Heygate Estate residents fight compulsory purchase order

By Andy Dangerfield
BBC News, London

  • Published
Southwark Council
Image caption,
Southwark council says 2,400 "affordable, bright new homes" will be built

"Unpopular social housing."

"An arrangement of monolithic land uses."

"Out of place in a city fringe location."

These are just a few of the phrases Southwark Council uses to justify its plans to knock down the Heygate Estate, a sprawling 1970s housing labyrinth in south-east London's Elephant and Castle.

Yet, on the estate, resides an 82-year-old woman who shares her flat with her husband, who is 83.

Her household is one of just three that remain on the Heygate, which was once home to 3,000 people, but more recently used as the bleak backdrop for the movie Harry Brown.

'So traumatised'

"The elderly lady recently suffered a stroke as a result of the stress," said Adrian Glasspool, another resident still on the estate.

"They're so traumatised by it all, they don't want the intrusion and want to remain anonymous."

Until the 1940s, Elephant and Castle was a thriving cultural hub, known as the Piccadilly Circus of south London, and packed with theatres and dance palaces.

Post-war planning - regeneration mark one - led to the construction of the Heygate, based on egalitarian ideal of new homes accessible to people of all incomes.

But, Southwark Council said the estate's stairwells and dark alleys instead turned into areas which encouraged crime and anti-social behaviour.

And now, despite the authority acknowledging the "brutalist concrete buildings" on the Heygate are structurally sound, the bulldozers moved on to the estate to start pulling it down last year.

In a £1.5bn regeneration scheme, the biggest in Western Europe, in partnership with property developer Lend Lease, it plans to replace it with 2,400 new homes.

"Perhaps the utopian ideal of social housing is unpopular in the eyes of some people these days but I wouldn't say people living in it share that view," said Mr Glasspool, 38, a leaseholder on the estate for 15 years.

"I don't think the buildings they're proposing to replace it with are any less monolithic," he added.

The council responded saying the new buildings had "relatively small plot sizes with a new public park at its heart".

Affordable housing

The Heygate's social housing tenants have all been through eviction proceedings or been rehoused in the borough, with five leaseholders remaining, at least two of whom still live on the estate.

A third leaseholder is currently in dispute with the council as to whether they are registered as living there.

Southwark Council has now issued compulsory purchase orders to the leaseholders, who have until 13 September to raise objections.

Image caption,
The newly built Strata skyscraper looms over the remains of the Heygate Estate

"The purchase order will result in us being dispossessed of our homes and permanently priced out of central London," says Mr Glasspool, spokesman for the Heygate Leaseholders Group.

"Residents are being displaced and the housing is being replaced with a citadel of luxury housing we won't be able to afford."

But the council said: "The majority of people rehoused are delighted with their new housing.

"If leaseholders cannot afford to acquire a new dwelling they may also be entitled to be rehoused by the council. No one will be made homeless."

The leaseholders' group plans to object to the redevelopment plans on two main grounds: That it guarantees no social rented housing; and that it offers no renewable energy provision.

When shiny brochures with the motto "new homes for Heygate residents" were circulated to tenants and leaseholders in 2004, "a total of 50% affordable housing was proposed", said Mr Glasspool.

Energy centre

But despite the council saying there is a "contractual minimum to provide 25% affordable housing", the latest planning application has no affordable housing guaranteed.

The brochure from 2004 also proposed a new school, library, leisure centre, theatre and even a science museum.

A new school has been built in the area, and there are plans for a new leisure centre, library and theatre but these are all separate developments and not contained in the current planning application for redevelopment.

In terms of green credentials, a renewable energy plant was promised to provide heat and water to all new homes.

Image caption,
Demolition of Heygate Estate began last year

Southwark said "an energy centre is included" in its latest plans but Heygate Leaseholders Group said: "It is not powered by renewable energy. It's a gas-powered boiler."

As for transport, the 2004 plan envisaged a new pedestrian area at the northern Elephant & Castle roundabout, which is one of Europe's most dangerous junctions for cyclists.

This has also been scrapped with the new plan being to reduce the roundabout's size and increase the number of traffic lanes going around it.

"It's gone from bad to worse," said Mr Glasspool.

Southwark said: "The council with TfL are looking at options to improve the northern roundabout for cyclists and pedestrians."

Meanwhile, the residents clinging onto the Heygate have had a difficult few years.

Their heating broke down in the cold spring of 2010 and they have since relied on temporary electric hot water heaters.

"This is without a doubt taking its toll on the residents," said Mr Glasspool.

"They're very anxious."

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