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London, United Kingdom
I am an engineering academic at University College London where I work on the sustainability of urban water systems. I am interested in the role of engineers and technology in sustainable cities.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Mass demolition is not magic bullet to solve housing disaster

As we await the full details of the cause of the Grenfell disaster we must not jump to blame 1970s tower blocks.

Right now, it looks like 2016 cladding is to blame, not 1970s design and construction. We need stronger refurbishment standards and more sustainable funding models for regeneration schemes, not mass demolition.

In 2015 the London Assembly report 'Knock it down or do it up' calculated a net loss of 8,000 socially rented homes in London since 2005. This is in small part due to right-to-buy, but largely because of regeneration programmes that demolish social homes and replace them with flats for private sale. Many of those new high rise flats for private sale are left empty, as cash deposit boxes for international investors. 

Unless we have a complete, radical overhaul of housing policy involving building new social homes at a level not seen since the mass construction programmes of the 1960s and 70s that are now being blamed for this disaster, demolishing tower blocks will exacerbate an already desparate shortage of homes for social rent. That will mean our cleaners, shop assistants, care assistants, teaching assistants, drivers, security guards and so many other people who keep this city going will be forced to leave or left in even more dangerous, overcrowded private rental accommodation.

Please, don't jump to blame 70s architecture and engineering. Mass demolition without complete reform of housing policy will cause more problems than it solves.

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