Last Monday evening, Southwark’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee rejected calls for the Council’s decision to appeal against the government’s refusal to grant it a CPO against Aylesbury leaseholders to be reconsidered, after it heard that it was powerless to do so.

The Aylesbury estate Leaseholders Group staged a protest at the meeting, angered at the damning judgement that their equalities and human rights had been breached and Southwark’s refusal to accept the judgement.

The leaseholders made a written submission and gave evidence to the Committee, arguing that the High Court challenge was uneccessary. Having been accused of ‘holding the Council to ransom’, the leaseholders pointed out that all they wanted was to remain homeowners in the borough. They reminded the Council of its like-for-like rehousing offer and its mysterious disappearance from the list of options available to them early on in the delivery of the present scheme (like-for-like being a simple swap for a similar size flat on a council estate elsewhere in the borough).

Council members came up with some questionable excuses as to why the like-for-like policy was dropped and insisted the best course of action was to challenge the Secretary of State’s decision and continue shortchanging leaseholders.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/GlTuN-ffEZk

The committee also heard that the Council has spent a total of £200k on the Aylesbury CPO inquiry to date and that it estimates a further £50k is required in order to mount the High Court challenge. It was not able to give an estimate of costs it would become liable for should it lose the High Court battle and be forced to pay the Secretary of State’s legal fees and court costs.

It was confirmed to the meeting that the decision to mount the legal challenge was taken by its ‘Director of Law & Democracy’, Doreen Forrester-Brown (as reported in our last blog), therefore the Overview & Scrutiny Committee is powerless to refer the decision to democratically elected members, because it was a delegated officer decision in the first place.

The most vocal member of the Scrutiny committee was Southwark’s only Corbynite Councillor Paul Fleming, who instead of scrutinising the Council’s decision to appeal against the Secretary of State, scrutinised the decision to call it in. Councillor Fleming is a homeowner on the privatised Octavia Hill estate, overlooking the Aylesbury. He is a ward Councillor for the Aylesbury estate, a vehement proponent of demolition and describes himself as both a Jacobite and a Corbynite, publicly endorsing Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. He is also one of only two Labour Councillors in Southwark to have actively campaigned for Brexit (of the Lexit variety).

Cllr Fleming dismissed the leaseholders’ request for like-for-like swaps as ‘privatising council housing’ and defended Doreen Forrester-Brown’s decision to appeal, explaining that the Council can’t afford to delay selling the Aylesbury estate to Notting Hill Housing and its development partner Barratt Homes any longer.

Shaky grounds

Three days before the Scrutiny Committee met, the Council wrote to the Secretary of State and objectors stating its intent and outlining its grounds of appeal. We have drafted a full response to the Council’s grounds of appeal in a detailed letter that we have sent to the Secretary of State. As the points made in our response show, Southwark’s grounds of appeal are shaky to say the least.

Southwark’s appeal is clearly just a panicked response to the CPO decision and a desperate attempt to rescue a regeneration scheme whose viability rests on shortchanging leaseholders in a systematic breach of human rights. Southwark’s entire regeneration strategy is based on a cheap method of dispossessing and dispensing with council estate residents. With 250 leaseholders remaining on the Aylesbury estate and thousands more on estates across the borough, the outcome of this case is likely to have implications for regeneration schemes in years to come.

A legal opinion says that the Aylesbury CPO refusal could herald a possible new ‘right to a community’ for council estate residents, a right we think is sorely needed. We have therefore decided to set up a crowdfunding campaign to help pay for a barrister to represent the objectors at Southwark’s appeal hearing. Southwark has instructed two big gun CPO lawyers to fight its appeal case; James Pereira QC who gained his stripes clearing out communities ahead of the Olympic games and Melissa Murphy QC who acted for Basildon Council in the high-profile eviction of Dale Farm gypsy & traveller site. We think it’s crucial that the objectors are professionally represented at the appeal and defeat is not allowed to be snatched from the jaws of victory by these top brass lawyers. Any contribution that you can make to this fund, small or large, will help both the Aylesbury leaseholders and provide a step towards making the ‘right to a community’ a reality.