Aylesbury Estate Residents Fight 'Social Cleansing'

By BethPH Last edited 37 months ago
Aylesbury Estate Residents Fight 'Social Cleansing'

Photo by Will Faichney in the Londonist Flickr pool

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.

Read more:

Council wants to 'decant' east London residents over tower refurbishment

Social cleansing and gentrification: The fightback

Community fights back over Tottenham regeneration

Last Updated 06 March 2015


Councils do not have any money available to renew and rebuild social housing because that money was cut by the Lib Dem - Conservative coalition government and Boris Johnson, and redirected to "affordable" housing as redefined by Boris (i.e. affordable for someone on £80k a year). It is incredibly cynical for conservatives to pretend they are on the side of families needing social housing, when every action taken by them and their Lib Dem partners are to eliminate social housing, including the use of right to buy on large estates in a way that hampers and adds expense to renewal of social housing stock. Faced with no external funding, and the impacts of other cuts to council funding putting vital council services under pressure, it is surprising that a council in Southwark's position, as the second largest social housing landlord after Birmingham, has been able deliver the volume of new homes and social housing refurbishments that it has. There are problems, but they start with the Lib Dem - Conservative coalition government (of which local member Simon Hughes is a minister) and the Boris Johnson administration of London. Change must come at those levels of government before more can be reasonably expected of our strung out local authorities.


This is terrible! I recently read about this happening in Russia.........slippery slope

Christina C

Southwark residents were sold a dream of a better living environment parks cycling facilities etc but we're not told that these facilities were for those who could 'afford' to live there!!


I live in the heart of Walworth, among the dilapidated concrete monstrosities that make up the Aylesbury. I am incredibly proud of the area that I have chosen to live in, and love the cultural diversity, the hustle and bustle of East St Market, the green open spaces of Burgess Park and so on. However, while the Aylesbury estate buildings remain, it will continue to bring the whole area down and stifle it's potential- which needless to say being so close to central London is immense but so far unfulfilled.

I work hard, in a full time job, and accept that in order to live in such a central location I must pay a premium. This is my choice, as I understand that living in London is a privilege, not a right. It is unfortunate that some people might be displaced, but there are other more affordable areas, not much further out which provide perfectly viable housing alternatives. Unfortunately the march of progress must continue.

As a local FULLTIME resident, I feel that this movement has been hijacked by a minority group of 'rent-a-squatters' who do not represent the majority of proud Walworth residents. We are desperately waiting for our area to get the investment and redevelopment befitting of such an area in Inner London, and the Save the Aylesbury movement is actually doing more harm than good as it wont take long for developers to look elsewhere, and we Walworth residents will be overlooked yet again. You just have to see the blank expression on people's faces when you tell them you're from Walworth to prove this, and then have to explain that you're between Elephant, Camberwell, Peckham and Bermondsey - all of which are going from strength to strength.


We own our home on Aylesbury Estate. This has been my home since birth im now 31. And we are clearly getting under market value! I keep researching in what actions we can take but never find any help. The only help we have offered to us is a charity set up called creation trust. But I don't fully trust them as they work close with southwark council. Do a lot of charity work with southwark council and are funded by southwark council... It's upsetting how they can get away with this. It's is legal theft!