"Custom House is one of the most deprived areas of London. It caught our attention in our initial analysis for its very low life expectancy for women and its high school crime rates, despite massive investments in the South of the ward, where it is possible to find two DLR stations and access the new Elisabeth line and the Excel Centre. Residents pointed out local issues such as the absence of parking spaces for non-residents, unsafe feeling of walking at night due to inadequate street lighting, lack of amenities and retail closure caused by the long wait for the regeneration project. In addition, physical and economic barriers disrupt local access to all these new infrastructures (underground, train and exposition centre/shopping mall), which means that these investments are only for business purposes without any local commitment or responsibility.

Indeed, we noticed lots of shops closed and empty buildings waiting for the demolition and construction of the new residential development to start. Surprisingly, there was no consideration for new retail and services demand either in the plan or the project. Instead, apart from housing supply, they were more focused on the quality of landscape design to connect pedestrians and green spaces with Canning Town through existing and better alleyways. Consequently, this means that locals will rely even more on cars which will considerably impact their health more than they already are, which goes back to the leading cause of the low life expectancy: air pollution. Challenged by the increasing gentrification processes in East London and advocating for residents' needs and ecological justice, we decided to approach these issues through a restorative project, repurposing closed shops and policy interventions."


Custom House is no stranger to false promises and omissions, as over twenty years have passed since the Newham Council assured its residents that a meaningful infrastructural development would happen. Now facing deteriorating living conditions, inadequate public spaces, increasing pollution levels, and decaying social infrastructure, these residents bear the dangerous burdens of inactivity. Compared to other areas, Custom House is home to the lowest healthy life expectancy rates in all of London, just one of many empirical indices of community deprivation outlined in this report.

Using physical, ecological, and social severance theory, this report offers a model for conceptualizing the complex processes that produce deprivation in an urban setting, especially regarding marginalized and stigmatized low-income communities. Using ethnographic interviewing, seminal academia, and successful case study research, we propose an alternative development option - the Restorative High Street Typology, which addresses these severances through mitigative and preventative measures. In acknowledging the critical role of High Streets in the maintenance of a healthy urban core, this typology aims its intervention on the High Streets in Custom House; Freemasons Road and Prince Regent Lane.

The Restorative High Street Typology intends to answer these questions: how can we transform historically under-provisioned spaces into active community hubs? What would an urban intervention based on retrofitting rather than regeneration look like? What institutions or mechanisms need to be in place to maintain this typology in the long term?

This report outlines a three-pronged approach for the central Restorative High Street Typology, focusing on retrofitting and refurbishing existing properties, constructing additional floors to increase density, and adding Affordable Community Infrastructure (ACI) to unused ground floor space. On a larger scale, we further propose policy interventions such as an emissions tax on polluting industry in the area and an intermodality transport scheme to encourage public transport use and accessibility. In essence, we present the High Street Typology as a replicable programme that carries an ethos of retrofitting and restoration - standing in stark contrast with conventional regenerative vernacular in contemporary London.


This report focuses its analysis on Custom House, a ward located in the London borough of Newham. Established after the creation of the Royal Victoria Docks, Custom House's historical growth stems from industrial and residential expansions meant to house those working in the Docklands (Hidden London, 2017). However, the area quickly became associated with poverty and deprivation, exacerbated by bombing damage from the Second World War that led to the mass development of council estates (ibid).

Today, Custom House is home to a mix of residential, public, and commercial spaces oriented around crucial transportation routes in East London. Although regeneration plans currently exist for Custom House, spearheaded by the Newham Council and in partnership with private architects and developers, they have yet to be delivered. In fact, 20 years have passed since their inception, causing local shop-owners and service providers to close in fear of rising rents and demolition.

Figure 4.1: Spatial context of Custom House
Figure 4.1: Spatial context of Custom House


To examine the conditions in Custom House, we propose the use of three theoretical 'severances,' all aimed at discerning how and why Custom House has been left behind. In presenting this theory, this report offers a route to understanding the complex processes that produce and reproduce physical, social, and ecological deprivation on the community/neighbourhood scale. Severance theory is, therefore, sound in the realization of socio-spatial factors that reinforce pre-existing inequalities along axes of difference such as race, gender, and class. In order to examine the conditions in Custom House, we propose the use of three theoretical 'severances', all aimed at discerning how and why Custom House has been left behind.

Physical severance

The first severance used in this report is 'physical severance,' being the outcome of any infrastructural change that acts as a fixed barrier between one neighbourhood/community and another. It is primarily concerned with how these infrastructural obstacles break connections, whether social, cultural, ecological, or spatial. Historically, physical severance is used in literature to refer to barriers caused by transport infrastructure, specifically road traffic (Tate, 1997). We extend the usage of this term here to include all physical infrastructure, such as roads, train lines, and significant fixed material developments that enclose a community in space.

Ecological severance

Ecological severance is the outcome of the direct or indirect exclusion of a specific neighbourhood/community from climate change mitigation efforts. As such, they are disproportionally impacted by harmful pollution levels while being excluded from those opportunities meant to mitigate them. This can include a lack of access to green infrastructure or public spaces that would improve the sustainability and health of the area and its inhabitants.

