Published On: 13th March 2024Categories: 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.