LONDON Oct 18 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
For a Reuters Wider Image photo essay, click on: reut.rs/2eMhQX0
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.
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.
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.
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
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
"I'm mortified about the housing crisis in London," she
said. "I fear for my grandchildren."
($1 = 0.8042 pounds)
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)