To paraphrase Winston Churchill - there are lies, there are damn lies and then there are Southwark Council press releases.
A choice example is the triumphant annnouncement of 25 April 2017 with the headline ‘Secretary of State overturns previous decision regarding Aylesbury estate compulsory purchase order’. The press release subsequently neglects to give the Secretary of State’s reason for this new decision, but says instead that improved offers had been made to the leaseholders, leaving the impression that this was why he changed his mind. The press release was the basis of a number of media reports, which related the story with varying degrees of inaccuracy.
Southwark’s triumphant and misleading press statement
The final paragraph of the press release notes that the ‘Consent Order is being agreed with the Secretary of State’s lawyers and will be forwarded to the Interested Parties (Aylesbury leaseholders, their legal representatives and the 35% Campaign) shortly for their agreement’. We had actually received the draft Consent Order on the 25 April, with a peremptory deadline for reply of the next day. This was extended to the 2 May, but it was obviously more important to Southwark to get out a press release immediately, rather than have the courtesy of waiting for a reply, or indeed waiting for the Consent Order to be signed or waiting for the High Court to actually quash the decision.
As for the Secretary of State conceding to Southwark’s challenge - this was based on one single ground, arising from the so-called £16,000 savings policy. It had nothing at all to do with any non-existent ‘improved offers’.
The £16,000 savings policy stipulated that all of a leaseholder’s savings, less £16,000, would be required from them, if they wanted a new home on a shared-ownership or shared equity basis. After the CPO inquiry finished, Southwark dropped this policy and asked the Secretary of State to take this into account in his consideration of their CPO application. He did do so, writing to all parties for their views. In his final decision letter, he concluded “in the light of the facts of this case,” that the policy change did not make any difference to his decision not to grant the CPO. (para. 7)
Southwark hired a big-gun QC who argued on case law that the Secretary of State failed to provide adequate reasoning in relation to this aspect of his decision. The Secretary of State conceded the appeal on this ground alone and he made this clear in the consent order.
We have submitted a formal complaint asking Southwark to correct its press statement, but this latest episode in the Aylesbury CPO battle provides a neat cameo of how Southwark behaves in general. It only dropped the iniquitous £16,000 policy after the CPO inquiry concluded and to retrieve a decision it rightly feared was not going its way. Shameless expenditure of public funds, expert lawyers and good fortune then rescued them, for the moment. It is a story that also illustrate why this is such an important battle - Southwark cannot be trusted to act fairly, plain and simple.
The leaseholders and interested parties have now somewhat reluctantly signed the Consent Order to quash the decision. To do otherwise would have required further legal fees and layed ourselves open to potentially ruinous cost orders. But the Consent Order also has conditions, one being that there is another full public inquiry to hear the objectors’ case and re-examine the public interest of the scheme. We remain fully confident that, having won once, we can win again and this time round we are more organised. We now have a crowdfunding campaign to pay for proper legal representation and expert witness evidence showing that refurbishment is more cost effective than demolition.
This is an important battle, the outcome of which could determine the possible ‘right to a community’ for council estate residents across the country. Any contribution that you can make to this fund, large or small, is greatly appreciated.
Revised planning application
In the meantime, Southwark has announced an amendment to its development agreement with regeneration partner Notting Hill Housing. The housing association will now be submitting fresh planning applications for the Aylesbury, reducing the number of affordable units on its first phase of development of the estate (plot 18). The previous consent for plot 18 was for a policy compliant mix of 50% affordable housing of which 75% social rent.
This fresh application will see the number of social rented homes in this first phase to just 17 of 122 new homes. We have shown in detail how promises of replacement social housing on the Heygate were chipped away over the years. The Aylesbury regeneration is now clearly following that same trajectory.