Public Interest Law Centre

public law | human rights | legal action

17Apr 2024

Refurbish Don’t Demolish

17th April 2024|Gentrification, Housing|

Saskia O’Hara shares legal routes available to housing campaigners in South Thamesmead.

PILC’s Saskia O’Hara joined residents, tenants and campaigners at the Lesnes estate in South Thamesmead to host a workshop about how to use the law as a tool in their campaign. 

PILC is representing a resident on the estate as part of our gentrification project. Saskia was invited down to speak to residents about the process of planning and the law, explain the legal challenges that are available, and share lessons learned from other estates and campaigns. 

Campaigners known as ‘LesRes’ (Lesnes Resistance) gathered to protest the Peabody’s plans that, if actioned, could see hundreds of people forced out of their homes. 

“With a new fast connection into central London, the area is ripe for profiteers, and around 600 homes on this mid-60s built estate are facing demolition” says Real Media.

The residents on the estate are demanding that the Director of Peabody, John Lewis, meets with residents to discuss: 

  • Filling the empty homes, and refurbishing them instead of demolishing them
  • Protecting social housing, protecting their environment and stopping the social cleansing of the community. 

PILC will continue to work with residents by using the law as a tool to help them achieve the aims of their campaign. 

To support the campaign, sign their petition here. Follow the LesRes campaign on twitter to keep up to date and amplify their demands. 

So often, developers treat people’s homes as disposable in the pursuit of profit.

But PILC supports tenants and homeowners in estates like Lesnes who are up against major developers.

We work with local residents and campaigns to shift the power away from privatisation, and put it back in the hands of the communities.

If you’d like to talk to us about a case as part of our gentrification project, drop Saskis an email at

13Mar 2024

Litigation as a catalyst: PILC’s approach to movement lawyering in the fight against gentrification injustice.

13th March 2024|Gentrification|

Legal caseworker and community legal organiser, Saskia O’Hara (right), shares how litigation has created space for Aylesbury Estate residents to grow their campaign

Campaigning can take an incredible amount of hard work, time and resilience. Deciding whether or not you should take a developer to court, and facing a legal landscape that has proven to be hostile to housing campaigners can be intimidating.

At PILC, we use the law as a tool to assist, support, and empower the residents who are on the frontline of gentrification. At the Aylesbury Estate, we worked with Aysen Dennis to challenge developers as they attempted to alter the terms of the Outline Planning Permission (OPP). This win in the High Court has been a successful way to buy more time for the campaign to grow, attract new people, and reestablish the residents’ authority to determine the future plans for the estate.

Forming part of PILC’s gentrification project, here are some of the ways we worked with Aysen and the Aylesbury Estate housing campaign in their recent High Court win.

Met with residents and campaigners face-to-face to build a legal challenge

When you are tasked with building a legal challenge, nothing beats spending time with those affected, listening to concerns and paying attention to their local expertise.

We walked around the Aylesbury estate and spent time with Aysen in one of the buildings threatened with demolition.  We also attended a ‘Gentrification Exhibition’ Aysen held in her flat  – this was an incredible insight into the history of their fight. 

In these initial meetings we spent time explaining the concept of the law being only one of the many tools which campaigners can use to achieve their aims.

Secured public funding for the case

Securing Legal Aid was key to making sure that Aysen was financially protected from costs throughout this public/planning law case.  It is tricky to obtain public funding for planning law Judicial Reviews, so it was not only beneficial for this case, but also sets an example to other legal aid firms to show securing public funding in this arena is possible.

Held a public meeting before the court date

Once we had established a legal case, issued a claim at the High Court and got permission to proceed to a hearing (discussing and taking instructions from our client and her fellow campaigners along the way), we worked with the campaign to co-host a public meeting.

To get as many of the residents to come along as possible, PILC designed and funded campaign leaflets that were posted to all residents and distributed in communal spaces. This meeting was also open to the wider public so that anyone who was interested could get involved, including documentary film crews and press.

My colleague Alex and I were joined by the barrister Alex Shattock of Landmark Chambers. We started with a presentation explaining what the legal challenge was, how it had emerged and what it could achieve.