Social severance

Finally, social severance results from socio-cultural narratives and stigmas that exclude a particular community/group directly or indirectly from those around them. Central to social severance is the existence of stigma, which is actioned as a means of categorizing communities based on so-called inherent attributes (Goffman, 1986). This form of severance can be felt in varying degrees and manifests in acts of socio-cultural distancing between those who discredit and those who become discredited. Those attributes used to stigmatize one possessor can confirm the opposite trait in another and reduce one half of this social dichotomy as not quite human (ibid). In the construction of such stigma theories, social 'discreditors' can rationalize acts of physical, ecological, and social severance along discriminatory lines, cutting the discredited individual or community off from an already unaccepting society.

Physical severance

The primary facet of physical severance in Custom House is extensive transport infrastructure, with the A-13 Highway and the DLR Trainline occupying its Northern and Southern borders. Although Custom House can benefit from their proximity to these routes, they bear tremendous burdens. These major transportation lines do not serve the community effectively and instead act as a material barrier between Custom House and their neighbours. In effect, this infrastructure has physically severed Custom House, imprisoning them in a state of deprivation that further entrenches the inequalities that constrain them.

Figure 4.2: Physical barriers and under provision
Figure 4.2: Physical barriers and under provision

Newham way

There are only three points through which Newham Way can be crossed. The first is an underground crossing, with the other two being close in proximity and challenging to traverse. Although these junctions are aligned with the two High Streets, their current condition severely impacts perceptions of safety and accessibility for pedestrians.


Rather than incentivizing access to Custom House, the two DLR stations in Custom House (Prince Regent and Custom House) are designed for those visiting ExCel, with all signage relating directly to ExCel alone,


Further, all the amenities built inside and around the ExCel Centre, including coffee shops, fitness centres, nurseries, green spaces, and waterfronts, are intended for ExCel visitors. Custom House suffers from a severe lack of services and quality public areas on the other side of the DLR tracks. Although Custom House residents are not banned from visiting ExCel, it has become clear that residents do not wish to cross the financial and symbolic threshold that separates these two distinct spaces.

High streets

On the borough scale (Fig.4.3), there is a stark division between the Northern and Southern parts of Newham regarding High Street provision. The land use analysis used here shows an evident lack of continuous High Street space in the ward.

In fact, Custom House does not have an official High Street at all. Instead, they have commercial clusters that are inaccessible and often closed.

Figure 4.3: High streets in Newham
Figure 4.3: High streets in Newham

Ecological severance

Exclusion from green infrastructure initiatives

Moreover, ecological severance can be shown through examining green infrastructure initiatives in and around Newham where many opportunities and ongoing projects seem to exclude areas within the ward. (Fig 4.4). This contrast is most pertinent in looking at the distribution of Newham's Climate Action Levelling Up Fund. The Mayor of Newham has announced that £40 million will be allocated to the GLA for climate resilience to build the Royal Docks Enterprise Zone, transforming it into a 'beacon for green innovation' (Newham London, 2021). Their plans blatantly exclude Custom House despite the neighbourhood being close to the dock, emphasizing how physical severance prevents such funding and opportunities. The ecological injustices seen here further demonstrate Newham Council's priorities in 'selling' sustainable futures only for lucrative endeavours, leaving local communities such as Custom House behind.

Figure 4.4: Green Infrastructural initiatives in Newham. Sources: Green Infrasrtuctural Consultancy (2018), Newham London (2018), Newham London (2021) & Newham London (2022).
Figure 4.4: Green Infrastructural initiatives in Newham. Sources: Green Infrasrtuctural Consultancy (2018), Newham London (2018), Newham London (2021) & Newham London (2022).

Life expectancy, pollution and living conditions

Instances of ecological severance occur here in complex ways, but their outcomes are directly echoed in the overall health and well-being of Custom House residents. One of the most striking reflections of this is life expectancy (Fig 4.6 & 4.7). A clear connection emerges by combining life expectancy with those of air pollution. Indeed, lung cancer and respiratory diseases are the leading causes of death in Newham (LB Newham, 2017). These conditions are exacerbated by poor housing conditions and further construction projects planned nearby, increasing carbon emissions on an already unprepared and severed community.

Figure 4.5: Life expectancy and air pollution. Source: PHE (2015) and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2018).
Figure 4.5: Life expectancy and air pollution. Source: PHE (2015) and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2018).

Figure 4.6 (TOP): Water damage to exterior of houses. Figure 4.7 (BOTTOM): Poor refuse systems adjacent to residents' windows.
Figure 4.6 (TOP): Water damage to exterior of houses.
Figure 4.7 (BOTTOM): Poor refuse systems adjacent to residents' windows

Social severance

Income, employment and crime deprivation

Custom House has a long history of stigmatization, spanning from its industrial working-class past towards years of austerity measures that severed and segregated low-income communities from their neighbours. The socio-cultural narratives and beliefs that cause this social severance rely on stigma to justify their means. They are felt in varying degrees along axes of difference such as race, gender, and class and are directly reflected in income, employment, and crime (Fig. 4.8). Furthermore, high population turnover rates in Newham are a significant barrier to building strong social relationships within communities. Despite being a diverse borough, Hall (2012, p.72) reinforces that 'for people to be local in changing local worlds, ...they require a range of spaces to meet, to encounter differences, and to engage in informal memberships'.

