|The News Line: Feature
Saturday, 3 October 2009
SOUTHWARK COUNCIL PREPARED TO EVICT HEYGATE ESTATE TENANTS
SOUTHWARK Council says it is prepared to take action to evict remaining tenants from the Heygate Estate, if they refuse ‘reasonable’ offers to leave the council estate in Elephant and Castle, south-east London.
The Lib Dem and Tory-run council says that there are 130 remaining tenants, 82 secure tenants, 25 non-secure tenants and 32 leaseholders still living on the estate.
The council broke promises it made to build new homes for the Heygate tenants to move ‘straight into’, under the ‘£1.5 billion’ Elephant and Castle regeneration scheme to sell-off the land to private developers.
But tenants were told they still had to move off the estate, even though a deal with regeneration partner Lend Lease had still not been signed by the July deadline.
After a September 30 deadline for clearing the estate expired, the council issued a statement from Kim Humphreys, the Tory executive member for housing, which said: ‘We will continue to rehouse people as quickly as suitable homes become available.
‘We have a legal duty to meet statutory housing needs so no one will be expected to take a property that does not meet the criteria.
‘We aim to meet reasonable housing aspirations with regards to location, floor level, etc, but we have to work with the available stock.
‘We ask that residents are open and willing to prioritise their aspirations where they all can’t be met in a single property.’
Heygate tenants have been told to use the council’s Homesearch scheme to look for alternative accommodation.
This is a scheme where they have to ‘bid’, along with people from across the borough in need of housing, for advertised properties – both council and private sector homes owned by housing associations.
But they are also now being given ‘direct offers’, which could lead to evictions if tenants refuse to take them.
‘We had unusual conditions because we had the Lakanal emergency,’ a Southwark Council spokesman said, referring to the fire in Camberwell this summer in which six people died.
‘Direct offers will continue to be given,’ the spokesman continued. ‘The council is working very hard with the remaining tenants.’
Southwark’s spokesman said the council was working ‘closely with residents’ to get ‘as close to what they want with what’s available’.
But the spokesman added that ‘we have evicted people’, including a secure tenant who owed ‘thousands of pounds in rent that they refused to pay’.
Southwark’s spokesman said evictions are a ‘possibility’, if the council feels there is not a good reason for a tenant refusing a direct offer of alternative accommodation from the council.
There may be eviction proceedings against remaining tenants who refuse direct offers that the council considers reasonable, but this would be decided on an individual basis, continued the spokesman, who also said that tenants who reasonably refused an offer could be given another one.
But ‘if we think it’s a suitable offer, according to the individual circumstances’, then action could be taken, said the spokesman.
‘But it’s not in every case. It’s a last resort. It is not a blanket approach,’ the council’s spokesman added.
In August, local Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes declared that he was not giving Southwark Council an easy time.
But Hughes said tenants should be ready to leave the estate, saying: ‘It would be silly to stop now . . . the estate has to be ready for when the deal is signed’.
Hughes said tenants must be ready to accept the council had made them a fair offer, should a decision go against them.
He said: ‘Among the families I have been working with are two families whose cases have been to court. . . In these cases, the council appears to have acted properly and on both cases the judge has agreed with this.
‘Happily, even once an eviction order has been agreed, it is possible to come to a reasonable arrangement with the council about rehousing. I continue to support these families in these discussions.’
But tenants who have resisted the council’s eviction threats say they have not been given reasonable offers and are demanding that the estate is reopened and refurbished, and those tenants who want to move back are allowed to do so.
These are the demands of the South-East London Council of Action, which was set up to oppose the destruction of council homes on Heygate and Aylesbury estates.
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