Public Interest Law Centre

public law | human rights | legal action

17Jan 2024

Victory in the High Court: Aylesbury estate residents win; developers told that their submissions “lacked coherence”

17th January 2024|

“This judgement should serve as a warning to developers”

Today, council tenant and campaigner Aysen Dennis has won her Judicial Review claim in the High Court against Southwark Council and the developer Notting Hill Genesis (NHG).

Aysen has been fighting against the demolition of the Aylesbury council estate and has been working with PILC lawyers Alex and Saskia as part of PILC’s gentrification project. She’s lived at Aylesbury for over 30 years.

Today is a win for Aysen and her community who seek accountability and justice from the developer NHG and Southwark Council as they work to demolish the Aylesbury estate.

She says that Southwark Council was allowing NHG “to do what they want through the back door.” She added “we demand social housing, not social cleansing.”

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 this ruling shows that this is not the case.

We’re hopeful that today’s ruling has far reaching consequences in favour of estate residents across the country who feel powerless to affect change on the land they call home. 

This judgement should serve as a warning to developers who disregard historical masterplans and the promises they make to communities in the process of gentrification.

The legal case

In 2015, planning permission was granted to demolish and rebuild the Aylesbury Estate. Within that planning permission is a masterplan formed in consultation with the community that sets out the parameters of the regeneration.

However, NHG made a ‘drop in’ application on the site, which went far beyond the original plans by increasing the height of all private tower blocks overlooking Burgess Park. They did this using a ‘s96A non-material amendment’ to add the word ‘severable’ to the description of the outline permission.

By approving the amendment to the outline permission, Southwark Council awarded the developer further, extensive power, that would make it much easier for them to ‘mix and match’ new planning permissions across the Estate which differ from the original masterplan that was formed in consultation with the community.

Southwark Council and NHG tried to argue that the Outline Permission was already ‘severable’ and that the amendment made under s.96A was only intended to confirm this explicitly in the original Outline Planning Permission.

How Aysen won

Aysen argued three things:

  1. that the Outline Permission was not severable
  2. that the amendment to make it severable cannot be treated as non-material
  3. that the purpose and effect of adding the word ‘severable’ was to change the rights granted by the Outline Permission – specially in this instance the ability to exceed parameters set by the outline permission, such as the maximum building heights.

The judge, Mr Justice Holgate, found that “With respect” Southwark Council and NHG’s submission to the High Court “lacked coherence.” 

He agreed with Aysen that the original permission was not severable, and therefore could not be amended through a s 96 non-material application. This decision was therefore quashed.

Putting power back to the community

This is an important judgement for housing campaigners across the country, as large estate redevelopments often unfold from Outline Planning Permissions over time – or ‘phased’ like this. This case scrutinises the method in which developers use ‘drop in’ applications to deviate from what was promised to residents.

You can read more about the background of the case and why the claim arose here.

Want to talk to us about a case? Contact us here.

Developers so often assume that the residents who live in the homes they want to destroy aren’t paying attention to what their 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.

30Nov 2023

Aylesbury Estate challenge on BBC London

30th November 2023|

On Tuesday 28 November Public Interest Law Centre represented Ms Aysen Dennis in a Judicial Review claim challenging the demolition of the Aylesbury council estate by Southwark Council and Notting Hill Genesis.

Ahead of the Judicial Review hearing residents and local campaigners protested the regeneration of the Aylesbury estate outside the Royal Courts of Justice.

Protesters demanded an end to the redevelopment of the estate in favour of refurbishment, chanting: ‘housing is a human right, not a privilege’.

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Mr Justice Holgate reserved judgment to be delivered as soon as ‘physically’ possible.

Ms Dennis states:

“Aylesbury estate was built for working class communities to live safely and securely. Now it is the site of a battle between our communities, and the councils and private developers who seek to demolish and privatise our homes. We cannot allow them to spread insecurity and socially cleanse us. We demand no demolition, no privatisation – refurbishment, security and justice!”

Alexandra Goldberg states:

“Developers should not be able to chop and change plans on a whip, communities want to see what they have been promised followed through”.

This work is part of PILC’s Gentrification Project: Supporting access to justice in the class-based transformation of urban space  

Ms Dennis’ legal team is:

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

Jenny Wigley KC and Alex Shattock of Landmark Chambers.

Footage: BBC London News

Reported by: Frankie McCamley

Edited for PILC by: Pete Hill

30Jan 2023

Gentrification project launch: supporting access to justice in the class-based transformation of urban space

30th January 2023|

For a number of years we have been active in supporting local residents and grassroots campaigns in challenging injustice stemming from gentrification.  This includes opposing the loss of secure council tenancies, challenging undemocratic exercises in estate redevelopment (including inadequate consultations and resident ballots), contesting the loss of community assets such as greenspace and demanding that the Greater London Authority create a Resident Empowerment Fund to level the playing field between residents, local authorities and private developers.

