Squatting

In the early 1970s the sheer volume of derelict homes in the neighbourhood gave rise to the high-profile Elgin Avenue squatting campaign led by Piers Corbyn - who later became a renowned weather forecaster. The legendary rock band the '101ers' squatted a house of that number in Walterton Road. Led by Joe Strummer they became world famous as "The Clash".

Partial Control Passes to Westminster

In London, some properties had always been built by the LCC and some by the boroughs. The Conservative government decided to pass the day-to-day running of all local authority houses to the boroughs, so in 1980 the ownership and management of the Walterton and Elgin Estates were transferred to Westminster Council. However, the Greater London Council (successor to the LCC) retained the responsibility for major works.

In 1983 the GLC architect Hilary Chambers, began a survey of properties on the Walterton Estate. He found that living conditions were very poor and estimated that repairing and modernizing the estate would cost more than £21 million. The GLC drew up plans for full scale rehabilitation.

"When I first surveyed the Walterton Estate I was appalled by the scale of the bad conditions. It wasn't just a few people. It was right across the estate."

Hilary Chambers

The Discovery of Asbestos

Part of this work was the installation of entry phones in Hermes and Chantry Points to give greater security to the tenants. During this work sprayed asbestos was discovered. Asbestos, which had been used freely by architects in the 1960s, was recognised by then as a major health risk and the scheme had to be aborted. No new tenancies were granted. Instead, Westminster licensed the flats on a temporary basis to Westminster Short Life Housing. This was a registered co-op of young individuals who obtained short- term use on license terminated at one month's notice.
Exposed sprayed asbestos above
the lift door at Hermes Point in April 1989,
at a time when the flats were still occupied, including by children.

There was still an intense shortage of housing in London and a number of the emptied flats became squatted.  The management of the blocks steadily deteriorated until they were out of control.

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Updated July 5, 2011