Figure 4.8: Deprivation in Newham. Source: MHCLG (2019)
Figure 4.8: Deprivation in Newham. Source: MHCLG (2019)

Figure 4.9: Deprivation layered with physical barriers. Source: MHCLG (2019)
Figure 4.9: Deprivation layered with physical barriers. Source: MHCLG (2019)

Social stigma and crime

Processes of stigmatization are deeply rooted in Custom House and are analogous to what Wacquant (2014) termed 'territorial stigmatization.' This form of "spatial taint" discredits specific communities based on negative symbolic associations (Tyler and Slater, 2018). Custom House suffers from this aspect of social severance, reflected directly through representations that fasten hostile symbols on the community (Tyler and Slater, 2018). Media portrayals exacerbate this process (Fig. 4.12), essentializing one community to its sensationalized constituent parts. In spatial terms, social severance and stigmatization are echoed in the visual infrastructural decay plaguing many low-income council estates, such as those in Custom House. Rather than ameliorating the deprivation issues in Custom House, social severance and the stigma that powers it further entrench it, leading to increased instances of neglect, crime, and general anti-social behaviour.

Figure 4.10 and 4.11: Interview quotes with a shop owner in custom house
Figure 4.10 and 4.11: Interview quotes with a shop owner in custom house

Figure 4.12Stigma of custom house represented in the media
Figure 4.12: Stigma of custom house represented in the media. SOURCE: YouTube, "Custom House" search

Key opportunities: public ownership and under-utilised spaces

Most of the land in Custom House is publicly owned, which allows for greater flexibility and fewer opportunities for disputes between private landowners and the council. When examining currently under-utilized spaces, it becomes clear that the Freemason's High Street provides ample opportunity for an urban physical intervention that re-stitches Custom House to its greater borough.

Figure 4.13: Ownership of land and under-utilised spaces, source: Mayor of London (2022a)
Figure 4.13: Ownership of land and under-utilised spaces, source: Mayor of London (2022a)

Key challenges: risk of displacement and gentrification

While physical design interventions can bring major improvements to run-down and under-utilized spaces, there is the potential for these interventions to impact residents negatively in the form of gentrification. Area-based policies, even if well-intentioned, often drive land values up and attract investment from external private actors. Either by substituting local businesses, increasing rents or erasing cultural symbols that bring communities together, urban interventions are likely to put affected neighbourhoods in danger of displacement. This circumstance becomes even more acute in places such as Custom House, where more than two thirds of the residents do not own the houses they live in (Fig 4.14). Addressing displacement constitutes a paramount task in scenarios where several institutions are involved. Given that gentrification is triggered, reinforced and, potentially, fought against in a variety of scales that range from the very local to the global level, divergent priorities and lack of coordination among all public bodies can be especially problematic. The diversity of actors within Custom House, that range from the local borough or the Greater London Authority to the national government, then becomes an issue of special concern.

Figure 4.14: Percentage share of residents living in a house they own. Source: UK census (2011) & ONS (2020).
Figure 4.14: Percentage share of residents living in a house they own. Source: UK census (2011) & ONS (2020).


High streets are an essential piece of urban fabric, providing local communities with access to goods, services, and opportunities that promote social cohesion and regional economic growth (Hubbard, 2017). These urban spaces form the common infrastructure of everyday life that encourages the collective and socio-cultural making and re-making of place (Tonkiss, 2015). However, many High Streets face dramatic physical, ecological, and social sustainability challenges in the face of political and economic shifts.

While some High Streets navigate these changes successfully, others have fallen into a state of disrepair, neglect, or outright disappearance. Although dependent on context, the demise of the British High Street can be, in part, related to the following transformations: the rise of large discount shopping centres, the proliferation of online shopping, the increased emphasis on transport-oriented development, and the prices of retail shop space increasing beyond affordability for local shop-owners (Public Health England, 2018). Transport-oriented urban environments further shift the conditions of a High Street, as traffic levels, noise, and air pollution actively deter pedestrians from engaging meaningfully with these spaces (ibid).

Figure 4.15: Healthy high streets (Public Health England, 2018)
Figure 4.15: Healthy high streets (Public Health England, 2018)

Healthy high streets

In line with Public Health England, this report defines a healthy High Street as one that envelops the following key characteristics:

A Diverse, Mixed-Use Offering

A healthy High Street provides a variety of local shops and opportunities, including mixed commercial, residential, cultural, leisure, and service offerings. Not only does this positively impact the local economy directly, but it also encourages active travel due to easily accessible amenity clustering (Public Health England, 2018). Further opportunities for mixed-use include rotational micro-installations that offer food, art, and cultural offerings.

Green Infrastructure

A healthy High Street provides built amenities and environmental niceties such as trees or micro-parks that influence the overall ecological quality of the High Street (ibid). Green infrastructure offers health-related benefits, such as the absorption of particulate matter and atmospheric benefits as the High Street becomes more attractive and inviting.

