Cressingham decision ‘unlawful’ judge rules

Written by on November 24, 2015 in Council, Housing, News - 4 Comments
Eva Bokrosova

Eva Bokrosova outside the Hight Court

Eva Bokrosova, the Cressingham Gardens resident who today scored a stunning High Court victory over Lambeth council, has accused the council of being bullies motivated by a political agenda rather than what is best for residents.

Residents celebrated after Justice Elisabeth Laing ruled that council decisions on consultations over demolition of up to 300 homes were unlawful.

Cllr Matthew Bennett, the council’s cabinet member for housing, said: “We are disappointed at this judgement, but we will fully comply with the judge’s decision”.  But the council repeated that it could not afford required repairs to homes on the estate.

The council was said in court to have “nobbled” its own cabinet by calling off a consultation on refurbishment of the estate overlooking Brockwell Park without carrying out a proper financial analysis.

In court, the council admitted downplaying opposition to the redevelopment of the estate in a report summarising residents’ views. It left out residents’ feedback including proposed alternative funding strategies, which it claimed were “not pertinent”.

The two-day hearing earlier this month also featured a document which the council claimed was “show-stopping” by proving repairs were unaffordable. But Ms Bokrosova, a tenant on the estate, said it was nothing of the sort.

David Wolfe, her barrister, said: “Where’s the detailed analysis? Neither we, nor the court, have ever seen it.” The QC 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.

Mrs Justice Elisabeth Laing agreed the council’s decision on 9 March this year was unlawful. It had 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 a memo said to have been prepared by council senior accountant Julie Curtis days before the decision.

The council has been granted leave to appeal the decision on a date to be confirmed.

The Save Cressingham gardens campaign said 86 per cent of residents favoured repairs over demolition – a figure disputed by the council.

Residents contest the council’s claim that there is not enough cash to bring the estate up to standard. They have been fighting the proposals for three years and the campaign believes the council has starved the estate of repairs to make demolition seem inevitable.

They believe the proposed new development – close to rapidly gentrifying Brixton – would 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 secure tenancies and other rights.

Homeowners, including parents with children in local schools, would face a value gap of at least £100,000 on the new properties and many fear they would not be able secure mortgages.

Residents of privately owned homes neighbouring the site face compulsory purchase orders as a result of the council’s plans.

The campaign against demolition is backed by prominent heritage organisations including the 20th Century Society, Save Britain’s Heritage, and the Brixton Society. A 2014 report by English Heritage even suggested the estate be included in Brockwell Park’s conservation area.

In July, Lambeth agreed to flatten the entire estate and replace it with 464 new flats, including only 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. Ms Bokrosova accused the Labour administration of pushing its “densification agenda”. She said: “Extra homes at council rent is the mantra used to try and trump opposition”.

She said the council’s own equalities impact assessment said up to 60 per cent of the new homes for sale would go to buy-to-let landlords and be affordable only to the wealthy.

In October the council set up Homes for Lambeth, a private development arm of the council, that hopes to build 1,000 homes, largely by redeveloping council estates.

Ms Bokrosova 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 say a massive thank you to everyone who has supported us over the last three years.”

Cllr Bennett said: “We will take a report on the proposals back to cabinet as soon as possible, and residents will have their chance to comment on all the options during that process.

“However, we have said previously that full refurbishment of the estate or a significant proportion of the estate is currently unaffordable within the constraints of the housing revenue account.

“After detailed work with residents and experts, the council concluded in February 2015 that refurbishment was unaffordable and that to continue to consult on something that could not be delivered would be misleading to residents.”

Cllr Tim Briggs, leader of the Conservative group on the council, said that he had raised the issue of Lambeth’s “flawed consultations” in July over the Loughborough Junction road closures, saying they dealt with residents “in a disrespectful and inhuman manner”. He called for all decisions on the redevelopment of other estates to be recalled to the council cabinet and for councillors Lib Peck and Matthew Bennett to resign.

The council said it had already drawn up proposals to address issues highlighted by Mrs Justice Laing and to give residents and other interested parties the opportunity to express views on options for Cressingham Gardens.

A new report, covering all five of the options put forward will go to cabinet.

The council said residents would be able to give their opinion on each option, including on its affordability.

It said the process would start immediately as it recognised that residents needed certainty about the future of their homes as soon as possible.

The council said it would also hold more meetings with residents to discuss the best way of securing lasting improvements for Cressingham Gardens.

The estate is one of six in the council’s estate regeneration programme.

The council said it was estimated that the cost of bringing Cressingham Gardens up to the Lambeth housing standard would be £9.4m. The original 2012 Lambeth housing standard business plan included a provision of £3.4m for these works.

Report based on post on savecressinghamgardens blog.

Lambeth’s full statement.

 

About the Author

Alan Slingsby moved to Brixton just as the 1981 uprising began. His nearest pub was the Effra and nearest off licence the Frontline — long gone in an earlier wave of closures of treasured community establishments. He works out of an office in St Matthews and before that the Bon Marché. Has edited newspapers for the National Union of Students and National Union of Teachers. Now makes a living designing magazines and books and anything else people will pay him for.