Residents of a popular council estate are embarking on their second High Court battle in 12 months, after a judge granted permission for a judicial review of a decision to demolish their homes.
Mrs Justice Juliet May ruled on Friday that Andy Plant, a resident of Cressingham Gardens estate, near Brixton in south London, can bring the second challenge against the London Borough of Lambeth on all the grounds listed below.
In November last year, another resident of the estate Eva Bokrosova, won her case against the local authority which had unlawfully resolved to flatten the estate’s 306 homes. Mrs Justice Elisabeth Laing quashed the decision after finding Lambeth had unfairly dropped refurbishment options from the consultation.
Lambeth council’s cabinet rubber-stamped the proposed £110m full redevelopment option at a meeting on March 21, following a brief consultation early this year. As part of the resumed consultation, the council had agreed to consider ‘The People’s Plan’ – a lengthy consultation response compiled by residents, including Mr Plant.
The resident-devised alternative not only saves most of the homes with a refurbishment programme, but also increases the number of council-rented homes by 34, beating Lambeth’s proposals for 27 extra homes at council rent levels. The council can only achieve this through full demolition, and privatisation of the redeveloped estate.
The cost of the council’s controversial plan is projected to exceed £100 million, compared to the residents’ proposal, which would cost a fraction.
The council proposes to achieve its aim through setting up a specially created private company known as a special purpose vehicle (SPV), which would be used to raise funds. Following demolition, the land would be transferred to the SPV and private investors would be signed up to finance the redevelopment. The new estate would therefore be privately-owned, rather than council-owned, so placing the homes at risk of being sold off.
Residents choosing to remain would lose their secure ‘council tenant’ status including the ‘right to buy’ and associated statutory rights. Lambeth has also admitted that living costs will rise for those living on the redeveloped estate.
Lambeth’s swift re-consultation – which started at the end of January, and ended on March 4 – concluded again that any options entailing a degree of refurbishment, including ‘The People’s Plan’, were all unaffordable, blaming Housing Revenue Account (HRA) constraints and central government cuts.
At the High Court on Friday, August 19, this year, Mrs Justice May granted permission to allow Mr Plant to challenge the council’s consultation and subsequent decision.
In four grounds of claim, Mr Plant argues that Lambeth council’s decision to demolish the estate is unfair, and unlawful because the council:
- Erroneously included a £7.5m loan to the SPV in its calculation of the Net Present Value (NPV), which would have otherwise for each of the options resulted in its own preferred demolition option failing the ‘must achieve criteria’;
- Misled its own Cabinet members as to ‘The People’s Plan’ and/or the members failed conscientiously to take into account key aspects of key aspects of this consultation response;
- Failed to provide up-to-date data relating to the HRA finances to either the consultees or the Cabinet members, such that they were (respectively) not properly able to comment on or take into account the data; and
- Breached his right to property under Article 1, Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, combined with his right to respect for a home, by removing his existing ‘Right to Buy’ contrary to current government policy.
Lambeth council now have 35 days from the judge’s decision to file and serve their detailed grounds of defence. The date for the judicial review hearing has yet to be fixed, but is likely to take place at the Royal Courts of Justice in London towards the end of the year.
If the judge agrees the decision was unlawful, it could be quashed for the second time and have far-reaching implications for other local authorities across the UK.
Lawyers are now also preparing an interim injunction application to prevent Lambeth council from taking further steps and committing more taxpayers’ money in furtherance of their plans to demolish this much-loved estate. The case is expected to be heard by the end of September.
Acting for Mr Plant, Rowan Smith, a human rights solicitor at Leigh Day, said: “We are encouraged by Mrs Justice May’s decision to allow full scrutiny of Lambeth council’s decision-making on the future of the Cressingham Gardens Estate, albeit that we would have preferred for Lambeth council to have made a lawful decision at the outset.
“Despite resistance from Lambeth council, the fact that permission was granted on all four grounds demonstrates the arguability of the arguments put forward by Mr Plant in this and confirms that there is indeed a case to be answered.”
Mr Plant commented: “Once again, residents of Cressingham Gardens were dealt an unfair blow.
“It’s very sad that we’ve had to take this step, but it is in response to what we see as cavalier behaviour on the part of Lambeth councillors and officers, where they seemingly treat public property as if it’s part of a game of Monopoly.
“I can see for myself that their privatisation plans have the potential to devastate the lives of real people (tenants and homeowners), and are likely to jeopardise the future of true council housing in the borough for generations to come whilst doing almost nothing to help those on the housing waiting list.
“On the contrary, many of our residents might well find themselves unable to find secure housing locally as a result”.
Cressingham Gardens residents first learned their homes were under threat in the summer of 2012, when Lambeth launched its regeneration programme, which now includes six of the borough’s estates: Cressingham Gardens, Central Hill, Westbury, Fenwick, Knights Hill and South Lambeth.
In February 2014 the council suggested five options for discussion by Cressingham Gardens residents, that were the subject of the first consultation.
The options were:
- Option 1 – Refurbishing the estate and bringing all council tenant homes up to decent homes standard, including the six void flats that have stood empty for over 15 years;
- Options 2 and 3 – Refurbishing as in Option 1, plus infilling to create new homes.
- Option 4 – Partial demolition of the estate, with the net extra in new build homes sold at top market price
- Option 5 – Full demolition and rebuilding of the estate at higher density
The local authority has consistently promoted Option 5, despite a clear majority of residents favouring a refurbishment-led option.
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