REGENERATION NIGHTMARE FOR HEYGATE TENANTS – Southwark accused of ‘Rachman’ tactics

Tenants Bridget Burrows and Liz Grace, who said council housing was a major gain for working-class people
Tenants Bridget Burrows and Liz Grace, who said council housing was a major gain for working-class people

TENANTS on the Heygate Estate in south-east London have alleged that ‘Rachman tactics’ are being used to try and drive them off the estate as part of the ‘regeneration’ of Elephant and Castle.

Southwark Council has plans to demolish the estate and the neighbouring Aylesbury estate – one of the largest council estates in the country – to make way for private developers.

The ‘transformation’ of Elephant and Castle includes a 43-storey ‘Electric Razor’ tower next to Heygate.

‘I don’t want to move from here,’ Heygate tenant Liz Grace told News Line.

‘I think the council has deliberately let these flats run down.

‘I don’t want to move to a flat the size of a box.

‘I’ve got a large living room – 17ft 1in by 15ft 6ins.

‘I have three double bedrooms upstairs, a single bedroom downstairs, plus a kitchen and a patio garden.

‘I live with my husband, four daughters, my nephew, who was an orphan, and I moved onto the estate on July 4, 1974, and the estate was completed in 1975. Our family has lived in this parish for 48 years.

‘We have had no say in this whatsoever.’

Her sister Bridget Burrows, also on the estate, said: ‘They promised originally to ballot us and never did.

‘They conducted an opinion poll, but we never saw the results of it.’

Liz said: ‘They just told us that the majority of tenants wanted the estate pulled down.

‘We were actually told at one stage they would knock the estate down, section by section, rebuild and move us from A to B.’

Bridget said: ‘We were told that eventually all the people who wanted to would be able to move back onto the estate.’

Liz said: ‘We were told that they were going to build houses with off-street parking facilities.

‘And if 10 of us from one block all wanted to move together, they would consider moving us together so we did not get split up.’

Esther Grace said: ‘At this point many people had lived on the estate for 25 years. This was 10 years ago, in 1998.’

‘But all that has happened since then,’ said Bridget, ‘is the estate has been allowed to run down.

‘Any works that have been done have been essential repairs only and have been protracted.’

Esther said: ‘They also like film crews here because they want the revenue.

‘They keep filming “The Bill’’ here. It creates the impression that we are living in badlands.’

Liz continued: ‘I have a letter asking me for feedback for the repair on my flat last summer.

‘In fact, I have many such letters and you can see that the water is still pouring in.

‘Every time it rains, water just cascades down the wall in the hallway. I have to put up an umbrella as I come in and out of my house!

‘I have been told, although not officially, that the council will no longer carry out major repairs on the estate.

‘Heating and hot water are major headaches – we had no heating for five days last week.

‘Last year the council spent almost a quarter of a million pounds renewing the pipework outside all the maisonettes.

‘They dug up the pipes, they dug up people’s gardens and I described it as living in Beirut.

‘This went on for six weeks.’

Asked about the future, Liz said: ‘The council is not telling us exactly what is going on.’

Bridget said: ‘They won’t even tell the tenants association, let alone the individual tenants.’

‘They said they have a plan to demolish the whole estate,’ said Liz.

Bridget added that: ‘Richard Thomas, the Liberal Democrat councillor for East Dulwich (who was the Southwark Executive member for Regeneration), said the estate is definitely going, no matter what fuss people make.’

‘But,’ said Liz, ‘now there is a hold-up in the redevelopment plans.

‘They want to build what they call “Oakmayne Plaza’’ next to the estate.

‘They moved the children’s playground out of the park in front of Claydon last June and stuck it on part of the Heygate and it’s not used now, because it’s just become a dog’s toilet.

‘Why were the playing facilities for the children moved when almost a year on and that green is still empty?’

She asked: ‘How can we afford the kind of private flats that you see going up on the other side of Walworth Road?

