Tuesday, 10 February 2015

London's Housing Crisis: Protestors occupy Aylesbury Estate

Social housing activists tip Aylesbury Estate rubble at Southwark Council HQ
© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2015
Aylesbury Estate resident Aysen Dennis protests against demolition plan
© London Intelligence 2015

They regard themselves as housing activists engaged in 'direct action'.
Opponents deride them as mere 'squatters'.
Either way, they've occupied part of south London’s vast Aylesbury Estate since the 2,000-strong March for Homes rallied at City Hall on Saturday 31 January.
After the rally, a smaller group embarked on their direct action.

They headed noisily south towards Camberwell. 
They occupied Chartridge, one of the estate's housing blocks.
Since then, at 6.30 each evening, these radical social housing activists have invited ‘neighbours and friendly visitors’ to their ‘public assemblies’.
A wish-list on their website says: ‘Oh and here are a few things we could do with:
Rope and a pulley…
Yale locks…
Wood for construction…

Part of the Aylesbury Estate © London Intelligence 2014

On Thursday evening (5 February), the protestors say Southwark Council officers and police deliberately ‘smashed up 8 homes and welded them up to prevent the occupation spreading’.
Police blocked access to the flats as council workers ‘smashed toilets and sinks’.
In a statement issued on Friday 6 February, Southwark Council, as the local authority, retorts: ‘A number of squatters have broken into one of the decommissioned blocks and have taken up residence, causing a great deal of damage.
'Council officers have been on site to secure properties and are continuing to decommission the site to prepare it for regeneration, which includes removing wirings, pipes and bathroom fittings.'
Southwark says it has started a ‘legal process to evict the squatters’.

On Tuesday, 10 February, about 40 campaigners stage a protest against the demolition of the Aylesbury Estate outside a Southwark Council cabinet meeting held at the Council’s plush Tooley Street HQ.
They dump rubble and broken bathroom basins and toilets inside the Council's lobby and at the revolving door entrance.
Security guards respond by locking the entrance with fitted iron bar gates.
Police stand by but make no arrests.
One officer makes copious notes about the noisy demonstrators.

The campaigners want the Council to refurbish rather than demolish the Aylesbury Estate.
But Southwark Council seek a phased £150 million demolition of the estate.
A redeveloped estate with new homes would include homes for private sale and rent.
The Council and Notting Hill Housing, a large housing association, have agreed to ‘regenerate’ the Aylesbury in this way.

Aylesbury Compulsory Purchase Notice displayed on Council HQ front window
© London Intelligence 2015

NHH say the 'partnership' plans to replace the Aylesbury's 2,704 council homes with 3,500 new homes. 
Half will be for sale on London's currently over-inflated property market. 
Of the rest, 75% will be for 'social rent' and 25% for 'shared ownership' or equity.
A minimum of 30% across all tenures will be family homes with three or more bedrooms - to meet intense local demand.*
Southwark and NHH hope construction could begin in 2016 with the entire 'regeneration' completed by 2032.

Campaigners say the estate’s 'regeneration' will permanently displace long-standing council tenants and leaseholders and replace them with affluent people and investors.
They call this ‘social cleansing’ of a kind replicated in working class areas all over London.
Reportedly, some 50 council estates across London face a similar fate.

Worthless right
Councillor Mark Williams, Southwark’s new cabinet member for regeneration, says: “The squatters do not represent the residents of the Aylesbury and are risking the delivery of the very homes they claim to be campaigning for, for the people they claim to be campaigning for.”
Campaigners concede existing tenants will have the right to return to new housing association properties in the regeneration scheme.
But say this right is worthless. 
New ‘affordable rents’ could be marked up to 80 per cent of market rate in this London SE17 area.
Southwark Council’s June 2014 Affordable Rent Product Study quotes a one-bedroom flat at £289 per week.
Campaigners say 80% of this would be well over double the existing council rents and affordable to very few existing Aylesbury council tenants.

Faced with such perspectives, Notting Hill Housing says it uses innovative methods to involve residents and secure their support for the regeneration of Aylesbury.

NHH say during the ongoing public consultation they will avoid mistakes made by Lend Lease just up the road at the Heygate Estate.
Heygate residents were denied a ballot about the future of their 1,200-home estate.
Aylesbury residents were fully balloted and rejected a transfer of their homes to a ‘community-based housing association’.

Salvage or savage
Since then, Southwark and NHH have forged a new partnership.
Housing associations say they've had to become more commercially focused since government stopped grant-funding.
Campaigners, like those on the Aylesbury, say housing associations act more like developers.
Can NHH’s partnership with the Creation Trust create a local consensus for what NHH herald as “one of the most ambitious regeneration projects in Europe”?
Will NHH - as a housing association with charitable aims - salvage a significant proportion of the Aylesbury Estate’s community?
Or savage it, as these social housing campaigners predict, dispossessing people of their homes and displacing them elsewhere?

© Police and Southwark Council security anticipate protest
London Intelligence 2015

*At least 18,000 people are on Southwark's waiting list for council homes.
Southwark Council says it is 'building 11,000 new council homes over the next 30 years'.
In the wake of the 1997 General Election, Prime Minister Tony Blair visited the Aylesbury Estate and made social equality promises that infamously were never kept.

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, February 2015

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