Pedestrian-Friendly Environment

A healthy High Street is accessible for people of all ages and disabilities (ibid). Through prioritizing pedestrians, cyclists, and those taking shared transportation, the High Street provides a conducive environment for foot traffic to local shops and reduces noise and air pollution levels.

High Street Furniture and Ornamentation

A healthy High Street is home to a well-planned mix of street furniture, green infrastructure, and lighting that aid in creating a safe, well-maintained street atmosphere. In turn, street furniture and ornamentation can act as navigational tools, thus promoting mental mapping and the creation of place-making (ibid).

Safety and Security Measures

A healthy High Street follows the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) approach, meant to design criminality out of urban space by encouraging pride and care for local areas (ibid). Further, mixed-use spaces designed with transparent storefronts, several entrances, and linear-integrated orientations all act as a form of security and support for local shop-owners and residents (ibid). Finally, a healthy High Street is visually maintained, which deters vandalism (ibid). In turn, a lack of visual neglect and destruction improves perceptions of safety (ibid).

High streets in custom house

With the understanding that high streets are critical in providing key economic, social and environmental assets of neighbourhoods, a gap can be seen between the theories on what high streets can achieve and the current situation in Custom House. As such, we see the material and social outcomes of the severances experienced in Custom House particularly acute on the high streets, where both the physical and institutional aspects of the street have suffered.

The general atmosphere of the Freemason's High Street is disheartening, as the street is ornamented by closed shutters, vandalized storefronts, and hostile pedestrian environments. We learned of the intense desire for greater social and economic provisioning through ethnographic interviews, as residents shared sentiments of inadequacy regarding their communal spaces.

This can be observed through the presence of the Meanwhile Use Bookshop and the Community Cafe, both of which were started by residents of Custom House, for people of Custom House. Interviews with the proprietors revealed the need for more safe social spaces for people of all ages, with the success of the bookshop and café being a direct reflection of the immense demand and requirement.

To refer to the five principles of a healthy high street outlined earlier in this report, Freemason's Road and Prince Regent Lane fail on every aspect of this criteria. As such, an opportunity to achieve these pillars through both physical interventions and institutional means will be crucial.

In formulating the intervention, analysing the density of the neighbourhood in relation to the provision of high streets would be crucial. The low-rise nature of the built form in the neighbourhood showcases possibilities of a lower quantity of people the high streets serve. Thus, interventions centring the high street should consider increasing residential density to justify the viability for revitalising the high streets. The High Streets in Custom House have immense potential, especially for bolstering community engagement. From the wide sidewalks (Fig. 4.16) to the open spaces outside shops (Fig. 4.17 & 4.18), both high streets are a canvas of opportunity for intentional and tactical urban revitalization.

Public realm of high streets

Figure 4.16: Wide sidewalk on freemasons road
Figure 4.16: Wide sidewalk on freemasons road

Figure 4.17: Public space outside shops on freemasons road (North)
Figure 4.17: Public space outside shops on freemasons road (North)

Figure 4.18: Empty space outside shops on prince regent lane
Figure 4.18: Empty space outside shops on prince regent lane

Figure 4.19: Breakdown of shops on freemasons road.
Figure 4.19: Breakdown of shops on freemasons road.

Figure 4.20 and 4.21: Breakdown of shops on Prince Regent Lane
Figure 4.20 and 4.21: Breakdown of shops on Prince Regent Lane


Both Freemason's Road and Prince Regent Lane act as critical thoroughfares for transportation in Custom House. Conversely, they constitute central arteries where most pedestrian, cycle & car traffic travels. They also provide access to the two DLR stations (Custom House & Prince Regent stations), the future Crossrail station, and six of the nine bus routes that traverse the neighbourhood. In addition, these two streets concentrate most of the commercial spaces of Custom House. As a result, Freemasons Road and Prince Regent Lane are fundamental spaces for the community and its broader connection to London.

However, the transportation structure of Custom House is shaped by one critical phenomenon that may hamper the proper functioning of these two streets: intermodality. As emphasized by interview respondents, many residents rely on the combination of buses, DLR, and the tube to work and conduct their daily activities. Concurrently, intermodality is, worryingly, highly discouraged under the current TfL fares. With the exception of buses, when different modes of transport are combined, separate tickets must be paid for each. This significantly escalates the cost of using public transport for trips to or from the centre of London: whereas a standard peak ticket for the DLR and the tube would cost £3.40 if taken from Custom House or the neighbouring areas, adding a bus into the equation would raise the cost by £1.55 - almost one third more. This barrier to intermodal transit aggravates the existent social gradient in London regarding the use of the bus and the tube, as the latter is disproportionately employed by low-income residents much more than the former (Cheshire & Uberti, 2016). Moreover, a lack of intermodality is especially problematic for people with physical disabilities, who may struggle to reach the DLR and the underground by walking. Lastly, obstacles in the combination of modes of transportation hinder the residents of Custom House from taking full advantage of the transit nodes located in Canning Town, Plaistow, and Stratford.

