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

30Jun 2023

High Court grants permission for Judicial Review in Aylesbury Estate case

30th June 2023|General, Housing, Judicial review|

Permission has been granted on the papers by Lang J to bring a judicial review of the decision of the London Borough of Southwark to approve a “non-material amendment” under s.96A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. PILC represents the Claimant, Ms Aysen Dennis, a local resident and campaigner whose home is due to be demolished under Notting Hill Gensis’ scheme to regenerate the estate.

The amendment was made to a phased, outline planning permission concerning the Aylesbury Estate in London. The amendment in question was to insert the word “severable” into the description of development of the outline scheme.

The Claimant argues that it was irrational to conclude that the change to the outline planning permission was non-material, in light of the judgment of the Supreme Court in Hillside Parks Ltd v Snowdonia National Park Authority [2022] UKSC 30 (“Hillside”).

The claim will likely deal with the implications of Hillside for “drop in” planning permissions and the amendment of large outline schemes more generally. In particular, the Court is expected to give guidance on whether a phasing plan and/or the outline nature of the scheme means that it is necessarily “severable”, as discussed in Hillside.

Although technical in nature, this challenge is important for local communities across the country fighting to hold developers, who have diverted from historical plans and promises to residents in ‘regeneration’ schemes, to account.  It is also a significant example of those affected by demolition and gentrification having agency over the planning process to further their campaigns against displacement and loss of council/social rent housing.

Further details on the case can be found here.

Ms Dennis’ legal team is:  

Alexandra Goldenberg and Saskia O’Hara of the Public Interest Law Centre.

Alex Shattock of Landmark Chambers. 

Photography: Luisa Le Voguer Couyet

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.

19May 2022

Housing associations & JR: update

19th May 2022|Case Q&A, Domestic abuse, Housing, Judicial review|

In a case brought by PILC on behalf of a domestic abuse survivor, the High Court has ruled that decisions taken by housing associations around the consideration and refusal of management transfers are subject to judicial review.  

In our latest blog, Izzy Mulholland explains the significance of the ruling both in terms of legal precedent and the practical implications for survivors.

What’s going on?

In 2021, our client T, a survivor of domestic abuse, applied for a management transfer that would allow her to move to new accommodation where she and her children would be safe from the perpetrator of the abuse.

When Network Homes refused to grant T’s request, she brought a judicial review challenge against the housing association involved, Network Homes.

What did the court decide?

The key finding in the decision handed down by the High Court in the case known as TRX v Network Homes Limited [2022] is that decisions taken by housing associations relating to the consideration and refusal of management transfers are subject to judicial review.

The court also found that when a council or housing association makes a decision on a a management transfer application, the decision must not be generic. Rather, it must explain properly and adequately why its own policy criteria have not been satisfied to ensure the applicant understands why their application is being refused. This was the main ground on which T’s judicial review challenge succeeded.

What are the other implications of the judgment?

Other key implications of the case include:

  • Clarification around the definition of domestic abuse: Network Homes agreed that domestic abuse does not solely constitute physical abuse. This was in line with the definition of domestic abuse outlined in section 1 of Domestic Abuse Act 2021. As a consequence, the housing association must in future deem all forms of domestic abuse to come within the definition of the term when considering management transfer applications.
  • Requirement to make a homelessness application: Network Homes also confirmed that in T’s case there was no policy or requirement that she make herself homeless in order to access accommodation. Therefore, if Network Homes suggest that an applicant should make a homelessness application before a management transfer can be processed, caseworkers can point to this judgment as a basis for challenging that assertion.
  • Non-molestation orders: the judge in the case noted that Network Homes ‘will have well in mind’ points relating to the relevance of non-molestation orders and the history of the perpetrator. In future Network Homes should consider whether a non-molestation order is enough to protect a survivor (they cannot assume it is) and must instead consider the history and nature of the of the perpetrator’s conduct towards the applicant and their children.
  • Requirement to provide police or MARAC reports: the court clarified that Network Homes’ policy on management transfers does not require a police report or MARAC report be obtained in every case.

How can I find out more?

We have produced two detailed factsheets on the implications of the ruling, one for legal professionals and one for non-specialists supporting survivors of domestic abuse.