Yesterday's sale of what's been called 'Britain's most expensive council house' for £3m at auction has sparked a protest of occupation from housing campaigners.
The Grade II listed building, which was previously 21 and 23 Park Street, was put up for sale by Southwark council to raise money for new housing stock. Campaign group Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth believe local people on low incomes are being pushed out by developers. Housing campaigner Sarah Morris said:
“We have occupied this building to stop yet more council housing being sold off to private developers. Southwark council has a waiting list with 25,000 people in need of quality, secure, and truly affordable housing that this building once was. In the face of such housing need in the borough, London, and the whole of the UK this sale of council housing is madness. The attempted sale of this building is a part of the social cleansing that is happening across London where local working class residents are being forced out so that wealthier people can buy it up. We hope that by taking direct action, we can stop the sale of these homes so that they remain a public good rather than another empty building owned by a property speculator."
The Park Street house was built by the Anchor Brewery in 1820 and was previously owned by Courage Breweries, and used for housing by Southwark council. It's described as a six bedroom property which 'needs extensive repair and refurbishment'.
While we question the sale of council houses, there are some circumstances where it might be more beneficial to the local affordable housing market to let someone else take the financial hit of extensive repairs to a Grade II listed property. The council have said the £3m raised from the sale will help fund 'approximately 20 new council homes'. The decision to sell the property was apparently taken once the council realised £500,000-worth of repairs were required, which was the same as building three new houses.
The protest continues today, and for anyone wondering how the campaigners have avoided being evicted by police under anti-squatting laws, the Housing Action group point out:
Although the police did visit this afternoon with the intention of removing the protestors, the police acknowledged that the law brought in last year to criminalise squatting in residential properties did not apply in this instance as this is a political occupation – section 114 of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act makes it a criminal offence to live in a residential building, occupying it in protest is not the same as living in it. This is an important challenge to section 114 and shows a potential loophole for people to occupy residential buildings.
The buyer of the property has elected to remain anonymous but say they plan to restore it and turn it back into residential properties.
Photo by BethPH in the Londonist Flickr pool.