London officials ban segregated play areas in future housing developments
Move follows Guardian report that social tenants were being banned from using facilities
The policy, part of the London Plan for developers and local authorities across the city, follows outrage across the political spectrum at the case of the Lilian Baylis estate in Kennington. Guardian Cities reported that families living in the social housing side of the estate were not allowed to use the play area or any communal spaces on the development.
Henley Homes, the company that built the wall dividing the estate, have since removed it and last week paid for a party for all residents to apologise for the segregation.
Under the new policy developments, where there are a mix of tenures – private owners alongside “affordable” housing including shared ownership and social rented accommodation – developers will no longer be allowed to build play areas that are accessible only to people in the most expensive properties.
Sadiq Khan told the Guardian “it is disgraceful that children who live in the same development would ever be prevented from playing together”. He said he had told developers segregated development is morally unacceptable.
“The policies in my draft new London Plan are absolutely clear that new developments should be inclusive to all. They are explicit that play space should never be segregated by tenure,” Khan added.
Sian Berry, co-leader of the Green party, previously raised the issue of segregated spaces when she was a London Assembly member. She said the fight by women on the Lilian Baylis estate had sparked real change.
“This is a campaign that has genuinely made a difference. It will have an impact that ripples through the decades,” she said. “People buying new housing should expect to rub shoulders with other Londoners of all kinds and their children should be able to play together. This makes it very clear how we expect builders and developers to protect our values as a city.”
However, campaigners say the new policy has not fully resolved the problem because it will have no impact on estates that have already been built or are in development.
In March the Guardian was contacted by people across the UK reporting segregation on their estates.
In Greenwich, families in social and affordable housing on the Seren Park Gardens estate have failed to gain access to a gated podium play space.
The housing association, Moat Homes, argue the affected block is a separate development. It said in a statement: ‘They are separate developments and all residents … have access to the amenities within their particular developments.” However, the Guardian has seen marketing and sales material describing the blocks as forming a single development and documents promising a play area as part of planning permission.
When the Guardian visited the site, Emma, a mother of three who lives in social rented accommodation, was bringing two toddlers out to play in the car park, 100 metres from the locked playground.
Emma and her neighbours feel that the affordable homes were built to meet a target but then put in a separate building so they wouldn’t have to be given access to communal spaces.
She said: “We are the 20% affordable, aren’t we? They’ve just shoved us all in one block and given us nothing. It would be nice if there was somewhere to meet our neighbours, somewhere all the children could play together.”
To get permission to build, developers must provide a certain percentage of affordable homes. All the accommodation in the block that does not have playground access is classed as affordable. The first five floors are social housing and the rest shared ownership, with buyers paying reduced rent to Moat Homes.
Emma’s neighbour Rachael, who also brings her five-year-old and one-year-old out to play on their scooters among the cars, said the residents feel discriminated against and ask: “If that is their playground, then where is ours?”
Alan Camp Architects, who won an Evening Standard award for best large mixed tenure development for their involvement in the site, refused to comment. Councillor Sizwe James, cabinet member for growth and strategic development at Greenwich council said councils did not have enough power to force access.
James said: “When the development plans were submitted, the developer did not indicate that the amenity areas would be segregated, nor a gate placed at the entrance to the communal garden with fob access. We are very disappointed that residents are being excluded … however, we do not have any powers to force the developers to allow them access.”
Dinah Bornat is an architect who advises developers on child-friendly design and has been pushing for the London Plan to recognise the way children use space. She praised the focus on segregation by tenure as a starting point but said the increasing number of gated communities presents an ongoing problem.
Bornat said: “Banning segregated playgrounds is dynamic, responsive planning by the GLA and will make a real difference. But we want developers to think about the impact that security fobs, gates and fences all have.
“We have put boundaries and barriers in the way of children playing and meeting friends. It’s time to step up and ask is that what we want?”