Even though the legal case was a highly technical planning law challenge, we took the time to guide attendees through it, and made time for questions and a discussion. We were  honest and clear that it was very difficult to win a Judicial Review at the High Court, and either way, the case was really an opportunity for campaigners to:

  • delay the developers
  • push them back to the drawing board
  • reinvigorate the campaign 

Community presence at the court on the day of the hearing

We encouraged campaigners to show up at the Royal Courts of Justice and protest as it’s a great chance to show the scale and strength of their campaign.  This draws attention from the media so that the case can be highlighted to as many people as possible.

It was so great to see that the public area in the courtroom was packed out with the community on the day of the hearing.

Post-win public meeting

Even if there had been a different outcome, it was always the plan to have another public meeting after the judgement to share what happened in court, and talk about the next steps.

Again, this event was open to all, and we worked with the campaign to advertise the meeting as widely as possible. 

The meeting was electrifying. Litigation wins like this can often provide a spark of possibility and positivity for the campaign. Campaigners were happy that ten new estate residents come along.

We explained the legal aspects of the win –  and that although the developers chose not to appeal the court’s decision, it doesn’t mean the end of the redevelopment plans. 

We also shared just how far-reaching this win is for housing developments across the country (the barrister, Alex, had just come from hosting a session with over 1200 lawyers specifically regarding the implications of this case!).

The majority of the time was for residents and campaigners to plan what they will do next. The discussion was lively and the ideas were brilliant. We will continue to support. 

Watch this space!

Developers so often assume that the residents who live in the homes they want to destroy aren’t paying attention to what they’re doing. They want unlimited power to shift and change plans as they please. But PILC supports local residents and campaigns to shift the power away from privatisation, and put it back in the hands of the communities. Donate to support PILC’s work in the fight against gentrification.

12Dec 2023

Lambeth Council agrees to extend public consultations after PILC letter

12th December 2023|General, Gentrification|

Photography: @savecentralhill / Twitter

On 21 November 2023, the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC) sent a pre-action letter to Lambeth Council on behalf of the Central Hill Estate Residents Association (CHERA).

CHERA – a group of residents from the Central Hill Estate in the Lambeth – challenged the council’s decision to run a public consultation on Lambeth’s Housing Strategy across just six weeks, from the period 9 October to 20 November.

On 8 December 2023, Lambeth Council confirmed they would extend all three consultations until 19 January 2024.

CHERA also challenged the council’s decision to run two other public consultations concurrently – on Lambeth’s Housing Allocation Policy Review and on Central Hill Environmental Improvements.

Owing to the similarities between these consultations, and the importance of public engagement on all issues, PILC and CHERA argued that there was a strong risk of public confusion and ‘consultation fatigue,’ especially given that two consultations were open for an identical time period, and an additional third for the majority of the time period.

On 17 October, Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL) – a volunteer-led community housing group made up of families and individuals who are homeless, living in overcrowded housing or facing other housing problems – wrote to the proposed Defendant with their concerns about the Housing Allocation consultation. HASL raised concerns about:

  1. The levels of outreach and engagement undertaken by the proposed Defendant to ensure that ‘hard to reach communities’ most affected by the policy were consulted;
  2. The format of the policy review and the accessibility issues;
  3. The nature of the Equality Impact Assessment; and
  4. The timeframe of the consultation of six weeks being too short.

Pre-action letter

In the pre-action letter sent to Lambeth Council on 21 November, PILC challenged the length of time allocated to the three concurrent public consultations, given the length of the documents to be reviewed, the lack of consideration for people whose first language is not English, and the lack of support provided to enable people with access requirements to respond to the public consultations.

The Law

Where a public body undertakes a consultation exercise, it must be conducted properly. When public consultations are conducted outside a statutory requirement, a duty to consult arises where there is a ‘pressing and focused’ impact on a particular group through a policy or project ending abruptly, or where a legitimate expectation exists that a consultation would take place. The overall test is whether the consultation process was so unfair as to be unlawful.

The requirements for a lawful consultation were established in R v London Borough of Brent ex parte Gunning and consist of four principles which enable a consultation to be fair and lawful:

  1. Consultation must take place when proposals are at a formative stage;
  2. Sufficient reasons must be put forward for any proposal to allow ‘intelligent consideration’ and an informed response;
  3. Adequate time is given for consideration and response; and
  4. ‘Conscientious consideration’ must be given to the consultation responses by the decision makers before making a decision.

CHERA says:

“Lambeth doesn’t seem to be engaging properly with, or truly listening, to residents, just completing tick box exercises.”

