What happened to our new homes? Having been denied a ballot on the future of our homes, we were told by the council that it simply didn't have the money to maintain the estate. Residents were promised new homes as a consolation - either in the new Heygate development or in a number of so-called 'early housing' sites: the council had planned to work in partnership with housing associations to build 1,100 new social rented homes on 16 council-owned plots of land located around the Elephant & Castle, which would replace the 1,100 units to be lost on the Heygate. The idea was that the council would give away free plots of land to housing assocations, which would build new homes in a mix of private and affordable units - the affordable units being subsidised by the free land, and the sale of private units plus grant funding. The 16 'early housing' sites were laid out in a glossy rehousing information pack issued to us in Autumn 2004, showing the sites in detail so that we could select which of the new homes we wanted to move into. The foreword to the information pack included the following pledge from deputy leader Cllr Cathy Bowman: "We have made sure that the construction of your new homes is the first thing that happens in this regeneration scheme." But many of the 16 council-owned sites earmarked for the replacement housing happened to be green spaces and play areas located on other housing estates in the area. This naturally met with fierce opposition from residents of those estates, and by 2007 not one of the early housing sites had been built or had even obtained planning permission. Nevertheless, by this time some Heygate tenants had already been engaged in selecting the architects for the replacement housing sites, and in assisting with the design of what were supposed to become our new homes. This Jan 2007 newsletter invites residents to "start thinking about the layout and decoration of your new home, for example if you would prefer an open layout or separate kitchen/diner." However, Following the selection of Lend Lease as the council's development partner later that year, there was a major shake up on the council's project team following the appointment of a development team led by Lend Lease; under which a new Strategic Director (Stephen McDonald) was brought in, whose first action was to order the immediate decanting of the estate's residents into existing council stock elsewhere in the borough. McDonald had a report drawn up called the 'Heygate Action Plan', which made various unsupported claims that "the existing fabric of some parts of the estate have become unsustainable" and required immediate evacuation "because of significant concerns about maintaining community safety and the decaying infrastructure of the estate." Under the consultation section of the report - where officers must usually show that decisions have been consulted upon - it states that there will be a "a general process to communicate the change." Shortly after the 'Heygate Action Plan' was approved, Chris Horn - the council's former project director - handed in his resignation.
The controversial new 'Action Plan' stated that tenants would be moved into existing council stock elsewhere in the borough, and would then be able to move back once the replacement homes at the Elephant had been built. There was natually significant protest at the revised plans, and concern that there weren't a sufficient number of properties available in the council's existing stock. A severe lack of properties with disabled access meant that most tenants with special housing needs were left waiting the longest, with many being forced into unsuitable accommodation. In Sep 2010 a tenant who was an amputee was offered a property with a spiral staircase. Tenants were told that if they didn't accept the homes they were being offered they could face a winter without heating and be moved into temporary accommodation on health & safety grounds. There was naturally much disquiet amongst residents, so in a blatant attempt to pathologise and therapeuticise discontent the council offered residents 'Happiness Therapy' from the 'Happiness Project' - a company founded by Robert Holden - one of the country's leading positive psychologists, author of best-selling book 'Shift Happens!' and star of a BBC QED documentary series.
However, the happiness therapy failed to allay residents' concerns so they demanded a legal agreement be drawn up ensuring that they would be able to return to the new homes as promised. A 'Right to Return' document was drafted but with the caveat that it was only valid for 7 years up to 2015. A three year delay ensued before developer Lend Lease signed the final regeneration agreement, and we now know that only 8 social rented homes are due to have been completed on the first phase of development within the Heygate footprint by 2015. In June 2009 all remaining tenants left on the estate were offered guided tours to help 'find out more about what different areas of the borough had to offer'.
