Council tenants picketing with the Council of Action outside Southwark Town Hall on Wednesday night
Council tenants picketing with the Council of Action outside Southwark Town Hall on Wednesday night

‘STOP evictions from Heygate estate!’ demanded a picket by Heygate tenants and the South-East London Council of Action, outside Southwark Town Hall last Wednesday night.

Tenants held placards demanding things like ‘Homes before Profits’ next to the Council of Action banner, which declared: ‘We’re not moving!’

Some local Labour councillors, under massive pressure, had proposed a motion to the Southwark Council assembly meeting deploring the treatment of the Heygate estate tenants and calling for a halt to evictions until ‘sufficient new accommodation is available for them to move straight into’.

But tenants on the council estate, next to south London’s Elephant and Castle shopping centre, don’t want to leave.

They are demanding that the money promised for ‘regeneration’ is spent on improving their existing homes instead.

They have already seen Southwark Council break its promises that the ‘regeneration’ of Elephant and Castle would mean ‘one move’ straight into new homes.

And they see last Wednesday’s motion to the council as a reflection of the struggle they are putting up and the impact it has had.

In a leaflet, the South-East London Council of Action said: ‘Southwark Council is proceeding with evictions of tenants on the Heygate estate in preparation for selling the land to private developers.

‘They have ignored the decisions of the tenants who do not wish to move and lose their homes and their council tenancies.

‘They are also not offering any alternative decent accommodation.

‘Why should tenants be forced to move into second class, or worse, housing so that big property developers can make huge profits out of the area.

‘The government has poured billions of pounds into the banks to save them, it has done nothing for the working class or tenants to save their homes.

‘We are entitled to decent housing and a secure home for life’.

The South-East London Council of Action says:

• ‘Halt all evictions!’

• ‘Defend our council homes!’

• ‘Drive out the speculators who deprive tenants of their future’.

Vally Wilson, secretary of the South-East London Council of Action, said: ‘We had a good demonstration this evening.

‘It’s a disgrace with the council’s ongoing evictions against all the protests of the tenants, some of whom turned up today to protest with us outside the Town Hall.

‘We need to mobilise the tenants and trade unionists of Southwark to stop council housing being smashed up and sold off to private developers.’

Helen O’Brien, a member of the Heygate Tenants and Residents Association, said: ‘We’ve come down here to demonstrate against the issuing of letters seeking possession and to quit their homes to some Heygate tenants.

‘I’ve lived on the Heygate estate for 34 years.

‘I’ve never been in rent arrears. I’ve done a lot of work in the community.

‘I’ve got a civic award from Southwark Council four years ago.

‘I was a school teacher in Southwark for 32 years and I don’t want to move.

‘I’m also disabled now. I don’t want to move.’

Heygate campaigner Jerry Flynn said: ‘The Heygate tenants are being treated appallingly.

‘They are denying that they are evicting people, but they are issuing notices to quit.

‘Tenants who have lived on the estate for 35 years have now received eviction notices.

‘There should be a campaign to defend the Heygate tenants.

‘Heygate tenants are secure tenants. They thought they were safe, but they’re not.

‘This is a matter for every tenant in Southwark to be aware of.’

Henry Mott, from the nearby Alberta estate and a member of Southwark Defend Council Housing, said: ‘As a council tenant, a Southwark council tenant, I’m here to demonstrate against the latest stage of poor council housing management.

‘As local councillors, they’re just failing severely the interests of local council tenants.

‘They should be investing in the estates and calling on the government for further investment in council housing.

‘I’m a believer in council housing, not privatisation.

‘I want to stop all evictions from the Heygate. I think it’s obscene.’

A Southwark Council spokesman told News Line that the motion submitted to Wednesday night’s council assembly had been rejected by the majority of councillors, but was unable to supply voting figures.

The council is currently run by a coalition between the Liberal Democrats and the Tories.

The motion to the council assembly said: ‘Homes on the Heygate estate are scheduled to be demolished and the residents subject either to eviction or compulsory purchase.

‘Heygate tenants are now undergoing an enforced two moves policy, causing considerable disruption to their ability to access work, schooling and services as well as widespread anxiety and distress (as acknowledged by the council’s own decision to subsidise workshops on combating stress).

‘Those few residents who have bid successfully via Homesearch have often found the properties they have been offered have not met basic standards of cleanliness, repair or amenity before their scheduled move-in date.

‘Leaseholders subject to compulsory purchase orders have seen the value of their properties artificially depressed by the council’s own mis-management of the estate – both through the poor provision of cleansing and security services and the omission of several years worth of external works.

‘Some residents complain of feeling bullied and harassed into bidding for properties which are not suitable for the needs of their family. . .

‘Many council tenants would rather stay in the homes they have in the community they know and love, but they were prepared to cooperate with the regeneration process because they were promised a direct move into new housing association properties.

‘. . . promises to Heygate residents have been broken as a result of the failure of the Council to deliver early decant housing sites.

‘Residents have been given unrealistic timescales in which to access properties through Homesearch and the council’s failure to provide new registered social landlord properties on time has added considerable new pressure on existing stock.’

The motion called on Southwark Council’s executive to:

• ‘Not evict Heygate tenants or leaseholders from their home until sufficient new accommodation is available for them to move straight into.

• ‘Make a revised phasing plan available to all Heygate residents and publish detailed plans of when new properties will be completed.

• ‘Provide compensation to leaseholders for the service charges that have been paid for services not delivered, in lieu of fair and realistic evaluations of the value of their property.’