Around 200 people joined the March for Aylesbury in Southwark, south London, yesterday to protest against longstanding plans to demolish the Aylesbury council estate. Residents are demanding that Labour-run Southwark council refurbishes their 2,400 homes instead.
The march started with a rally at Burgess Park before marching down Albany Road, through the estate, past its now demolished neighbour the Heygate estate, and up Walworth Road.
Around two thirds of the protesters were local residents, with another third made up of housing activists from around London. The march was called by Defend Council Housing, the South London People’s Assembly and Aylesbury Tenants & Leaseholders First.
“We all want secure council homes we can afford, in a community that works,” said Aylesbury resident and activist Aysen Dennis. “Demolition means loss of all that, replaced with more homes for the better-off. With 21,000 on Southwark’s housing waiting list, we need more council homes – not this social cleansing.”
The mood of the march was angry but upbeat, livened by a drum & bass sound system and continuous chanting on the mic. The campaign to save the Aylesbury has received a boost in recent weeks with a high-profile protest occupation of some of the empty flats on the estate.
The occupiers have been playing cat and mouse with the authorities, occupying, getting evicted, then reoccupying new areas of the estate. Large purple barriers crowned with spikes block off restricted areas. They are constantly repainted to remove the slogans that spring up on them.
After the march protesters attempted to enter the barred-off areas. There were scuffles and angry scenes as police and security staff tried to stop them. A few occupiers managed to break through successfully.
The Aylesbury is one of the largest social housing projects in Europe. Tenants voted overwhelmingly in 2001 to reject plans to transfer out of council control. Southwark responded in 2005 by announcing that the estate would be demolished.
The neighbouring Heygate estate has now been demolished and sold to Lend Lease for a private development. Just 79 of the 2,535 houses due to be built there will be social housing. Southwark sold the 22-acre site for just £50 million, according to leaked council documents.
Housing in London is in complete crisis as private capital snaps up properties as investments and rents spiral out of control. This is compounded by years of diminishing council housing stocks overseen by successive Tory, Labour and coalition governments.
The Aylesbury campaign is one of several housing struggles to have broken out in the capital recently: others include Sweets Way in Barnet, the Guinness estate in Lambeth, New Era in Hackney and Focus E15 in Newham.
More rs21 coverage of housing:
- 26 Feb: Struggles, but not yet a movement
- 22 Feb: The assault on London housing rights
- 3 Feb: Homes for people — not for profit
(pictures, video and report by Anindya Bhattacharyya)