Residents of the Aylesbury Estate, unwillingly famous for its Channel 4 ident, are at the centre of a regeneration row with Southwark Council.
Like its now-demolished neighbour, the Heygate Estate, residents at the Aylesbury Estate are losing their homes in a deal between the local authority and Notting Hill Housing (NHH). Southwark call it regeneration, the residents call it social cleansing.
It's not the first time that Aylesbury residents have fought off an attempt to effectively privatise the estate — in 2001, they voted overwhelmingly against a sale of the estate to a housing association. But in 2005, Southwark came to the decision it wasn't prepared to stump up the estimated £350m it would cost to upgrade the estate. Instead they decided to rebuild a new estate under the control of NHH, with 50% of the new development being affordable housing. As we've pointed out before, the definition of 'affordable' varies wildly and isn't usually that affordable. Recent government-led changes further eroded the obligation on developers to build affordable housing or even pay towards it.
It's not just council tenants who face eviction; residents who bought their properties under the Right To Buy (RTB) scheme are also getting a raw deal. As the freeholder, Southwark issued Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO) to buy back the properties. This is where owning your own council home under RTB might not be such a good idea after all.
Residents say that unlike other developments, Southwark has used an in-house surveyor rather than an independent one to determine how much they will pay for a property. They claim they are being pressured into accepting below market rate and risk being priced out of the area. We talked to Naomi Newstead, prospective Conservative MP for Camberwell & Peckham, who has taken up the residents' fight:
"Leaseholders [living there] are being forced to sell their properties back to the council but with the money being offered they can't afford to buy anything locally or indeed in London. Comparable ex-council properties in the area cost much more than they are being offered in exchange for their homes.
"People who have worked hard to purchase their own homes are being slung out of the area and will not see any of the benefit of the investment. Also the developer is receiving a grant to help pay the costs of building the new homes so taxpayers money is being spent on this project and I am sure most people would not want to see public money used for a housing development where local people are being forced out of the area. No one else would be expected to sell their London home for 50% of its value so why should it be any different for people who live on a council estate?"
Ms Newstead has also written to council leaders to request an independent surveyor and repeatedly questioned why residents are being offered below market rate for their properties. It was also raised by Conservative London Assembly member Andrew Boff at Mayor's Question Time (MQT) in January (PDF). Boris Johnson said in response that he believed residents should receive market rates plus 10%, "not some figure cooked up by the council". Boff cited local resident Olubunmi John, who was offered £165,000 for her four-bedroom maisonette, despite an independent valuation of more than £290,000. In fact, Rightmove currently shows similar maisonettes in SE17 at asking prices upwards of £375,000.
The Aylesbury residents' campaign also attracted the attention of housing activists on January's March for Homes protest who later occupied vacant flats in the estate's Chartridge block. In February, six people were arrested following a showdown with police when the activists were evicted.
In a borough with an estimated 18,000 people waiting for housing, you'd think that the council would be keen to hang on to what little social housing it has. Well, the Aylesbury regeneration will also mean the loss of 934 homes for social rent. The 35percent.org blog pointed out that although the planning application states 362 of the new 815 homes will be at 'target rent', but says the developers are using the terms 'target' and 'affordable' to obfuscate the fact that rents will increase once they're no longer being set by the council. Ms Newstead believes City Hall needs to make key changes to building homes in the capital, including agreements with developers so that existing leaseholders can continue to own new properties post-regeneration, increased build-to-rent schemes and restrictions on selling properties off-plan overseas. But the meteoric rise of London's property market seems to be accompanied by an inertia for change.
It's not that regeneration is inherently bad, but the gradual removal of social housing (and its residents) in favour of building more flats for offshore investors increasingly points toward eradicating the mixed communities London has always had. The most important question councils should be asking is who benefits from this regeneration? If the residents come pretty low down that list, surely a rethink is needed.
According to Southwark council's website, residents of the newly regenerated Aylesbury Estate will enjoy 'a stronger and more vibrant community, living in high quality homes [with] great streets, parks and open spaces, excellent public transport and a wide range of facilities'. It's a shame the residents who lived there for years aren't likely to be around to see those benefits.