‘Luxury’ flats are flying up everywhere – but it’s not every day that you see a new estate made up entirely of rental properties owned by, and run by, a local Council. But that’s exactly what has just been completed at the bottom of the Gideon Road estate (to the north of Lavender Hill), with four new buildings containing a mix of 15 flats and three large terraced houses. And when we say large we mean it – these houses have up to six bedrooms! The artists’ impression below (from when we first write about this) shows the layout of the new buildings.
Work started in 2019 and it has taken rather longer than expected for the works to finish including a lengthy pause that was partly Covid-related where nothing happened for many months, much to the frustration of residents of the existing estate who had to put up with a closed car parking area and construction hoardings just a few feet in front of their front doors, with only a narrow pathway for access.
But now that the estate is finished and the estate has returned to normal, we have to say, these flats and houses are pretty good quality, and a significant improvement on the old garage area. There are balconies on all the flats, and a surprising number of both the flats and the houses have their own private gardens at the back. As our photo above shows, the development has also been fully gardened ahead of occupation, with planting in all the public areas.
The flats and houses have generously sized windows, which is always a good way of telling there has been a reasonably good overall design and build quality. One of the easiest ways of making something cheap to build is to include tiny little windows, as the windows cost more than the walls, and it makes it easy to meet insulation standards ‘on the cheap’ if you hardly include any glass in the structure. This is why so many suburban housing estates built in the last decade or so have so little natural light that you need to have the lights on in the day. Luckily that hasn’t been done here.
There are two small parks included in the development, pictured above and below. These create a little more green space, which has long been one of the challenges of the original Gideon Road estate: while it actually has a lot of outside space it is broken up in to lots of tiny bits, most of them overshadowed by tall buildings; the only proper open space is the paved playground area and even it is probably overdue for a refit at this point. These two new parks do have the advantage that they catch the sun a bit and bring something a bit new to the immediate area.
This new estate is built on a bit of land previously used for car parking and garages, and the development includes a replacement car park for the Gideon Road estate, hidden away behind one of the buildings. Car parking is quite a complex issue here: a fair few residents of th eexisting Gideon Road estate had bought their flats and in doing so had acquired rights to use the existing open-air estate car parking within this part of the estate. These rights could not be changed after the sales, which meant that the ‘on street’ spaces lost in the redevelopment have had to be reinstated in the new car park area. The situation was different for the lockup garages, which took up quite a lot of the land (pictured below) and which remained in the ownership of Wandsworth council, who rented them out to whoever wanted one. Demand was declining as the garages are too small to fit many cars, so they tended to be used for storage (but being old and damp, weren’t especially useful for this either). Because the lockup garages were kept by Wandsworth, and never freely available to leaseholders, they can be redeveloped without trampling on the rights of the leaseholders. This explains why so many of the new build projects involving adding buildings within existing estates are on existing areas of lockup garages – whether at Battersea Church Road (where about 50 garages are being replaced with a new tower block including 101 flats) or on Taybridge Road (where a set of four garages in a tiny little estate was sold off and redeveloped as a very cleverly designed single house).
Nine storage sheds that were lost in the redevelopment have been rebuilt at the side of the site, and there is also a covered bike shelter.
Before anyone gets too excited about being able to move in here, we should say that these flats are not going to have much effect on the waiting list for Council accommodation. Instead they’re mainly designed to accommodate residents who are being moved out of the Winstanley Estate ahead of its partial demolition and redevelopment; and to accommodate people with particular needs that Wandsworth struggles to handle in other estates – hence the really big houses for extended families. Our new neighbours will do quite well out of this move, as these new buildings are built to a much better quality than most on the bit of the Winstanley that’s being redeveloped.
The flats are all currently empty (with a security guard on site) but we expect they will be occupied within days or weeks. By and large, this new development looks like a success so far, and it makes for a tidier and more attractive edge to the existing estate; while it is a shame it took so long to complete it’s good to see that care has been taken in the landscaping and finishing. There’s nothing architecturally ground-breaking here and this has been built on a tight budget and a complicated bit of land – but these are decent quality homes that have been thoughtfully designed and which will be good to live in. It’s a credit to the developers that these do a fair job of looking like they have been here from the start, tying in to the existing Gideon Road estate and to the newer Westmoreland apartments next door, while not completely clashing with the Victorian properties to the north.
Our one regret is the way the existing path through to Grayshott Road has been changed. It used to go straight through to the end of the car park as a nice wide footpath with good visibility, and now it has been rerouted and become a complicated mess with blind corners and big fences either side, that is not really overlooked. Even the paving here is badly done, changing several times along the length of the path. This is bound to end up as one of those quiet pathways that always has rubbish dumped in it, that smells slightly of urine, and that you may want to avoid if you’re alone after dark (and we said this back at the planning consultation stage too). But this is probably the only aspect that is badly done, shows that overall this feels like a successful project.
This stage of the building is all finished but there may be more to come: when these plans were originally approved, three further buildings were also involved, shown on the map below and labelled ‘Lavender Hill Garages’ (next to the Crown pub) and ‘Tyneham Close’. We understand there was some thought of also ‘filling in the gaps’ directly facing Lavender Hill as well, but this was discarded (just as well, as the large trees would have been cut down, and the three parallel blocks of flats would have lost a great deal of daylight if the area had been built on). As yet there is no sign of action, but we suspect these other buildings will be built in coming years.
As one final curiosity: this map shows the original plan for the Gideon Road estate. It’s maybe surprising to learn that it was designed in the early 1970s as a single coordinated plan for around 200 houses and flats (as a partial redevelopment of the Victorian-era L’Anson and Townsend estates that were previously on the site), as walking around it it often feels as though it’s really several separate and unrelated estates that are loosely combined.