The 50 year history of the Packington Estate
Charting an estate’s journey from beautiful to dangerous... and back again
04 October, 2019 — By Emily Finch
A newly vibrant Packington estate
A VAST network of walkways offering a safe space for drug dealers to hide along with few green spaces for children to play meant that the Packington estate was not an ideal place to call home back in 2004.
It was also structurally dangerous and a decision was made to tear it down that year. Last month, top brass from the Town Hall were there to mark the end of a 12-year regeneration project that has transformed the entire estate into 490 beautiful and safe homes for social rent.
The new terrace homes merge with the Victorian properties in Union Square
But how did this area south of Essex Road go from featuring hundreds of beautiful Victorian terraces to hosting a six-storey complex of dangerous flats and eventually back to beautiful homes again in 2019?
In October 1964, the then Labour councillor Harry Brack, who was a member of the housing committee at Islington Council, raged that pulling down the 200 Victorian terraces in that area “would be a national scandal”.
He could see no reason for spending £2million on the project – equivalent to around £35million today – when it would mean the destruction of structurally sound homes for just 25 per cent net housing gain.
Sam Webb at Ronan Point in 1984
Mr Brack, who was a chartered surveyor, fought to have the Victorian homes preserved. He thought everyone had the right to live in a Victorian square and not just the rich. But despite a public inquiry, the area was redeveloped and a new concrete estate made up of 27 blocks was born.
Hannah Brack, Harry’s daughter, who is a housing researcher, said the whole episode followed her father “like a shadow” for the rest of his life. He was even expelled from the Labour Party for going public with his outrage.
“He said he was going to write that Islington was building the slums of tomorrow, and in a way after what happened there, he was right,” said Ms Brack.
Mr Brack died in 2009 from leukaemia.
In 2004, Islington Council found that the Large Panel System (LPS) building method used at the Packington estate made it unsafe and recommended it should all be knocked down. They eventually transferred the estate to housing association giant Hyde, who led on the redevelopment alongside construction firm Rydon.
The Tribune’s Harry Brack obituary
Fire safety expert and architect Sam Webb described how buildings made up of concrete slabs using the LPS method are similar to a “house of cards” and suffer from bowing panels that make them a fire risk. Residents living in Ronan Point, a 22-storey tower in Newham, would discover just how dangerous this building system was when a gas explosion blew out some load-bearing walls and caused parts of the building to collapse killing four people in May 1968. Mr Webb, who was first alerted to the dangers of the LPS method in 1964, gave evidence at the inquiry that followed the Ronan Point collapse.
He, alongside independent housing consultant Tony Bird, would later be employed to act as a bridge between Islington Council and the Packington estate tenants.
“We were there to explain to the tenants that the estate is actually unsafe because the tenants didn’t believe Islington Council. They thought they were just going to be gentrified,” said Mr Webb.
The two men would go on to assist the residents on a pro-bono basis long after their contract with the council. “I said to the residents you must argue for getting what you want in the new estate,” Mr Webb said.
The 17 four-storey modern family homes purposely built to resemble the early Victorian terraces on the opposite side of Union Square have returned to the estate. More than 50 years later, residents can once again live in safe and welcoming buildings.