown architects and Catherine Croft believe consultation is incredibly difficult to do well. Chapter 5 zooms out to a wider view by asking how political and economic change in the past decades have otherwise influenced the production and reproduction of housing estates. London’s borough councils have been in a compromising situation since the dissolution of the LCC, which explains councils’ hardship in managing their housing estates. Hence, it is in their interests to regenerate those estates.
In conclusion, the Park Hill Estate in Sheffield and Robin Hood Gardens are mentioned to suggest the future of the Alton Estate. The two precedents have similar history, but their fates are different: the former being given a new life whilst the latter being demolished and replaced by New London Vernacular, a recent architecture that is seen elsewhere in London. It is also critical to consider the way housing estates should be conserved, e.g. including residents into the listing process. In Catherine Croft’s words: 'What is social housing and how it is funded will evolve over time… it is a completely different world now, I think in terms of the architectural and the planning legislation, or the historic building legislation, what we want to make sure is that you get a new use that is compatible with the physical fabric of the building.' 
Figure 1: Alton West Collage
This collage highlights the Hawkins\Brown architects’ 2019 regeneration proposal, known as ‘Alton Green,’ within the original Alton West location. The regeneration masterplan essentially knocks down existing long maisonettes in Danebury Neighbourhood to build the new ‘Urban Quarter.’ As a critique, this implies densification development and its rational grid framework potentially contrasts to original winding topography. The Alton Conservation Area is marked by red dash, but the making of this boundary is questionable, leading to a wider view about the way the Alton estate should be conserved. (Drawing by author, 2023).
Figure 2: A photograph shows Harbridge Avenue from Allbrook House towards the west. The four-storeyed maisonettes in Danebury Neighbourhood – the area that faces demolition in Wandsworth Council’s Alton Regeneration scheme (Photo by author, July 2023).
Fig. 1: This collage highlights the Hawkins\Brown architects’ 2019 regeneration proposal, known as ‘Alton Green’, within the original Alton West location. The regeneration masterplan essentially knocks down existing long maisonettes in Danebury Neighbourhood to build the new ‘Urban Quarter.’ As a critique, this implies densification development and its rational grid framework potentially contrasts to original winding topography. The Alton Conservation Area is marked by red dash, but the making of this boundary is questionable, leading to a wider view about the way the Alton estate should be conserved. (Drawing by author, 2023).
Fig. 2: A photograph shows Harbridge Avenue from Allbrook House towards the west. The four-storeyed maisonettes in Danebury Neighbourhood – the area that faces to demolition in Wandsworth Council’s Alton Regeneration scheme (Photo by author, July 2023).
 Nikolaus Pevsner, 'Roehampton: LCC Housing and The Picturesque Tradition,' Architectural Review, 126 (1959): 21-35.
 Wandsworth Council, 'Supplementary Planning Document', Alton Regeneration Document Archive, (2015). Available at: https://www.altonestateregen.co.uk/assets/proposals/2015-roehampton-spd-documents/roehampton_adopted_spd_oct_2015.pdf (Accessed 31 August 2023).
 Hawkins\Brown, 'Design, Landscape & Access Statement [separate documents]', Planning Case: 2019/2516 in Wandsworth Council, (2019): 26. Available at: https://planning2.wandsworth.gov.uk/planningcase/comments.aspx?case=2019%2f2516 (Accessed 31 August 2023).
 Wandsworth Council, 'Baseline Report,' Alton Regeneration Document Archive, (2013): 54. Available at: https://www.altonestateregen.co.uk/assets/proposals/2014-alton-area-masterplan-documents/alton_baseline_report_20141008.pdf (Accessed 31 August 2023).
 Catherine Croft, 'The Alton Estate Regeneration,' Interviewed by Author, July 21, 2023.