‘Four years ago when they were built, a one bedroom flat was retailing for £250,000.

‘They say some of the housing will be “social housing’’, but it won’t be, it will be privately owned.

‘If this estate is redeveloped, the people who live here now will never be able to afford a mortgage.

‘Many people are moving out of the area already, because they can’t afford to live here anymore.

‘This is social cleansing of Southwark to get the working class out.

‘People are now terrified because they don’t know what is going to happen to them. They are saying: “Where am I going to move to?’’ They are going to be forced to move.

‘The plan of action is if they refuse to move, they’ll go to a county court and if necessary remove them.’

Bridget said: ‘Once you get a “Band One” status, which Kingshill block already has, if you haven’t been actively bidding to find a property within the borough, when the council deem it unsafe for you to stay in your property, they will find you a property, and if you refuse to move into it they have the right to evict you.’

‘So where are they going to move all the Aylesbury estate tenants to?’ asked Liz.

‘So obviously,’ said Bridget, ‘all the new places being built for Heygate and Aylesbury tenants are housing association places or homes for sale anyway.’

A small block of flats has been built next to Heygate Estate in Wansey Street, on the site of the old Walworth Road Town Hall car park.

‘They are painted bright orange,’ said Bridget. ‘They are “open plan’’ and they are tiny.

‘There’s lots of people on this estate with families who would never be able to fit into that tiny space and none of those flats are council properties.’

Liz said that ‘there are 1,212 homes on the Heygate, which incorporates the small block of flats on Rodney Road.

‘If you think that there’s supposedly 104 residents who are leaseholders, some of them have to be rehoused as well because they will not be able to afford to re-buy.

‘I believe the estate is being deliberately run down to get people to leave.’

Bridget said: ‘In Kingshill in the last six months it’s got worse and worse and worse.

‘My neighbour has moved now, into a housing association flat. If they are not going to let that flat to anyone, which they are not, why have the council not cleared it, secured it or taken out the essential fittings?’

Liz said: ‘We don’t all earn fat salaries.

‘There are people working for £5.85 an hour who are trying to support their families and they should have the right to council accommodation.

‘In the 1960s nobody owned their own home. You had to be a bank manager, a solicitor or a doctor to get a mortgage.

‘We are the only country in the world that has this fixation, you can’t have rented accommodation, you have to buy your own home.

‘I believe we should defend council housing and build more of it. They’re turning the clock back.’

She added: ‘It’s only a few years ago that Tony Blair came to view the Aylesbury and promised the tenants the earth and they have definitely been betrayed.’

Bridget said: ‘My son is 23. But if he doesn’t move with us, on the day we give up the tenancy he will be made homeless and will have to go to the Homeless Unit and be treated as a homeless person, and if he is lucky he will get a place in a hostel.’

Edwina, another Heygate resident, told News Line: ‘I’ve been going on the Southwark Homesearch every week and I can’t find anything in the area that I want and I was told I would be given a ground floor flat because of my arthritis.

‘I’ve been told if I don’t find anything through Southwark Homesearch, I’ll either have to go out of the area or find a bedsit.

‘And all the proposed new builds will be private housing.’

She added: ‘I think they are trying to force us all out, make us go to where they want us to go.

‘At first the council proposed we make two moves, first to Bermondsey Spa and then when these are all pulled down and rebuilt, to move back to the new build.

‘I don’t think a lot of people would be able to afford it.

‘And plus the fact that if you look round the area, where are the new builds?

‘I think the price of private housing in London is very expensive. You only have to look at the prices they are charging for one-bed places in the local estate agents.

‘I believe in council housing, definitely.

‘I come from private housing, when I was growing up, and they threw us out of there.

‘It took my parents a long time before they were housed in council accommodation and it’s the only secure, affordable accommodation for working-class people.

‘I think they should be building more council housing and improving the estates, rather than knocking them down and building private flats.’