Southwark Council’s bid to remove the last remaining leaseholders from Phase One of the Aylesbury Estate has been rejected by the government on grounds that it would breach their human rights.
But council leader Peter John vowed on Monday to mount a legal challenge to the decision, which they believe could also pose a dangerous precedent to large-scale developments across the country.
The government’s decision on the compulsory purchase order (CPO) of the eight leaseholders’ flats in Bradenham, Chiltern, Chartridge and Arklow – which form part of phases 1B and 1C – will now cause a major delay in the council’s plan to demolish and rebuild the western section of the estate.
The leaseholders have said they feel “elated” at the surprise decision published by the Department of Communities and Local Government on Friday. All of them had been offered prices lower than £300,000 for their flats, or an equity-share of a new flat in the local area, often amounting to 40 per cent or less of the value.
Four blocks in Phase One of the Aylesbury had so far been emptied of 442 tenants’ households by 2013, and 33 leaseholders. The site has been nearly deserted ever since, with a huge security fence erected around it in March 2015 to deter squatters and rough sleepers. Council reports show they had hoped to have Phase One completely emptied by 2018 before handing it to Notting Hill Housing Trust, who would carry out the demolition works.
It is estimated that the entire Aylesbury regeneration scheme could take a further fifteen years. Once finished, 50 per cent of the 3,500 homes will be let at “affordable” rates, and 37.5 per cent of the total will be set at “social rents”, with the rest sold privately at market rate. Housing pressure group The 35% Campaign has said this will constitute a net loss of at least 778 social-rented homes.
The government’s decision was published on Friday in an eight-page letter outlining its decision, as well as an 83-page Inspector’s Report. An agenda published ahead of a council cabinet meeting on Tuesday said the government’s decision would be released “shortly”, which suggests the council had not expected it to arrive.
The reasons for rejection given by the department’s inspector Lesley Coffey, with secretary of state Sajid Javid, were:
- That the CPO would have been a disproportionate contravention of the leaseholders’ human rights, in respect of their life at home (European Convention of Human Rights Article Eight). This is because the order would have forced the leaseholders to move far away to find affordable replacement homes
- That compulsory purchase orders should be used as a “last resort”. The inspector was not convinced that reasonable steps had been taken to reach an agreement with the leaseholders to buy their homes
- The order would have “considerable economic, social and environmental dis-benefits” for those eight leaseholders
- The order would have particularly affected an elderly leaseholder who would have struggled to mortgage a new property
The report also outlines points where the secretary of state agreed with the council:
- That an alternative plan to refurbish the estate would not be feasible (a suggestion put forward by leaseholders who objected to the CPO)
- The overall redevelopment scheme of the Aylesbury would deliver significant economic benefits in terms of construction jobs
- That the overall scheme would be financially viable
Despite these points, the secretary of state noted in his letter that “in principle” he welcomes the Aylesbury Regeneration scheme, and believes there is “good opportunity” for the council to work with the leaseholders to find a new deal.
Councillor John has since clarified that the decision will not necessarily disrupt the council’s aim to clear and demolish other sections of the estate. But it is widely believed that the decision could spur on other leaseholders to battle the council for better deals in future.
One of the eight Aylesbury leaseholders, Judi Bos, who lets her three-bed Aylesbury property, told the News she was “elated”.
“I couldn’t believe it got rejected. I have spoken to my surveyor who said this is the second time they have ever seen a CPO be rejected,” said Judi from Camberwell.
“I have just spoken to my tenants as well who are really happy.
“I suspect now the council will try to offer us a better price. I think they should be giving us another £100,000 more.
“I had been given an independent valuation for my flat of £130,000 in 2005. Then when the council tried to value my flat in 2011 they offered me £120,000. Most recently the council offered me £270,000.
“But like the inspector’s report says, this would have contravened our human rights, because we would have to move completely out of London.
“This is what we have been saying to the council all along. This makes all the months and years of work on this feel worth it.”
Southwark Council leader Peter John – ‘we will make legal challenge on government’s decision’
A statement by council leader Peter John has argued that the decision will create a dangerous precedent for councils across the UK, and that the government’s decision was based on old evidence which had been updated in December 2015.
“This decision puts Southwark and all councils who are trying to build new homes for our residents between a rock and hard place,” councillor John said.
“We can either fight this decision or scrap our plans to regenerate the Aylesbury Estate. I’m not willing to do that, which is why we will take court action if necessary to try to overturn this bizarre decision.
“I honestly don’t know what the Government’s policy is on estate regeneration any more, as they say one thing and do another. By this decision they are jeopardising plans for 800 new homes for Londoners.
“Of course the human rights of our residents are important, which is why each of the remaining resident leaseholders has been offered a brand new home in the same area, rent-free, with a shared equity arrangement. I’m afraid that we can’t just keep offering them more and more taxpayers’ money.
“In his report the Secretary of State recognises that the scheme is viable, that it brings economic and social benefits to the area and that refurbishment is not an option. I hope he will listen to reason but failing that, we will take this to court.”