Residents are celebrating a victory against their local authority landlord after a judge quashed its unlawful decision to demolish up to 300 homes at the High Court.
Lambeth Council was said to have “nobbled” its own Cabinet committee by calling off a consultation on refurbishment of Cressingham Gardens Estate in Tulse Hill, without carrying out the proper financial analysis.
In court, the council admitted deliberately downplaying the voice of opposition to the redevelopment of the “congenial, low crime” 1970’s estate, in a town hall report summarising residents’ views. The local authority left out resident feedback including on proposed alternative funding strategies, which it claimed were “not pertinent”.
The two-day hearing earlier this month also featured a mysterious memo, which the council claimed was the “show-stopping” document which proved the repairs were unaffordable – but was nothing of the sort.
David Wolfe, QC, for claimant Eva Bokrosova, a tenant on the estate, said: “Where’s the detailed analysis? Neither we, nor the court, have ever seen it.”
The barrister said that residents had been deprived of their right to a fair consultation. If done properly, the decision may not have been made to demolish peoples’ homes, the court heard.
The judge, Mrs Justice Elisabeth Laing, agreed Lambeth’s decision on March 9 this year was unlawful, after the council unfairly pulled the plug on three “refurbishment options”, leaving only two “demolition options” – partial or complete – on the table.
The judge added that she was “uneasy” about the memo, said to have been prepared by senior accountant Julie Curtis days before the decision.
She said: “I’ve considered the written submissions of the parties and decided that the decision on 9 March 2015 should be quashed.”
Lambeth Council has been granted leave to appeal the decision on a date to be confirmed.
Some 86 per cent of residents favour repairs over the bulldozer but the council says there is no cash to do up the homes, beside Brockwell Park, near fast-gentrifying Brixton.
The claim is hotly contested by residents who have been fighting the proposals for three years and many believe the council has deliberately starved the estate of repairs to make demolition seem inevitable. Residents expect the new development to drive up living costs, forcing them out of London and destroying a supportive community.
Council tenants wishing to remain on the new estate would lose their secure tenancies and a number of rights they now enjoy.
Homeowners, including parents with children in local schools, are facing a value gap of at least £100k on the new properties and many fear they will not be able secure mortgages.
Residents of privately-owned homes neighbouring the site are also facing compulsory purchase orders as a result of the council’s plans.
The campaign is backed by prominent heritage organisations including the 20th Century Society, Save Britain’s Heritage, and the Brixton Society, and a 2014 report by English Heritage even suggested it be included in the neighbouring park’s conservation area.
The popular estate has been described as “warm and informal…one of the nicest small schemes in England”, by Lord Esher, past president of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
In July, Lambeth agreed to flatten the entire estate and replace it with 464 new flats, including just 23 additional homes for council rent. The regeneration programme was originally launched to fill a funding gap in the borough’s Lambeth Housing Standard refurbishment programme, but more recently the local Labour administration has been pushing its densification agenda with “extra homes at council rent” being the mantra used to try and trump opposition.
Its own Equalities Impact Assessment admitted up to 60 per cent of the new homes for sale will go to buy-to-let landlords, affordable only to wealthy incomers.
This was followed in October by the decision to set up Homes for Lambeth, a private developer arm of the council which aims to build 1,000 extra homes, largely by redeveloping council estates.
Outside court, Ms Bokrosova, a mother of one, said: “The council has put me and my neighbours on Cressingham Gardens through absolute agony for three full years since the regeneration was first mentioned. It misled residents into thinking they were being consulted on a possible refurbishment of the estate but really this was just a sham. I believe they only ever had their eye on one goal – full demolition – and that they are motivated by a political agenda rather than what is best for residents. This case will hopefully make Lambeth Council think twice before mistreating people in this way and I hope that we can inspire others that with an organised effort residents can show up authorities who misuse their power for what they are – bullies.
“The quashing of the decision is a vindication of what we have been saying about the council’s appalling behaviour. All we ever wanted was a fair consultation on refurbishment and so I am thrilled that repairs are now back on the table.
“I would like to thank my solicitor Ugo Hayter of Leigh Day solicitors and my barristers David Wolfe QC and Leon Glenister, for their amazing work and support. Also a massive thank you to everyone who has supported us over the last three years.”
Full details of the judgement available here