End of an area for notorious Heygate estate: social housing gives way for high rise in prices

As a leaseholder is
evicted, residents are priced out of its replacement

The south London estate where Adrian Glasspool has lived for the last 16 years was considered so ugly that its towers and walkways were the location of choice for film-makers wanting to depict urban dystopia. But for Mr Glasspool, his home in the Heygate was worth holding on to.

At lunchtime on Wednesday the 39-year-old teacher had to be forcibly evicted from his three-bedroom maisonette after years of fighting with Southwark Council to get a fair price for his home. His is one of 1,260 flats and maisonettes – most of which are social housing – that will be torn down in the coming months to be replaced by a new development where a home of an equivalent size would cost upwards of £1m. Residents began moving out in 2008, but Mr Glasspool held on until the last, so outraged was he at what the council was doing with the site.

His story – and those of others on the estate – is repeated across London and Britain, where social housing is being sold off and homes with favourable locations become the preserve of the rich.

There were 1,200 social rented units in the Heygate, creating a home in central London for around 3,000 people who would otherwise be priced out of the area. Of the 2,535 homes in the new Lend Lease development on the same site, just 79 will be rented social housing.

The picture for those like Mr Glasspool, who had a leasehold, is similar. None of the residents with leaseholds displaced from the Heygate have got property on the new development on the same site – and the difference in cost means they could not hope to.

The average value offered by the council when buying up Heygate properties was £95,480 for a one-bedroom flat and £107,230 for a two-bed. Even a four-bed maisonette would raise, on average, just £177,420. Yet the cheapest place to buy on the new development will be a one-bedroom flat for £350,000. None of its 284 homes, currently priced up to £1.1m, will be offered at a discount to former Heygate residents.

In the final days, after apparently defying an eviction order, Mr Glasspool kept himself holed up inside, and security guards believed he had enough supplies to stay for weeks.

Sources said he was traumatised by the eviction, but Mr Glasspool told The Independent he is fine but can no longer speak publicly for legal reasons. In an interview last year he said: “The purchase order will result in us being dispossessed of our homes and permanently priced out of central London. Residents are being displaced and the housing is being replaced with a citadel of luxury housing we won’t be able to afford.”

Jerry Flynn, a housing campaigner and former resident of the estate, told The Independent: “A lot of promises were made about what the redevelopment would mean for Heygate residents and none of them have been kept. [Southwark] said they’d rehouse people on the footprint itself and that hasn’t happened. Southwark Council’s attitude to local people has been pretty bad. They’ve treated them very shabbily. Their attitude to new people moving in with more money is a bit different though.”

Built in 1974, the Heygate in Elephant and Castle was designed by architect Tim Tinker, who was hoping to create a social ideal by giving thousands of people a functioning, affordable home at the heart of the capital. The new luxury flats which replace it are being marketed around the world – with adverts spotted in China, Malaysia, and Hong Kong.

Unlike many similar estates, whose tearing apart has gone almost undocumented, the many bloggers living in and around the Heygate have charted every minute of its demise. Its former inhabitants have posted statements online which read like poignant epitaphs for another era in London. Helen O’Brien, a resident from the estate’s inception to 2009, recalls the joys of arriving at a flat with hot running water and the sense of community that was fostered.

Another resident, Terry Redpath, who lived on the estate from 1974 to 2008, said he felt pressured into selling, eventually only able to afford a property 15 miles away after adding in £40,000 of life savings. His statement encapsulates the frustrations of many: “We have been forced to give up our homes at a totally unrealistic price, in order to enable a private developer to build luxury properties none of us will be able to afford.”

Mara Ferreri, an urban researcher at Queen Mary University of London, who gave evidence at a public enquiry about the compulsory purchase of the flats in February, said: “Most of the households in council accommodation have been re-housed in existing council properties, causing a shortfall in social housing available in a borough that has a 25,000-strong waiting list.”

Councillor Fiona Colley, Southwark Council cabinet member for regeneration, said: “Local people can look forward to seeing brighter, safer streets emerge with over 1,650 affordable homes, as part of a £3bn investment to transform the area for the better.”

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