Figure 4.22: Transport infrastructure supporting High Streets
Figure 4.22: Transport infrastructure supporting High Streets


Recently, regeneration efforts by Newham Council and Adam Khan Architects have been revived with a whole-scale masterplan of Custom House, involving the demolition of almost all buildings within proximity to Freemasons Road and rendering the neighbourhood unrecognisable (Fig. 4.23 & 4.24). This type of project falls in line with traditional narratives of regeneration, which we now understand results in pertinent problems of gentrification and displacement particularly for lower income communities. There is a problematic nature of traditional regeneration that is "dumped from above, without any regard for the knowledge, preferences and lifestyle" of the residents who actually live there (Amin, 2014, p. 154).

Figure 4.23: Adam Khan architect's vision for Custom House. Buildings in red are planned new builds above sites deemed for demolition. (Adam Khan Architects, 2022).
Figure 4.23: Adam Khan architect's vision for Custom House. Buildings in red are planned new builds above sites deemed for demolition. (Adam Khan Architects, 2022).

Adam Khan Architect's vision for Freemasons Road after a full demolition, leaving it unrecognisable (Adam Khan Architects, 2022).
Figure 4.24: Adam Khan architect's vision for Custom House. Buildings in red are planned new builds above sites deemed for demolition. (Adam Khan Architects, 2022).

The impact of the Adam Khan regeneration plan has been particularly damaging to the Custom House community. The project was set to begin in the early 2000's, and the Newham council began preparations to tear down buildings along the Freemason's high street to make way for incoming regeneration projects. The project has been delayed now for two decades, and in that time land values have continued to plummet, resulting in the severe decline of the high street and surrounding residences. The outcome of this was a deprivation in Custom House that has become so ubiquitous that many residents are now opting for regeneration despite the acknowledgement that it will lead to a loss in spatial identity and likely hurt local business. In many ways residents are stuck between a rock and a hard place: either staying in the current state of extreme under-provision or having their community identity further fragmented by the addition of high value developments, which likely don't serve the needs of the people living there.

However, these regeneration efforts have not gone unchallenged by the community. The People's Empowerment Alliance for Custom House (PEACH) has put forth their own version of alternative regeneration that in many ways inspired our own vision of new high street typology. Their outline of alternative regeneration includes principles such as: local residents being provided the opportunity to run local shops, affordable housing for all, the improvement of local health facilities, and even the idea of a Community Land Trust. The objective of PEACH is to ensure that any efforts at improving the Custom House neighbourhood are also producing externalities of collective empowerment within the community.

Our project, similar to the goals of PEACH, aims to see the high street as a solution in delivering the traditional goals of regeneration (improving facilities, health, quality of life), but within the scope of the current neighbourhood landscape (i.e. without demolition) and by prioritising community needs above the profits of developers. Our vision draws from concepts of incrementalism as outlined by Silver (2014), whose view echoes this idea that urban environments must be produced with the needs of the people as the focus of intervention. Our proposed typology of regeneration thus engages with bottom-up, community-led organisation, moving away from the traditional politics of regeneration in order to create urban space that functions as a mechanism for economic and social prosperity.


Our spatial intervention is centred around changing this narrative of traditional regeneration. We asked ourselves: How do we use spatial resources to effectively in high street spaces? What institutional and financial mechanisms need to be in place in order to achieve and maintain these interventions? Our solution is a new kind of High Street typology that shifts notions of regeneration into ideas of restoration and refurbishment. Under this new typology we avoid wide-scale demolition of housing and businesses. Instead, we utilise an incrementalist approach to gradually improve the economic and social vitality of the high street; a space that is essential for creating positive engagement with public space.


The key to our spatial intervention is the idea of restoration. Instead of tearing down buildings to be rebuilt, typically leading to widespread displacement and feelings of gentrification, we want to engage in the refurbishment of spaces in a way that maintains affordability for local residents. Our strategy for this restoration is centred around a high street typology that begins with one single building and is then scaled up to the street and neighbourhood levels. The street and neighborhood scales will expand the typology across the three main local centres within Custom House, attempting to connect and integrate these solutions throughout the community and to facilitate connection between these centres.

Sustainable finance mechanisms

We have two main economic systems that support our spatial interventions: the Affordable Community Infrastructure (ACI) and the utilisation of cross-subsidisation that can support smaller local businesses run by local residents. Our objective is to finance our high street typology in a way that is self-sustaining and requires little to no additional funding from the council or other outside grant programs. In doing this we provide the community with the economic tools necessary to continue incremental growth over longer periods of time.


From the literature, we have gained an understanding that maintenance and stewardship are the foundations of successful spatial intervention, and that this stewardship is best facilitated by the creation of long-term relationships between government and community actors. Our policy interventions are thus twofold: a construction emissions tax on large scale infrastructure projects that would generate funds specifically for communities like Custom House who suffer the most from projects' pollution, and an expansion of the TFL's existing Hopper Fare policy which will increase the intermodality and therefore mobility of residents within and into the borough. These policies aim to address reparations for the severances faced by Custom House residents while creating the political infrastructure to facilitate bottom-up policies within the community.

Guiding principles of the intervention

Overview of interventions

Figure 4.25: Spatial context of high streets in Custom House; our targetted areas of intervention.
Figure 4.25: Spatial context of high streets in Custom House; our targetted areas of intervention.