Documents show that tenants who either failed to successfully bid on a property within 6 months or who rejected three offers of a replacement home were systematically subjected to eviction proceedings under the 1985 Landlord & Tenant Act. According to a document tabled during the Feb 2013 Public Inquiry, a total of 198 households were issued with 'Notices to Seek Possession'. Many were dissatisfied with the process and because of the lack of council homes in the borough, many claim they were forced to move into unsuitable alternative accommodation. An internal report from Oct 2008 shows a total of 315 households bidding on just 35 available properties in the council's homesearch system.The number of social rented units planned for the 'early' replacement housing sites has since been reduced from 1,100 to just 553; only 209 of which had been completed by Jan 2013, and to which just 45 Heygate tenants had since returned - the rest remain in the council homes elsewhere in the borough that they were moved into when they were moved off the estate. From a Freedom of Information request, we now know that of the original 1034 secure tenanted households only 216 have remained in the SE17 postcode - the remainder have been scattered across the four corners of the borough and beyond :
"There should have been new homes built for residents before they moved. That didn't happen. But they've got the right to return."Cllr. Fiona Colley, Cabinet Member for Regeneration - http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/mar/04/death-housing-ideal
Leaseholders were originally promised a 'retained equity' option - assisting them in buying one of the new-build Heygate homes or one of those on the 16 'early housing' sites. But the retained equity option never got written into the final agreement with developer Lend Lease or any of the housing associations developing the 'early housing' sites. When asked at the recent CPO public inquiry why leaseholders didn't get the new homes that they had been promised, the council's lead officer replied "I don't know, I wasn't employed by the council at the time the promises were made. But the new homes will be open for anybody to purchase and I am sure Lend Lease will be happy to sell to anybody.": Leaseholders were also initially offered a cost-free exchange for another council-owned flat elsewhere in the borough. But this was later withdrawn in favour of shared ownership as the council argued that it didn't have any properties anywhere in the borough that were as low in value as it deemed those on Heygate to be. Most leaseholders have subsequently been forced to relocate outside central London because of the low valuations offered in compensation for their homes. Any leaseholder wanting to return to the Heygate will have to compete with overseas buyers at market prices well beyond their means. New-build Heyate homes are currently being sold at prices starting from £330,000 for a studio flat. Analysis of information received from FOI requests shows that the average compensation received by leaseholders for their homes is as follows:
In a recent interview with Property Week magazine, former Heygate leaseholder Terry Redpath said "We could no longer afford to stay in the area: the compensation we received plus £45,000 of life savings bought us a terraced property 15 miles out of London. I feel that we have been forced to give up our home to accommodate the building of homes for overseas investors.”
Redpath is a former Southwark housing officer who lived on the estate for 35 years, and whose family has lived in the area for generations. On average the compensation paid to leaseholders amounts to around a quarter of the price of the new Heygate homes, which are currently being marketed in China, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.
'Land banking' by Lend Lease meant that it was February 2013 before the council had served the CPO and the case was to be heard before an inspector at a public inquiry. By this time just a handful of leaseholders had survived a war of attrition and were left to table their objections. Remaining resident Mojisola Ojeikere sums up the leaseholders' plight: "It was a long and weary struggle. The council valued our 2-bed flat at just £150,000 and refused point blank to agree with our surveyor's valuation of £200,000. Effectively, what the council said was "take it or leave it, if you don't agree with our valuation then sue us!" We considered litigation, but the lawyers' fees and risk of losing against the council's top barristers meant that we would have been putting our entire livelihood on the line, especially seeing as it would have taken around a year before the case would have been heard and decision issued. In October 2012 all four remaining leaseholders on the estate contacted an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service in an attempt to seek mediation rather than face CPO court proceedings. However, despite Govt CPO guidance urging local authorities to explore Alternative Dispute Resolution techniques, Southwark rejected outright the possibility of mediation. The leaked Regeneration Agreement between Southwark and Lend Lease showed that whilst all CPO costs were borne by the council, Lend Lease had the right to determine when and how to implement the CPO.
 'Council Rules Out Vote for Future of Heygate' - Southwark News, 3rd April 2003.
 See paragraphs 5.12 and 5.16, Project Director Jon Abbot's Statement of Evidence - Heygate CPO public Inquiry 5th Feb 2013.
 See paragraph 26 of the 2005 Leaseholder Policy and also paragraphs 4 & 33 of the Executive Report - 'Heygate Estate Decant Arrangements', 18 May 2004: "Council Executive agrees to develop housing options for leaseholders whose interests will be acquired as part of the main scheme, including shared and retained equity arrangements. The negotiation of shared ownership and retained equity schemes for people to buy a share in a higher valued property will form part of the procurement exercise to select housing association and developer partners."
 See paragraph 3.4 of Southwark Council's proof of evidence at Feb 2013 CPO public inquiry.
 See para. 26 of the 06/2004 Govt CPO Guidance:"In the interests of speed and fostering good will, acquiring authorities are urged to consider offering those with concerns about a compulsory purchase order full access to alternative dispute resolution (ADR) techniques."
 See para. 5.5 of the Regeneration Agreement: The Council acknowledges that the Council shall be wholly responsible for the costs of obtaining and implementing any CPO.
 See para. 5.10.1 of the Regeneration Agreement: "The council will have due regard to the views of the Developer in setting the strategy for pursuing the CPO."
 The practice by developers of holding land for years and waiting for prices to rise before building - during which time the land is classed as an asset on its balance sheet and used as collateral.