Alexandra Goldenberg says:

“Housing is the most pressing issue facing Londoners. Residents of Lambeth should be given a chance to have a say in the future of housing policy in the borough.”

6Mar 2023

PILC speaks to Save Brownswell Green campaigner Becky Weston

6th March 2023|Case Q&A, General, Gentrification, Housing|

‘Save Brownswell Green’ campaign

In the wake of the Gentrification Project launch, we speak to Becky Weston, a former PILC client and campaigner from Save Brownswell Green in Barnet who successfully stopped plans of the demolition of her home and loss of community greenspace on her estate. We asked Becky what advice she would give to anyone who is in a similar position.

Becky, when you learned about plans to infill on the green space what action did you take?

I immediately got in touch with my local community. I created leaflets about my concerns with the proposed regeneration, and put them through doors of those who would be affected. I got a lot of feedback – 99% of those I spoke to didn’t know about the regeneration. I quickly set up a WhatsApp group and registered a community interest group via email. A lot of people in the community became involved across all 3 sites which made up the ‘Grange Estate redevelopment.’  We became the ‘Save Brownswell Green‘ campaign. 

We collectively researched registering the threatened greenspace as a community asset, and tried to collate other local information we thought was relevant, such as information from council meetings. We attended council meetings, and held campaign meetings in our homes. We started an online petition which got well over 1,000 signatures. We also contacted local media to make them aware of what was happening and put pressure on the council. We also reached out to the Public Interest Law Centre to see if we could launch a legal challenge. This was via a community resident on our collective WhatsApp group.

What propelled you to take this action?

I think everyone was angry – we literally didn’t know anything (about the plans) until I received an email from the housing office saying they were demolishing my home and two others (as well as infilling on the greenspace on the estate).

Myself and the other two residents didn’t want to lose our homes – so we had a slightly different agenda of both keeping our houses and saving the greenspace. But we focused on the greenspace issue, to get as much resident opposition to the plans as possible.

We were also spurred on by the council being deceitful from start to finish. From the amount of floors the proposed buildings would have to the level of engagement and consultation they said they had completed, the council lied.

What was useful about instructing PILC on the case?

They wrote letters to the council, when they were reluctant to reply to residents. They got us information and the council were forced to listen to our arguments. They explained to us clearly what our options and rights were. They talked to us with respect.

They came to the estate and saw the issues with their own eyes, two or three times. I think face-to-face is important as you can only do so much over email and phone. So we appreciated this. They advised us on a lot of things, but did not tell us what to do or overpower us with legal information. If we asked a question, they always tried to find the answer for us.

What would you say to any other residents across London and beyond in a similar situation?

Talk to your community. Don’t be afraid to put a leaflet through the door and put a phone number on it!

Engage with people and don’t think you can fight the battle alone. This is time-consuming and a long-drawn out process. I’d go to bed dreaming about parking spaces! 

Get a team together and understand what you’re fighting for. Set-up a WhatsApp group and email.  Work together and understand that everybody is fighting for the same thing.

Get in touch with local councillors via email to ask them to fight alongside the community and come to meetings, etc. 

Get in touch with a law centre/firm early on. We got in touch with PILC at quite an early stage in our campaign. This was useful as discussions with PILC allowed us to focus on the information we needed to collate and what key issues we should campaign on at an early stage of redevelopment plans.

27Jul 2022

Estate residents challenge Lambeth bullying 

27th July 2022|Gentrification, Housing, Judicial review|

Poster advertising TRA meeting.

PILC is in the initial stages of a prospective legal challenge to the proposed ‘regeneration’ (demolition) of the Central Hill Estate in Lambeth. On 14 July our Saskia O’Hara attended a residents’ meeting on the estate to update the local community on the progress of the case.

The meeting, organised by Central Hill’s Tenants and Residents Association (TRA), was a success. Residents learnt about their rights around issues ranging from repairs to the legal requirements for redevelopment consultations and the right of judicial review. 

But if Lambeth council had got its way, the meeting would never have taken place. The day before the meeting, Lambeth’s Resident Participation (!) Officer sent an email to the head of the TRA. The email stated: ‘I would ask that you immediately cancel arrangements for the meeting arranged for Thursday of this week. If you fail to do so, you will be in further breach of the TRA Code of Conduct. Regrettably, the sanctions [for failing to cancel the meeting] will include your removal as TRA Chair […]’

The email also stated that ‘any posters [publicising the meeting] displayed in the common parts of the Central Hill Estate will be removed.’

