In 1997, Tony Blair chose the Aylesbury estate to launch Labour’s new urban regeneration strategy, where he describes “an underclass of people cut off from society’s mainstream without any sense of shared purpose.”

“Behind the statistics lie households where three generations have never had a job…There are estates where the biggest employer is the drugs industry, where all that is left of the high hopes of the post-war planners is derelict concrete.”

Fred Manson, Southwark Council’s Director of Regeneration (who was close to the Blairite elite and advised on Richard Rogers’s Urban Task Force report) subsequently laid out the aims of the Labour council’s new regeneration strategy: “We need to have a wider range of people living in the borough” because “social housing generates people on low incomes coming in and that generates poor school performances, middle-class people stay away.” He explained that ‘the policy is aimed at reversing some of the problems caused by past social engineering.’

Twenty years later and it is clear to see that the council’s regeneration strategy has been a resounding success.

Southwark has lost nearly 15,000 council homes since Blair’s Aylesbury estate speech. Whilst Right to Buy sales have played a part in the overall decline in stock, the Council’s ongoing estate regeneration schemes have contributed to a significant proportion of the loss.

  Estate Council homes demolished Total new homes of which social rented
Silwood estate 95 182 55
Bermondsey Spa 147 1553 491
Elmington estate 519 559 256
Wood Dene estate 323 333 54
Heygate estate 1212 2704 82
Aylesbury estate 2758 3575 1471
North Peckham estate 3203 2019 710
Coopers Road estate 196 247 107
  Total: 8453 11172 3226

That’s a loss of 8,453 council homes and net loss of 5,227 social rented homes as a direct result of Southwark’s regeneration schemes to date. GLA assembly member Sian Berry has predicted that Southwark is set to lose 2,196 social rented homes as a result of estate redevelopment schemes in its current pipeline (far more than any other borough). In addition, we can’t even be sure that the small number of social rented homes re-provided aren’t actually let at affordable rent - an increasingly common phenomenon as reported here.

Extract from GLA assembly member Sian Berry’s research

Council leader Peter John is the driving force behind the borough’s ‘regeneration’ plans supported by a cross-party ‘sink estate’ rhetoric. He wrote an article in support of David Cameron’s estate demolition proposals in Jan 2016, arguing only that Cameron’s plans weren’t ambitious enough and that more government funding should be allocated to the programme. In the article he describes the Heygate & Aylesbury estates as “symbols of inner-city neglect, with crime, antisocial behaviour, health inequalities and unemployment the only things that flourished there”. He added that “both had become hard to let to council tenants, and reinforced poverty, crime and inequality” and concluded that estate redevelopment is the only way of providing “genuinely mixed communities”

In a local news interview he claimed that “brutalist architecture wasn’t conducive to building a successful economic community”. He evidenced this claim with an anecdote, in which he described local MP Harriet Harman’s visit to the Aylesbury estate: “Harriet and a councillor were in a lift with a man injecting drugs in his penis. That’s not the sign of a successful community”.

Councillor John’s justification for estate demolitions is his claim that Southwark has an ambitious programme to build 11,000 new council homes (over 30 years). But this programme is well behind schedule and the Council continues to knock down and sell off council homes much faster than it is building them.

Void disposal policy

In 2009, Southwark’s Tory/Lib Dem administration introduced a policy of selling off every council home that becomes vacant and is valued above £400,000. In 2011 this was reviewed by the incoming Labour administration which reduced the threshold to £300,000. Government statistics show that Southwark has sold off over a thousand council homes under this policy in the five years from 2010 to 2015. This compilation taken from auction websites shows a sample of some of these.

A sample of hundreds of council homes sold by the current Labour administration under this policy

Municipal fire sale

It is not just council homes that are being sold off. Southwark’s ‘modernisation’ drive has seen it sell off both Bermondsey, Peckham and Walworth Town Halls; Harper Rd Social Services Centre; Tuke Street School; Castle Day Centre; Whitstable Day Nursery; Abbey St Children’s Home; Willowbrook Community Centre; Wansey St Homeless Hostel; Manor Place baths, depot & coroners building; Cherry Garden school; Southwark Park Rd Day Centre and Bermondsey Library.

The Council is also selling off land; recent sales include a plot near Millwall stadium and Southwark’s former car pound off the Old Kent Road, likewise a plot of land at Devonshire Grove and a plot of land on the Beacon House estate and one at Woods Road in Peckham. Other land sales include the council-owned workshops on Braganza Street, the Parkhouse Street warehouses, Manor Place Terrance, Eagle Wharf (Mounview Academy, Peckham) and the Copeland Road car park.

All in all, the Council’s ongoing fire sale of council homes, community assets and public land is helping its reverse social engineering strategy become a resounding success - all under the banner of municipal socialism..