Residents resist demolition

Residents resist demolition


You would never guess from inside Beverley Robinson's tidy flat, with its potted plants, family photos and panoramic view of London, that her building is awaiting demolition.

But the corridor outside is eerily quiet and the children's playground downstairs lies empty and overgrown. Most neighbours have left and their old flats are shuttered up to deter squatters.

. London, UNITED KINGDOM. Reuters/Dylan Martinez

The building is cut off from the street by a fence topped with sharp metal blades and manned by security guards. For the last few remaining residents, simple things like receiving deliveries have become arduous.

This is one of the flashpoints in London's housing crisis.

Unaffordable rents and long waiting lists for social housing have made it harder and harder for people on low incomes to find homes in London, where average property prices have risen by 90 percent over the past 10 years, far outstripping income growth.

. London, UNITED KINGDOM. Reuters/Dylan Martinez

Robinson and a few others are resisting a 1.5-billion-pound ($1.9-billion), two-decade scheme to flatten the dilapidated Aylesbury Estate, one of Britain's largest social housing projects, and build thousands of new homes in its place.

The rest of the estate remains fully inhabited, but the section where Robinson lives is being emptied because it is the first due to come down.

"I can't move because I've got nowhere to go," she said.

Robinson owns her flat and has lived in it for 28 years. She says the 225,000 pounds she has been offered for it by the local authority, Southwark Council, is nowhere near enough for her to buy a comparable property in the area.

. London, UNITED KINGDOM. Reuters/Dylan Martinez

The average price of a flat in Southwark is 470,000 pounds and has more than doubled over the past decade, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The council says homeowners like Robinson have been offered shared equity in new homes where they can live rent free.

. London, UNITED KINGDOM. Reuters/Dylan Martinez

Robinson says the offer is unaffordable, and she wants the security of full ownership.

"They talk about this brand new sparkling development, but when you read the small print it's a different story," she said.

. London, UNITED KINGDOM. Reuters/Dylan Martinez

She and seven other Aylesbury homeowners won a rare victory last month when the government blocked the forced purchase of their homes by the council, citing human rights concerns and saying the council had not sufficiently negotiated.

Southwark will go to court to challenge the decision, which it said jeopardised a scheme that will deliver quality affordable housing for thousands of Londoners.

. London, UNITED KINGDOM. Reuters/Dylan Martinez

Built in the 1960s and 70s, the Aylesbury has 2,750 homes, mostly in rows of monolithic grey blocks. Many residents say it has been a good home and community, but has suffered neglect.

"We've been reported as hell's waiting room but it's not true," said Jean Bartlett, a tenant for 40 years.

. London, UNITED KINGDOM. Reuters/Dylan Martinez

The council says the estate is poor quality housing. It has sold the site to a company that will build 3,575 new homes there, a mix of private homes for sale at market rates and others available to rent or part-buy under affordable schemes.

While the total number of homes on the site will rise, the number available at low social rents will drop by 40 percent.

Southwark says those losing their homes on the Aylesbury will be helped to find new ones, either as social tenants or as buyers. It says many residents support the scheme.

. London, UNITED KINGDOM. Reuters/Dylan Martinez

Bartlett, who chairs a residents' association, is one of them, even though her pristine ground-floor home with a large garden where she grows flowers and vegetables will eventually be demolished.

She said regeneration was residents' best hope of moving to better housing, but added that people felt very differently about the scheme depending on individual circumstances, such as whether they were tenants or homeowners.

"Some want it, some don't," she said.

Bartlett felt the bigger picture was that there just wasn't enough social housing in London, while private rentals were too expensive.

"I'm mortified about the housing crisis in London," she said. "I fear for my grandchildren."

. London, UNITED KINGDOM. Reuters/Dylan Martinez