High street typology

In order to address the physical, ecological, and social severances experienced by Custom House, this report proposes a restorative High Street typology. In doing so, this typology acknowledges the immensity of environmental issues at hand and understands that to address this would go beyond the scope of this report. Instead, this typology suggests measures to mitigate the harmful effects of pollution already underway.


3 main components of the building typology

Paramount to this typology is avoiding those adverse effects typically caused by conventional regeneration vernacular. This model seeks to prevent the displacement of residents, restrict commercial gentrification, and ensure that this development is intended for the community and not despite them.

Figure 4.26: Visualisation of proposed restorative high street typology.
Figure 4.26: Visualisation of proposed restorative high street typology.

Much attention is required to address the harmful pollutants in Custom House, especially considering the collateral ecological damage caused by manufacturing and transport projects currently underway in the area. In the United Kingdom, construction emissions contribute some 40% of carbon emissions (Royal Academy of Engineering, 2021). This impact is directly burdened by those living in Custom House, whose primary pollution source is construction (Newham Council, 2021). As such, the High Street typology emphasises refurbishment and incremental retrofitting over demolition and large-scale regeneration to avoid the harmful ecological injustices caused by construction.

Further, the retrofitting of existing flats improves the infrastructural adaptability of the already-existing super- and substructures.

For the sake of clarity, this report defines refurbishment as the remodeling and adaptation of existing structures, including that of the external envelope and the renewal of building services that will materially impact the environmental and physical performance of the building (BRE, 2021). Thus, not only does this proposal avoid harmful carbon production, but it also invests in the long-term resilience and sustainability of these council-owned spaces.

These retrofitting projects include the implementation of new, thermally efficient facades forming an airtight, insulated shell around the pre-existing structure (Devon County Council, 2020). Further additions include energy-efficient bathrooms and kitchens, improved natural-ventilation systems, energy-efficient heating and cooling technology, additional windows for natural light, and glass glazing. These retrofits directly impact these spaces' ecological resilience and health while also providing a cost-effective and low-hassle installation method - most of these projects can be installed in as little as one day (ibid).

Alongside the retrofitting of current flats, the High Street Typology project presents additional residential floors, rented at both affordable and market rates. The extent and size of these new spaces depend on critical contextual factors, such as the quality of the existing super- and substructures and the specific environmental conditions in that region. However, case studies in support of retrofitting schemes, such as those published by the Building Research Establishment Trust (BRE Trust), outline the feasibility of these spatial additions, citing projects such as the Morelands Rooftops that successfully retrofitted and constructed their third and fourth floors to meet BREEAM standards (BRE, 2021).

Sustainable finance mechanism

In terms of finance, this typology allows revenues to be extracted from the letting or selling of the additional market-rate units to offset refurbishment costs.

This programme proposes two potential financial models:

  • Council-funded refurbishment and additional construction. In this case, the funding gap requires a robust initial investment from the council, where revenues will be offset in the long-term through the new, market-rate spaces.
  • Private developer-funded refurbishment and additional construction. This alternative does not require initial funds from the council, and the private developer will benefit from the revenues from selling or letting the new units.
  • Nonetheless, both options emphasise that the retrofitted, pre-existing apartments remain in council ownership. In doing so, the programme avoids the unnecessary displacement of Custom House residents who depend on this affordable housing stock.

    Further benefits of this High Street typology include opportunities for incremental densification, which lessens foot traffic shock for local shop-owners and pre-existing residents. In Custom House, residential properties commonly have 2-4 floors. The proposed typology will increase this by 150-250%. This moderate densification, supported by the ACI Model, will mitigate the risk of commercial displacement by gradually introducing foot traffic and commercial demand into a space rather than shocking the entire system.

    Figure 4.27: Sustainable finance mechanism of the restorative high street typology.
    Figure 4.27: Sustainable finance mechanism of the restorative high street typology.

    Affordable community infrastructure

    Repurposing closed shops on the High Streets

    The large number of empty council-owned retail spaces in Custom House is both an opportunity and a signal for the need for a new approach for commercial space. Through taking advantage of the already publicly-owned property, we propose a strategic rental scheme that enables non-for-profit actors to co-produce a revitalized high street directly through these unused spaces. As successfully implemented in other areas in London (Meanwhile Space, 2019) as well as globally (Fresnillo, 2018), tenants would be chosen by the local council through an open tender procedure, complying with the Public Contracts Regulations 2015, by an evaluation criterion that maximizes social utility rather than financial profit.

    Rent would be incremental & would always stay under market-rate:
    Evaluation criteria (points-based system)

    Phasing to the neighbourhood scale

    The incremental restorative typology should be widely implemented at the street and neighbourhood scales to impact Custom House significantly. Our long-term ambition is to sustain three well-functioning local centres on Freemason Road and Prince Regent Lane and provide better living conditions to as many residents as possible. The former may be achieved by increasing density in the local areas and areas within walking distance and improving connectivity with nearby neighbourhoods. Regarding the refurbishment and provision of better living conditions, we cannot privilege the residents who live in the high streets above those in the neighbourhood's periphery. However, due to the discussed importance of the high streets, the scaling-up strategy should prioritize refurbishment and densification in areas that reinforce their vitality. Accordingly, we suggest three prioritized phases.

