After World War II, Britain embarked on a massive council house building programme. It cut overcrowding and sheltered millions. Sadly, many of these homes have now fallen into disrepair. Too many council tenants live in substandard properties that are damp and expensive to heat. Where possible councils should retro-fit these properties, but that’s not always affordable. To bring a concrete tower built in the 1960s up to a decent standard can cost upwards of £100m.

Estate renewal offers a solution. Contrary to popular belief, post-war housing estates were deliberately built at low densities cut off from the traditional streetscape. In a housing shortage, this creates an opportunity. In places like London, Edinburgh and Bristol, it is possible to rebuild estates at higher densities and use the sale of new private housing to fund the construction of high-quality warm social housing.

When residents are offered the opportunity to vote on whether estate renewal projects should go ahead, they almost always say yes. In fact, 29 out of 30 estate renewal ballots in London saw residents vote in favour of redevelopment in some cases with 80 to 90% majorities.

There is a huge opportunity to boost the supply of homes, including social housing, through estate renewal. In London alone, estate renewal at mostly modest densities could deliver over 715,000 extra new homes on top of rebuilding 540,000 social homes to a higher standard. If all new estates were built to the highest energy efficiency standards, it would save the average council tenant almost £800 a year on their gas and electric bill.

Estate renewal is already delivering thousands of homes across the country and giving existing social tenants better quality housing, but it could deliver even more if some of the key barriers to it were tackled head on.


Funding expensive upfront costs for local authorities and housing associations

In Britain’s most expensive cities, estate renewal projects more than pay for themselves. The challenge is getting projects off the ground in the first place. Before construction can begin, housing associations and councils need to engage with residents, develop detailed plans, and navigate the planning system. Even though the long-term rewards are great, councils and housing associations may be reluctant to start the process given the high upfront costs. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities should provide upfront grant funding to cover these costs.


Giving councils the ability to borrow at lower rates to fund estate renewal projects 

Estate renewal projects are long-term endeavours. From start to finish, some projects will take 20 years. One reason for this is the best practice of building in stages to ensure residents only have to move once. High borrowing costs can make long-term investments like estate renewal less attractive and riskier for councils. To support councils and housing associations, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities should allow local authorities to borrow at low central government interest rates for estate renewal projects.


Approving all estate renewal projects when residents vote in favour

Local authorities and housing associations face an estate renewal dilemma. Building more private housing at higher densities will make it easier to improve their offer to local residents and deliver more homes at affordable or social rents, but there is a risk of planning rejection. Alternatively, if they choose to build at lower densities they cannot make as big an offer to existing residents and they have to scale back their ambitions on new social housing. In some cases, the latter threatens the viability of the whole project.

To support local authorities and housing associations in raising their ambitions on delivering new energy-efficient affordable and social housing, a National Development Management Plan should be created to provide an overwhelming presumption of planning consent to any estate renewal project that has been endorsed by a residents’ ballot and complies with clear national rules on effects nearby homes. This should be underpinned by a new Estate Renewal Act, which removes some of the bureaucratic hurdles to estate renewal.