Learning Lessons from London’s East End to Improve the Royal Borough

On a recent field trip to East London, my Year 11 Geography students and I learned a few lessons on regeneration that could help us here in the Royal Borough.

My students visited Stratford New Town, Hackney New Wick and the East Village, where worn shops and homes were transformed with sparkling, modern buildings and clean, Olympic-quality leisure centres. They also plucked the courage to survey residents to get their thoughts on their regenerated communities. Though residents appreciated the convenience of the latest shops, gyms and parks on their doorsteps, many expressed concern about the loss of their community’s identity.

One West Ham season ticket holder claimed that the old 'cockneys' had moved to Essex where properties were more affordable, leaving the area bereft of any traditional feel. Residents in nearby Hackney Wick saw an exodus of artists and poets, who were replaced by city workers and international jet setters. In the East Village area, flats in newly built skyscrapers were fetching as much as £6.5m—well beyond the reach of ordinary residents.

We face a similar outcome in Windsor and Maidenhead if the Council continues its current course. The current Council appears to be gambling on the returns of new luxury properties to deliver what they would consider a “Borough built for everyone”. I, for one, am not convinced.

When Crossrail arrives in full force in 2019, Maidenhead will become a dormitory town. Londoners will flock to the (relatively) cheaper housing, pricing out local people. We already see it happening. The Borough Local Plan clearly focuses on property development, but presents little opportunity for developing space for shops and businesses. The Council has promised 30% of new homes would be affordable, but have yet to define what this means and how they will deliver that promise.

The approval last April to build 67 flats on the Thames Auto Sales site and adjacent derelict plot in Oldfield Road, Maidenhead gives little room for hope. Conservative councillors unanimously supported this proposal, despite only 12% of homes designed to be affordable and council planning officers recommending refusal (Source: Maidenhead Advertiser). Simply building more homes isn’t helping either. Residents already see this as developers sell new-build 2-bed flats (outside town centres) for over £500k, when comparable older properties are selling for around £350k. It’s only a matter of time before overall prices rise, making the Borough unaffordable for key workers and younger generations.

We will all pay the price if we get planning wrong, as the experience of communities in East London attests. Getting this right requires answers to basic questions. Who are we as a community? What is our vision for towns across the Royal Borough? What trade-offs are we willing to make to achieve that vision? These answers can’t be made behind closed doors; they have to be made with residents if they have any chance of making our Borough a better place to live and work.

Teacher Richard Endacott is a Windsor resident and Vice-Chair of the West Windsor Residents Association.

Published and Promoted by Charles Hollingsworth on behalf of “the BOROUGH first“, both of PO BOX 4919, Maidenhead, SL60 1LS

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