BY CALUM FRASER and TOBY PORTER
Four residents are angry that their only park space has been fenced off with impenetrable wooden walls in the very week their future is the subject of a public inquiry.
The quartet, who all bought their own council houses on the Aylesbury Estate, saw eight-foot high wooden boards go up around their green space last week, just as a hearing got under way to decide whether their blocks will be demolished by Southwark council.
A Government inspector will hear the cases of both sides, before deciding whether Southwark town hall chiefs can go ahead with a compulsory purchase order (CPO) and flatten the tower blocks to build new homes.
One resident, Beverley Robinson, said: “I have no balcony on my flat so this park is the only space I have available. This is what I paid for and continue to pay for in service charges.
“It is all I have.”
Former Southwark Conservative councillor Toby Eckersley, who has campaigned on behalf of the quartet, said: “Putting up these horrible hoardings was a crass thing to do – but it is also in breach of their tenancy.
“They have paid to be able to enjoy this garden space but now they cannot. They are entitled to their full rights as leaseholders. This is bullying and it is wrong.”
Councillor Mark Williams, cabinet member for regeneration and new homes said: “We are aware the public hearing is ongoing with regards to the handful of remaining leaseholders on the first development site but we are continuing with work to demolish the empty blocks on this site.
“This does mean that we need to make sure the area is safe for residents and visitors to the site and this fencing is part of the preparation works as we begin demolition of the empty blocks.
“People have been made fully aware of the situation and the reasons for it.”
A first inquiry into the CPO delivered a momentous result for the Aylesbury leaseholders when the inspector recommended that communities secretary Sajid Javid quash the council’s bid.
Javid agreed, only to renege on the decision months later as the council brought a case against the verdict to the high court.
The case against the council at this enquiry is being brought by the Aylesbury Leaseholders Action Group (ALEG) and it is closely supported by the 35% Campaign group.
Jerry Flynn, a spokesperson for the 35% Campaign, said: “The first enquiry delivered a landmark decision.
“Obviously we were disappointed when the Secretary of State went back on this but we have our case together and we are ready to fight.
“The enquiry is a gruelling process and it is not something you would do by choice, but the leaseholders are determined and they believe they are not just fighting for their own homes but for others on the estate as well.”
The Aylesbury development is separated into two phases.
The current CPO enquiry concerns the four remaining leaseholders living on the phase one site, but there are hundreds more on the phase two site who will be impacted by this decision as it sets a precedent for future CPO orders.
Opening the enquiry, planning Inspector Martin Whitehead identified several key issues such as whether the CPO proposal meets requirements for space, light and tenure, whether the compensation offered to leaseholders was sufficient, whether alternative options for the blocks, including refurbishment, were plausible and finally, whether due consideration had been given to the impact on local communities.
ALEG and the 35% Campaign are being represented by Chris Jacobs while Melissa Murphy is the counsel for Southwark council.
Southwark Green party candidate Eleanor Margolies attended the opening of the enquiry last week.
She said: “This demolition proposal is creating segregated communities.
“In the council’s original Aylesbury Area Action Plan, they said they wanted to encourage integration and mixed tenure buildings.
“Now it has been revealed that 10 of the new blocks will be single tenure while the two blocks in prime locations overlooking Burgess Park will be entirely private.”
She also expressed concern about the impact demolition and regeneration has on the environment, highlighting the work done on the Six Acres Estate in Islington, north London as an example of a successful and environmentally-friendly refurbishment project.
Aylesbury is one of the largest housing estates in Europe. It 2,759 flats were built between 1963 and 1977 on a 28.5-acre site near Elephant & Castle and designed by Derek Winch of Southwark council’s architects’ department.
Mr Williams, said: “We remain committed to the regeneration of the Aylesbury Estate, which will provide thousands of new high quality homes for the people of Southwark.
“These new homes will be of the best quality, replacing the poorly designed buildings which are at the end of their life with near constant heating breakdowns and leaks despite significant investment. Refurbishment is not an option.
“The first phase of investment alone will deliver more than 800 new homes with at least 50 per cent being affordable with the majority at social rents, with extra care housing for vulnerable residents and low cost homes to help people onto the property ladder and for existing leaseholders on the estate to move into.
“These homes will be tenure blind and views of the park are split between all tenures as requested by residents.
“In addition to the new homes, the investment will revitalise the area bringing jobs and new opportunities, plus new facilities for local people including a new library, GP health centre and early years centre that the whole community can enjoy, all of which already have planning permission and are ready to be built.
“We have now reached voluntary agreement with 562 of the households on the first development site who have now moved, and are continuing to engage with the remaining four leaseholders.
“However, to ensure delivery of the new homes we need the CPO in case we don’t reach voluntary agreement with the remaining leaseholders.
“The enquiry continues for at the council office at 160 Tooley Street.”