Southwark Council’s bid to evict eight remaining leaseholders from Phase One of the Aylesbury Estate has been knocked back for a second time.
The Honourable Mr Justice Dove has refused the council’s application for a judicial review of the government’s decision to block it from making forced purchases of the leaseholders’ flats.
Making the compulsory purchase order (CPOs) of the eight leaseholders’ flats is vital for the council, as the far west section of the Aylesbury (Bradenham, Chartridge, Arklow and Chiltern) cannot be demolished until it is vacant.
Sectary of state Sajid Javid’s decision in September to block the council’s CPO – as advised by an independent planning inspector – was made on the grounds that leaseholders’ human rights would be “contravened” due to the financial burden it would cause.
In a letter sent to leaseholders on December 19, Judge Dove said the council’s grounds for applying for the judicial review of the CPO rejection were “unarguable” and that permission “must be refused”.
Southwark’s cabinet member for regeneration and new homes, Mark Williams, said he was “hugely disappointed” by the judge’s decision.
But he said the council will now pursue an “oral hearing” to reiterate its case for a judicial review.
Should that fail, its last option would be to appeal against the judge’s decision in the High Court.
“This is not a decision we take lightly,” Cllr Williams said. “But our residents need new affordable homes, and the Secretary of State’s decision has huge ramifications for Southwark, and for councils across London that are trying to help tackle the housing crisis.
“On the Aylesbury alone, turning down our CPO means the secretary of state is jeopardising plans for 800 new homes, including hundreds at social rent as well as extra care homes for some of our most vulnerable residents. We can’t sit back and jeopardise this fantastic project, and that is why we have to challenge the decision.”
The most prominent argument Southwark made was that the inspector’s decision “was based on factually incorrect information,” because Mr Javid had “ignored” updated evidence submitted during the 27-month inquiry.
Speaking after the CPO was rejected, Cllr Williams said: “We’ve put in place a range of options for the leaseholders that will enable them to stay in the area.”
The judge wrote saying he was “unimpressed” with these points. “I am unable to accept that the defendant failed to have regards to the claimant’s change in policy,” the judge said.
He said it was “unclear and unsubstantiated” that the inspector ignored the council’s updated evidence: that leaseholders could enter a shared-equity option in return for their compensation.
Southwark also believed that their updated offer of equity shares in homes nearby would therefore discount the inspector’s belief, that evicting the leaseholders would have caused them “economic, social and environmental dis-benefits”.
But the judge said the council failed to address the “impact on lease holders” because of the relatively low valuations they were being offered for their homes (all were below £300,000)
The only alternatives for the leaseholders would be to “use savings” or “contemplate shared ownerships” “shared-equity arrangements”, or force them to leave the area “with the consequent social dislocation”.
The judge added: “The inspector and the defendant were entitled, if not obliged, to take account of the reality of the situation in relation to the economic impact on lease holders and there was no error of law in the defendant’s conclusion.”
He also said it was “intrusive” of the council to force leaseholders to go through “financial assessments” and disclose their savings.
Another of the inspector’s main criticisms of the CPO was that “a number of dwellings” in the proposed new blocks of flats would “fail to meet the council’s adopted standards for sunlight and daylight” – a point which the judge upheld. The judge said “there is no substance in the complaint of procedural unfairness” and that the council was given the chance to address these flaws in their plans for the new estate.
Reacting to the judge’s decision, Jerry Flynn of the 35% Campaign, who spoke at the public inquiry leading up to the government’s decision to reject the CPO, said “This is welcome news. The judge is rather robust in his explanation.
“We feel that Southwark’s CPO had already failed at the first hurdle, and they should desist.”
It was previously announced by Cllr Williams that the judicial review would cost the council £50,000 and take until April to decide.
Southwark Council will now have to pay legal costs for making the failed application. The amount has yet to be decided by the court.