As well as bringing legal challenges based on public and planning law, we have supported residents by offering:

  • legal education on key terminology and the redevelopment process
  • help to draft submissions on planning applications
  • media assistance
  • support with crowdfunding

Our contribution aims to support local residents and campaigns to shift the power balance which is so weighted in the favour of privatisation, infill and demolition.  As community lawyers, we seek to be on the ground with campaigners, offering legal services as one tool or tactic amongst others in a campaign.

We have previously supported campaigns in the Elephant and Castle regeneration in Southwark, the Carpenters Estate in Newham, Juniper Crescent in Camden and the Save Brownswell Green in Barnet. We have called for a London-wide Resident Empowerment Fund.  We are currently supporting residents of the Central Hill estate in Lambeth and a number of other areas.

Now, thanks to funding secured from Tudor Trust and Trust for London we are officially launching a ‘gentrification project’ which hopes to expand on this existing work.    

This project will complement PILC’s  work on homelessness and housing, including legal challenges against deceitful council housing schemes, overcrowded and unsafe temporary accommodation, and harmful practices as well as reports on gatekeeping and publications on solidarity-based approaches.

Find out more information about the gentrification issues we are working on here.

How do we work with communities on these types of cases?  Find out here.

Want to get in touch about gentrification issues you are facing?  Please contact Alexandra Goldenberg and Saskia O’Hara

5May 2022

Southwark overcrowding case in court today

5th May 2022|

On Thursday 5th May we are in court for the hearing in our client’s judicial review challenge to Southwark council’s housing allocations policy.

Our client, Milton, lives with his wife, son and daughter in a privately rented studio apartment in Southwark. They are severely overcrowded and have endured extremely cramped housing conditions for almost five years. The family applied to join Southwark’s housing register in April 2018. However, Southwark has refused to prioritise the family’s application for housing. The council claims that the family’s overcrowding is the result of a ‘deliberate act’.

However, Milton and his family had no choice but to move into their current accommodation.  As Milton explains with the help of his daughter Rebecca: ‘I had to move to this flat. When we looked at other places the agencies asked us for many months’ rent in advance. I couldn’t rent a bigger house because it was too expensive.’

As Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL) have highlighted this week, Southwark council have spent a large amount of money and resources defending this case – money that could have been spent on tackling exploitative landlords and supporting Southwark residents. HASL are running an email campaign demanding that Southwark remove the ‘deliberate act’ provision and stop blaming families for their poor living conditions.

We will provide a legal update on the outcome of this case over the next few weeks.

21Jan 2022

PILC calls on Khan to change estate ballot rules

21st January 2022|

Image: Focus E15

PILC has today written to Sadiq Khan’s deputy mayor for housing, Tom Copley, on behalf of Focus E15 housing campaign urging the mayor to take action to ensure a ‘level playing field’ in ballots on estate redevelopment

The letter calls on the mayor of London to cap local-authority spending on canvassing aimed specifically at persuading residents to assent to redevelopment proposals, and to make funding available to local residents who wish to run their own (typically anti-demolition) campaigns.

In December 2021 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.  73% of residents voted yes to the council’s proposals for redevelopment, on a 66.5% turnout.

However, Focus E15, which includes residents of the Carpenters Estate, has accused the council of spending large sums of public money to secure victory in the ballot.

According to data obtained through a Freedom of Information Request, Newham and the council’s housing company, Populo Living, spent at least £350,000 on campaigning for a Yes vote, whilst residents had no access to public funds to run a campaign for a No vote.

A full press release can be accessed here.

1Jun 2021

Elephant JR fails, but campaigners hail concessions as victory

1st June 2021|

The Court of Appeal has upheld a High Court decision allowing developers Delancey to proceed with the demolition and redevelopment of the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre.

The Court found that there were no grounds for reversing the High Court’s decision.

The legal challenge was mounted as part of a hard-fought four-year campaign which brought together housing campaigners, students, tenants’ groups, local councillors and trade unionists in the fight for more socially rented housing and a better deal for traders displaced by the proposed development.

The decision will allow the mixed-use development of new shops and homes to proceed. with Out of 979 new homes 116 will be social rent units.

In the course of the legal battle Southwark Council conceded that a change was needed in its legal agreement with Delancey in order to secure socially rented housing.

Improvements won by the campaign

Despite this legal defeat, the Up the Elephant Campaign secured many improvements to the original redevelopment proposals:

  • Increase in socially rented housing from 33 units of social-rent equivalent owned and managed by developer to 116 proper social rent units owned and managed by the council or housing association
  • Provision of affordable retail space
  • An established traders’ panel
  • Temporary traders’ premises on Castle Square
  • Trader relocation and assistance fund of £634,700 and £200,000
  • 15-year affordable retail lease (rents to be held at 75% market Yr 6-15)

These are all improvements against the baseline of the original application made in October 2016

Jerry Flynn of Up the Elephant said:

 ‘We are naturally disappointed that the court has not found in our favour, but we can be pleased with the victories we have had in our fight with Delancey and Southwark.  There was zero proper social rented housing to begin with and it is only by the efforts of local people that we have the 116 homes now promised.

But this socially rented housing still has to be delivered and Delancey’s track record shows that it is practised in passing these costs back to the public purse.  We will continue to campaign to make sure that we get the promised 116 social rent units and that Southwark does not have to pay for them.’

