Clays Lane Estate

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Logo of the Clays Lane Housing Cooperative

The Clays Lane Estate was a housing estate in Stratford, East London, and the UK’s largest (and Europe's second largest) purpose built housing cooperative.[1] It was an experiment in building close-knit communities as a way of helping vulnerable single people. It became the subject of significant controversy when it was demolished to make way for the site of the London 2012 Olympic games.

The Co-operative[edit]

Clays Lane Housing Co-operative was a fully mutual housing co-operative, established to address the lack of housing for vulnerable single people in the east of London. It was initially funded by organisations including Newham London Borough Council and the University of East London. There were up to 500 contractual tenants at the beginning, 450 after the flats were voted eligible for single person occupancy, who had to be single people aged between 18 and 59. Tenants were required to purchase a £1 share in order to become a member of the co-operative, which entitled them to attend and vote in the annual general meeting, to elect or stand for the management committee, participate in the co-operative’s affairs and receive its services.

The Clays Lane estate consisted of an enclave of 57 shared houses in red or yellow brick (containing four, six or ten bedrooms) and 40 self-contained flats and 10 self-contained bungalows, all purpose built in 1977. A community centre (complete with shop, café, function hall, and training room), which also housed the housing office, was added in 1982. All of the co-operative's properties were located on one site in the London Borough of Newham, on the top of a small hill next to the Eastway Cycle Circuit (which had previously been the site of an old landfill site, the West Ham Tip). This provided views across Hackney Marshes and the Lee Valley.

The estate was designed to engender a strong local community, and was frequently used to help people make re-entry into social life - its motto was "A community - not just a housing estate". The housing was arranged in ten courtyards, each of which held a monthly meeting to discuss issues that may have arisen, hear back from committee representatives (each courtyard elected a member to the management committee), find out the latest news and generally catch up with each other. The estate also had its own sports teams and program of activities and training.

Similar projects in the area[edit]

A similar but smaller co-operative also existed on the other side of the river at the Thamesmead Housing Co-operative and in Deptford the Deptford Housing Co-operative is still running.

Transfer to the Peabody Trust[edit]

The Housing Corporation instigated a standard (statutory) inquiry into the affairs of the Clays Lane Co-operative in 2000, and subsequently received a report of poor management of the Co-operative's affairs from the Audit Commission.The report was the result of an Audit Commission Inspection and which resulted in the Co-op receiving a judgement of zero stars and poor prospects for improvement. [2] Under the Audit Commission inspection regime, this was the minimum,base, and worst possible, result for any housing provider. One of the report's most worrying findings was that the Co-op had no written Allocations Policy, which meant that it was not clear how people secured a place there or who was actually living there. It proposed that the Co-operative’s housing stock be transferred to the Peabody Trust, one of the UK’s largest housing associations, because of its better financial security, and the Government approved the transfer.

The Clays Lane Co-operative appealed against the order, because as the Peabody Trust was not a co-operative they would lose their mutual status if the transfer were to go ahead. They proposed an alternative, whereby the homes be transferred to Tenants First, a mutual housing co-operative based in Scotland. The Housing Corporation rejected this alternative and again directed transfer to the Peabody Trust.

The cooperative called for a judicial review of the decision, but this was refused, with the court ruling in June 2003 that the housing should be sold to the Peabody Trust.[3] In August 2005 the estate was statutorily transferred to the Peabody Trust, and was subsequently managed by Waltham Forest Community Based Housing Association.[4]

Redevelopment and compulsory purchase[edit]

The entire estate was the subject of a compulsory purchase order by the London Development Agency to make way for the athlete's village in the 2012 London Olympics site: indeed almost all the inhabitants cleared from the Olympic site were students at the adjacent UEL halls of residence or Clays Lane residents.

Residents were promised equivalent, if not better, housing. However it was reported that early movers found this was not the case, and some feared that dispersal to sites across East London would mean the end of the unusually close community links in the estate.

Many residents were extremely vocal in their opposition of the compulsory purchase order, and several protests were held in nearby Stratford. A group of tenants gained leave to hold a public inquiry into the decision to compulsorily purchase the estate, which was held in August 2006. This was, however, dismissed in a High Court ruling on 30 May 2007. All 430 residents of the Clay’s Lane Housing Cooperative were issued with orders to leave by July 2007. The buildings were demolished starting in September 2007.

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