The offending email.

PILC helped residents formulate a response to the email, citing their right to hold such a meeting, and pointing out that the principles of Lambeth’s own constitution refer to ‘working with other community groups to encourage and support a vibrant and strong civil society.’  Why, then, was the council’s own Resident Engagement Officer actively discouraging the community on Central Hill Estate from organising to learn about their legal rights?

As one resident put it, ‘[t]hanks to PILC […] Lambeth Council has been […] caught out as the bully that it is. For years, residents on Central Hill have been harassed by [the council] simply because our estate is facing demolition […f] rom being told not to garden in 2020 […] to now being told that resolving residents’ longstanding repair needs […] caused by Lambeth’s very own neglect […] contravenes [regulations] Thanks to [PILC], this [behaviour] has been shown to be unconstitutional.’

The legal case continues.

PILC is expanding its work to support and litigate in solidarity with communities experiencing unjust gentrification. Please keep an eye on this blog for regular updates.

13Jul 2022

Estate ballots report shows need for residents’ fund

13th July 2022|Gentrification, Housing|

Photo: Focus E15

A London Assembly member has released the findings of an investigative report into questionable practices in estate-redevelopment ballots. As Saskia O’Hara argues, the report will lend weight to calls for a Resident Empowerment Fund to reduce the power imbalance between councils and developers on one hand and local people on the other.

Sian Berry’s new report on estate ballots, reported on in yesterday’s Guardian, is delicately framed and phrased. When read between the lines, however, it offers a significant indictment of the state of local democracy in London.

Based on research with estate residents, campaigners and scholars, the report highlights serious flaws with the process through which decisions are taken on estate redevelopment. The introduction of resident ballots in 2018 was supposed to ensure that any ‘regeneration’ scheme that involved the demolition of social homes had the backing of a majority of those affected.

Yet Berry’s investigation shows how, in practice, redevelopment ballots are frequently hijacked by vested interests. The report points to ‘biased consultation’, significant spending disparities between landlords promoting a yes vote and local anti-gentrification campaigners, and a ‘lack of clarity […] imped[ing] residents’ capacity to make informed choices’ when voting for or against demolition.

Most damningly, Berry finds that ‘residents’ voices are [often] minimised or erased when they are critical of redevelopment options and processes’.

PILC has been campaigning around this issue since December 2021, when a resident ballot on the Carpenters Estate in East London returned a yes vote in favour of the council’s plans to demolish almost 60% of the estate.  

As the campaign group Focus E15 pointed out at the time, the Carpenters Estate ballot had many of the characteristics of a ‘bought’ vote.  A  Freedom of Information request made by PILC showed a spend of over £350k by Newham Council to secure a decision in favour of redevelopment. Similar concerns have been raised in relation to ballots on the Love Lane estate in Tottenham and the Cambridge Road Estate in Kingston.

In January we wrote to Sadiq Khan’s deputy mayor for housing, Tom Copley, on behalf of Focus E15. The letter urged London’s government to take action to ensure a more level playing field in ballots on estate redevelopment.

We asked the mayor to cap local-authority spending on canvassing aimed specifically at persuading residents to assent to redevelopment proposals, and to introduce a Resident Empowerment Reserve Fund to ensure estate residents have access to money to run anti-redevelopment campaigns.

Although the Resident Empowerment Fund was voted through the London Assembly as an amendment to the 2022-2023 draft budget, Sadiq Khan subsequently rejected the amendment.  The mayor came down staunchly in support of the current ballot procedures, claiming he ‘[did not] recognise the characterisation of estate residents being frequently left unaware or having little confidence in processes of communication’. 

Sian Berry’s investigation shows just how urgent the need for a cap on council spending and a fund to empower local residents remains. The Assembly Member’s report calls for ‘strengthened oversight, clearer rules around campaigning and ballot conduct, and greater transparency and consistency regarding voter eligibility’.  

But money talks loudest of all in the context of an intensely commodified housing market. As long as councils can vastly outspend anti-regeneration campaigns to secure the outcomes they want in ballots, the concerns of estate residents will come a distant second to the profit motives of developers.

Saskia O’Hara is part of an expanding team within PILC supporting and litigating on behalf of communities experiencing unjust gentrification.  Please keep an eye on the blog for regular updates on this work.