There have also been gains for the traders – many now have somewhere to move to. [But there is] not enough space for everyone who needs it and traders are still in negotiation with Southwark for a new market space.  We will continue the fight to get them a better deal, alongside the Latin American community who have made the Elephant their home.

We also got together a great legal team and are very grateful for the part that they have played in this battle, which has shone a light on the advantages our planning system affords big developers like Delancey, even when they fail to meet their affordable housing obligations.  We will continue the fight to change this.

Tanya Murat of Southwark Defend Council Housing, which supported the campaign, said

‘We lost the legal fight, which was always the most likely outcome as planning law protects developer profits.

But Southwark Council could have stopped the Elephant and Castle scheme by refusing to take up CPO powers. Instead they sided with developer Delancey, a firm who partner with the Qatari government, have taken millions in taxpayer funded loans and are implicated in the ongoing cladding scandal. We won’t forget that.

This has been an inspiring campaign which has proved that if you fight for more you can get it.  There was no affordable retail space, trader’s panel or trader’s relocation fund before we began our campaign. We won all these concessions from Delancey, although sadly many traders will still be left out in the cold.

It is a tragedy that we have lost the opportunity to rehouse more people who rely on council housing for a decent home.  Southwark has a policy that should have got us at least another 55 socially rented homes and even that would have meant less than 200 out of nearly a thousand new homes.  Southwark must stop caving in to developers like Delancey if we are ever going to solve the housing crisis.’

Paul Heron of PILC, solicitors for the claimant Jerry Flynn, said:

‘Southwark Council should now be on notice that local people expect the maximum amount of affordable and social rented housing from major developments and will challenge any that do not provide it.  While we have lost this case, we have demonstrated we have the capacity to hold Southwark and big developers to account and we will not hesitate to mount more challenges where we think it is justified.’

Sally Causer of Southwark Law Centre, which also supported the campaign, said:

We applaud all the people who have fought so hard to save the Elephant and Castle community. Although the result is disappointing, we can’t imagine how much worse the situation for traders and the community would have been without the campaign. The work goes on. The campaign has secured a commitment to an over-300% increase in social rent units. Southwark Law Centre will continue to support traders to make sure they get the best deal and work with campaigners to ensure that the commitment to social rented housing is honoured. We hope that Southwark Council will also apply proper scrutiny to the development’.

The legal challenge

The appeal was heard by Sir Keith Lindblom, Lord Justice Baker and Lord Justice Lewis at a remote hearing on 16 and 17 March 2021.  The judgement (Case No: C1/2020/0447) can be found here.  The appellant was Jerry Flynn, a member of the 35% Campaign and the Up the Elephant campaign. The defendants were Southwark Council and Elephant and Castle Properties Ltd.

Jerry Flynn was represented by barristers Sarah Sackman of the Francis Taylor Building and David Wolfe QC, of Matrix Chambers, instructed by the Public Interest Law CentreSouthwark Law Centre also assisted with the challenge.

The appeal was against a High Court decision upholding Southwark Council’s approval of plans to redevelop the shopping centre. The original case was heard at the Royal Courts of Justice on 22-23 October 2019.

The challenge focused on socially rented housing in the mixed-use scheme.  Developer and shopping-centre owner Delancey have permission to build nearly a thousand new homes, but only 116 will be socially rented and these will not be provided for nearly ten years.  The challenge argued that there could be, and should be, more social housing and that there was doubt that even the 116 social rent units promised will be provided.

The demolition of the centre will displace independent traders, half of whom have been allocated no space in Delancey and Southwark’s relocation plans.  Many of the traders are from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. The Elephant’s Latin American community fear that the development will destroy a vital social hub:

The hearing was a ‘rolled-up’ hearing, meaning that both the decision on permission to apply for a judicial review and the case itself were dealt with together.

The order for the hearing noted that the application was “…one of those exceptional cases where the public interest in the issue which the claimant raises is such that if permission is refused this should occur after a hearing.”

The barristers for the challenge were Sarah Sackman of Francis Taylor Building and David Wolfe QC of Matrix Chambers.


The Up the Elephant Campaign is a coalition of local people and groups fighting for a fairer regeneration at the Elephant and Castle have made a legal application to overturn the planning approval for the redevelopment of the Elephant and Castle shopping centre.  Over £11,000 was raised through crowdfunding to support the case:

Planning approval for the demolition and redevelopment of the shopping centre was granted to its owners Delancey on 10 July 2018, two years after a planning application was submitted in Oct 2016 (ref 16/AP/4458).  The application generated over a thousand objections and was deferred on three occasions.

The mixed-use development is being undertaken in partnership with the University of the Arts London. It will occupy two sites, including the sites of the current London College of Communication aand the Elephant shopping centre, both of which are to be demolished.  The LCC will get a new campus and there will be a new Northern Line tube entrance.

There will be 979 new Build-to-Rent homes of which 330 will be “affordable”, but only 116 will be social rent units.  There will be about the same amount of retail floorspace as at present.