    Phase 1: Street scale

    The top priority is implementing the typology at the three local centres to increase their density and create a critical mass of ACI and retail activity. In addition, we suggest supporting this process by improvements in the public realm and the streets' landscape to create healthier and more walkable high streets, as shown in Fig. 4.29.

    This relates to the 5 principles of a Healthy High Street, ensuring that the street provides an environment with activity, ecological quality, pedestrian-friendly mobility as well as safety measures. This creates a holistic vision for the typology both within the buildings and the built environment around it.

    Figure 4.28: Phase 1: Focus areas of intervention on the high streets.
    Figure 4.28: Phase 1: Focus areas of intervention on the high streets.

    Figure 4.29: Freemasons Road and Prince Regent Lane re-imagined.
    Figure 4.29: Freemasons Road and Prince Regent Lane re-imagined.

    Phase 2: Expanding housing restoration programmes

    In Phase 2, the restorative housing mechanisms will be applied to public housing blocks and estates surrounding the DLR and Crossrail stations, demonstrating an incremental form of transit-oriented development. These streets, especially those near the upcoming Crossrail station, are likely to increase land values (Du and Mulley, 2007); thus, the economic feasibility of development will also be increased. Higher land values also mean higher prospects for increasing affordable housing supply within the new residential floors. It is crucial that the proposed typology will be adjusted to residential buildings without ground floor commercial units

    but will rely on the same principles of restoration, incremental development, and cross-subsidy. Additionally, we suggest improving the connectivity between the local centres to their surrounding community infrastructure (e.g., schools, churches, community centres). This can be done by transforming under-utilized public spaces into a walkable, liveable network and improving the street grid without demolishing existing buildings. Furthermore, we also suggest improving the accessibility of the DLR and Crossrail stations as the southern gateways to Prince Regent Lane and Freemasons Road.

    Figure 4.30: Phase 2: Expansion of interventions and grid improvements.
    Figure 4.30: Phase 2: Expansion of interventions and grid improvements.

    Phase 3: Re-stitching beyond Custom House

    Phase 3 envisions a broader expansion of better-quality public housing across Custom House, reaching more residents while densifying housing within a 15-minute walk from the high streets. Further, we suggest improving the connectivity of both high streets up to major thoroughfares Plaistow South and the borough's high street network. That could be achieved by sinking the Newham way in two locations to enable better walkability between areas in Newham on a broader scale.

    Figure 4.31: Phase 3: Expanding restoration & connecting to the North
    Figure 4.31: Phase 3: Expanding restoration & connecting to the North.

    Figure 4.32: Phase 3: Connecting Custom House high streets to Newham's high street network. Establishing key nodes of intersection of the high streets across Newham way are crucial for restitching to be facilitated
    Figure 4.32: Phase 3: Connecting Custom House high streets to Newham's high street network. Establishing key nodes of intersection of the high streets across Newham way are crucial for restitching to be facilitated.


    The severance that characterizes Custom House is not only the result of neighbourhood-level processes of social exclusion. Instead, the challenges that this community confronts are also inserted within an unfair city-wide framework that must be acknowledged, analyzed, and, at a certain point, ameliorated. Consequently, revitalizing high streets in Custom House does not solely require a set of spatial interventions but also tackling one essential element that shapes our lives: policy. We propose two policy interventions that, combined with a new High Street typology, guarantee the restoration's sustainability.

    Constructions emissions tax

    Firstly, we suggest the implementation of a construction tax that mitigates the negative externalities of the building sector. In a borough that has been marked by notable re-development and large infrastructural projects, a construction tax constitutes a step forward for addressing one the key drivers of the ecological injustices suffered by the local areas surrounding them, such as Custom House. As regulated in many countries outside of the UK (Tsai et al., 2017), this tax would penalise highly contaminant construction processes while incentivizing socially and ecologically positive interventions. In such a way, thel burden would increase as a function of the CO2, PM, NOx and SOx emissions produced, whereas projects that produce positive externalities into the communities would enjoy significant tax discounts.

    Following previous experiences in other countries (Sales, 2007), projects that provide affordable housing, improve insulation and accessibility, or create jobs in the local community would benefit from a favourable fiscal regime.

    Simultaneously, this policy would provide a source of funding for the restoration project. Money collected through this tax should be primarily allocated to the local borough, so the community receives its fair share of the gains of economic development that are usually concentrated in a few actors. For the first time in decades, the benefits of many of the large infrastructural projects and real estate developments that have been ongoing in Newham would finally reach its inhabitants.

    Figure 4.33: Large physical infrastructures in southern Newham
    Figure 4.33: Phase 3: Large physical infrastructures in southern Newham.

    Multi-model hopper fare

    Secondly, a re-arrangement of the public transport fares that currently discourage intermodality is essential. On the one hand, we aim to extend the current Hopper fare (Mayor of London, 2022) to all transportation methods under the umbrella of TfL. Under this scheme, all trips using an indefinite number of buses, DLR, and the tube within an hour would be paid for by one single ticket. As a result, the current inefficiencies linked to the disconnection between modes of transportation would be solved. Such a policy would particularly benefit inhabitants of Custom House, who must rely on a combination of different forms of transit for many of their daily trips and pay a considerable financial penalty for this reason.

    On the other hand, we propose the introduction of automatic yearly and monthly caps. Analogously to daily and weekly caps, the spending on public transport using a single standard Oyster or contactless card would be topped by default once a maximum amount has been reached in a period of 1 and 12 months.

    This would ease the burden suffered by many public transport users who, due to migration and economic precarity, face linguistic barriers when dealing with TfL, cannot predict their travel patterns in the long term, and struggle to pay large financial amounts of money upfront.

    Figure 4.34: Estimation of current fares and assuming a standard 5-day work week that involved daily trips from the geographical centre of Custom House to LSE.
    Figure 4.34: Estimation of current fares and assuming a standard 5-day work week that involved daily trips from the geographical centre of Custom House to LSE.

    Network of actors

    To realise these interventions, we see a multitude of government, private and civic actors at play. Seeing that PEACH is currently at the forefront for establishing alternative regeneration futures, they have been identified to spearhead the process given their existing relationship with the community.

    Figure 4.35: Network of actors involved in the restoration and refurbishment of housing.
    Figure 4.35: Network of actors involved in the restoration and refurbishment of housing.

    Figure 4.36: Network of actors involved in the ACI policy.
    Figure 4.36: Network of actors involved in the ACI policy.


    High Streets in the London context

    It is no secret that High Streets around London face similar troubles of decline. This presents an opportunity to reflect upon how the proposed interventions can be applied to other parts of London to form a comprehensive system of changing the narrative of regeneration for High Streets. In his research on High Streets, Carmona (2015) highlights the differences between roads named 'High Street/ Road' (Fig. 4.37) and those roads which are not, but perform the functions of a High Street (Fig. 4.38). This showcases a significant gap between the recognition of High Streets and investment into them. Even in Custom House, Freemasons Road and Prince Regent Lane are not recognized as High Streets in the Newham Local Plan, but in reality, they play the role of a High Street in people's everyday lives in Custom House.

    Figure 4.37: London high streets with 'high street/ road' in their name.
    Figure 4.37: London high streets with 'high street/ road' in their name.

    Figure 4.38: All London high streets. Source: Carmona (2015)
    Figure 4.38: All London high streets. Source: Carmona (2015)

    Applicability to other High Streets

    The Restorative High Street Typology can therefore be applied to other locations in London to address similar issues of poor living conditions, looming threats of regeneration, under-provision and disinvestment.

    Examples of applicable locations:

    1. Plaistow Road, Newham
    2. Katherine Road, Newham
    3. Barking Riverside, Barking & Dagenham
    4. Trafalgar Road, Greenwich
    5. Streatham High Road, Lambeth
    6. Ealing High Street, Ealing

    (Carmona, 2015 and Kerr, 2021)

    Figure 4.39: Scaling up the typology to other parts of London
    Figure 4.39: Scaling up the typology to other parts of London

    Limitations and considerations

    Formulating a planning framework to adjust the typology for private-owned land

    Although similar high-streets in deprived areas often contain many public-owned housing estates (e.g., Plaistow Road and Barking Riverside), it will be helpful to facilitate restoration and refurbishment in private buildings and promote densification without the adverse effects of demolition.

    Improvements in infrastructure and public services to support the increased population density

    The proposed typology is a standalone development on a single plot. Unlike regeneration master plans, it does not include layout and land use optimizations to accompany the development with infrastructure improvements and more significant provision of public services.

    Promoting ACI in private-owned land

    In places where vacant retail spaces are mostly privately-owned, other measures should be implemented to support affordable local retail and community amenities, such as subsidies and business rates reliefs, which the proposed construction emissions tax may fund.


    The role of the built environment in achieving environmental sustainability is catalytic. Urban practitioners face an increasing demand for decarbonized environments in an economic climate unfriendly to the risks needed to get there. This report argues for the implementation of a holistic approach, one that is understanding of physically, ecologically, and socially severing projects and their adverse and, at times, life-threatening impacts on residents and communities. The case in Custom House is a stark one, showing how decades of infrastructural neglect have enclosed a community in a state of liminality. The typology presented in this report aims at shattering this liminal space by providing alternative options to regeneration that avoid the harmful aftermath of conventional regeneration. The Restorative High Street Typology presents an ethos of repair and restoration that acknowledges the complexity of urban environments and understands their diversity as an opportunity for both physical and social renewal. Indeed, repairing and maintaining the pre-existing built environment as a method of revitalizing the urban form is not a new concept. However, what is especially pressing now is the pressure of climate change and resource constraints that have opened doors for retrofitting and restoration practises to take hold.

    The Restorative High Street Typology is designed for replication in other marginalized and deprived areas through the following avenues:

    • Rather than proposing the complete reconstitution of an already fixed community space, our work provides an avenue of restoration that meets the needs of residents now, without compromising the needs of residents in the future.
    • We see sustainability as not simply ecological but economic and social. To create sustainable urban spaces, practitioners must understand the complex and highly subjective conditions of health and wellbeing in low-income communities and how achieving sustainability in one facet does not directly alleviate a lack in others.
    • We present the Restorative High Street Typology as the foundation for a more inclusive, community-based infrastructural development ethos that targets those burdens that weigh the heaviest - no matter who or where they are carried.


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