Public Interest Law Centre

public law | human rights | legal action

18Apr 2024

High Court rules Westminster Council’s housing policy unlawful

18th April 2024|

But child survivor still waiting to be reunited with her mum in safe home.

PILC is relieved that the High Court has ruled a housing policy that denied a child survivor of sexual abuse and her mother a safe home to be unlawful. 

The Court found Westminster’s ‘reciprocal transfer’ policy to be indirectly discriminatory against women and girls and a breach of the council’s public sector equality duty. It also found the decision to refuse a reciprocal transfer in breach of the council’s obligations to properly consider the needs of a child.

The Background

The Claimant is a social housing tenant in a London borough. Whilst at that property, the Claimant’s child daughter was sexually abused by a neighbour over a number of years. 

As a result, the daughter has experienced significant mental health issues, including drug use and self-harm. She has suffered a period of homelessness and has been excluded from school. 

Since learning of the abuse in 2021, the Claimant has worked tirelessly to find her and her daughter somewhere safe to live, away from the abusive neighbour. She has faced extraordinary barriers in doing so. 

To safeguard her daughter, the Claimant has been forced to send her to live with relatives abroad. The Claimant meanwhile continues to live next to her daughter’s abuser. 

Unable to find a safe property within their own stock, the Claimant’s social housing provider contacted Westminster to request what’s known as a reciprocal transfer. That request was refused by Westminster on the basis that they would not allow the family to ‘queue jump’ those in other priority groups. 

It was this decision that we sought to challenge.

The Legal Challenge

Survivors fleeing domestic and sexual abuse are often unable to return home. For council and housing association tenants, fleeing accommodation can result in a loss of social housing altogether. With only 12% of those fleeing domestic abuse subsequently being granted social housing, this loss is often permanent. 

Reciprocal transfers enable social tenants who are at risk of abuse or violence to move to a safe area while retaining their tenancy. 

Women are disproportionately more likely to need a reciprocal housing transfer than men. The Pan-London Housing Reciprocal Scheme published data showing that almost 9 out of 10 applicants under the scheme are women, and 63% of those were fleeing some form of violence against women and girls. 

Westminster’s policy on reciprocal transfers is contained in paragraph 5.3 of their Housing Allocation Scheme, and imposes significant obstacles to those seeking to obtain a reciprocal transfer.

The Claimant’s case was that the policy fails to ensure that those forced to flee across boroughs to escape domestic and sexual abuse would be adequately protected. 

We sought to challenge the reciprocal transfer policy, and the refusal of our client’s reciprocal transfer under that policy, on the following grounds: 

  • That the policy indirectly discrimination on the basis of sex contrary to Equality Act 2010, s19; 
  • That there was a failure to comply with the public sector equality duty under Equality Act 2010, s149; 
  • That there was a breach of the Claimant’s rights under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (read with Article 8); 
  • That Westminster had failed to have regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children under Children Act 2004, s11; and
  • That Westminster Council had unlawfully ‘fettered its discretion’ in relation to those seeking a reciprocal transfer.

The Judgment

The Court found that Westminster’s reciprocal transfer policy effectively imposed a residence requirement, subjecting those who were not Westminster tenants to a more onerous set of conditions than those who were Westminster tenants. 

In the absence of any evidence filed by Westminster to indicate otherwise, the Court found that Westminster was not compliant with its public sector equality duty in respect of the reciprocal transfer policy. The Court also found that the policy was indirectly discriminatory on the basis of sex and that Westminster had failed to adequately justify that discrimination. 

The Court concluded that there had additionally been a failure to have regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the Claimant’s individual case.  

In light of the finding that both the policy and the decision were unlawful, the Court did not reach a conclusion on the other grounds. 

The Court ordered that Westminster: 

  1. Review its reciprocal transfer policy and as part of that review undertake an equality impact assessment, taking into account representations made by the Public Interest Law Centre;
  2. Reconsider the Claimant’s application for reciprocal transfer within 28 days, as though she were a tenant of Westminster; and 
  3. Pay the Claimant damages. 

A Warning to Other Local Authorities

Far more needs to be done by local authorities nationally to ensure that survivors of domestic and sexual abuse are able to maintain their social housing when fleeing abuse. 

PILC’s Sam Tippet said “It’s a relief that the Court has found Westminster Council’s policy unlawful. We hope that the council now make due amends, and find this family a safe place to live as a matter of urgency.”

He added: “Time and time again those fleeing abuse are being forced by councils to give up social housing. Survivors are having to fight to save their housing security at a time when they are suffering extreme trauma and fear. Councils must take responsibility and properly protect survivors when they most need it, instead of causing them further harm and distress.” 

Our client was represented by counsel Stephanie Harrison KC and Nadia O’Mara of the Garden Court Public Law Team with Franck Magennis previously instructed as junior counsel.


Too often, local authorities and housing associations fail to safeguard tenants who are escaping abuse. 

PILC aims to hold housing associations and local authorities to account so they can’t deny those fleeing abuse the right to somewhere safe to live.

If you need advice or representation, contact office@pilc.org.uk. 

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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Outcome

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

13Jul 2023

Final publication in Other Voices series launched

13th July 2023|

We are pleased to announce the online publication of the third and final part of PILC’s Other Voices series.

‘England Took Us In’: Polish Rough Sleepers Speak Back takes the form of a dialogue between five Polish men with a history of rough sleeping. (Find a Polish-language version here).

Albert, Andrzej (‘Bieszczady’), Eugeniusz, Eryk (‘Fragles’) and Radek (‘Fontanna’) were members of a Polish-language coffee-mornings group run by PILC in 2021 and 2022. This was a space where Polish speakers who were or had been homeless could come together to share experiences and talk about issues that affected them.

The conversation presented in the booklet ranges widely over themes including: the experience of sleeping rough; trying to find a stable place to live or stay; encounters with support services and immigration enforcement; being a victim of violence; being homeless during Covid-19; and working in the black and grey economies.

We hope ‘England Took Us In’ will offer activists, lawyers, homelessness workers and scholars—among others—valuable insight into the experience and analysis of homeless non-UK nationals. We’re extremely grateful to Albert, Andrzej, Eugeniusz, Eryk, and Radek for their eloquence, trust and patience throughout the process of preparing this publication.

In September 2023 we will hold a launch event to mark the publication of a limited run of print copies of the booklet and to celebrate the PILC clients, friends and comrades who have contributed to all three parts of the Other Voices series.  

Please watch this space for further announcements about the launch event!

About the Other Voices series:

Litigation is at the core of PILC’s work. We bring legal cases on behalf of oppressed groups & individuals and in solidarity with grassroots activists fighting for radical change. In our short lifetime we’ve won victories that have helped counter some of the worst excesses of state surveillance, social cleansing, gender-based violence & structural racism.

The courts are a necessary terrain in the struggle for a better world. Yet we’re painfully aware of the limits of legal action. The law is a product of the socio-economic system we live under. It is set up to reinforce that system. The remedies offered by judges or public inquiries will always be inadequate to addressing systemic harm.

Since our foundation as a law centre we’ve tried to hammer home the wider social and political implications of the cases we take on. We also undertake radical rights education and work to raise awareness of how public law can help communities resist injustice.

In 2020 we launched a blog and began publishing advocacy reports, personal testimonies and policy analysis. We’ve come to see researching and telling compelling stories about how the law operates in our society as a vital complement to our day-to-day litigation and casework.

Our Other Voices series of publications builds on this strand of PILC’s work by making space for voices that tend to be marginalised in mainstream legal, policy and human-rights discourses.

With a focus on PILC’s priority area of racial justice and migrants’ rights, we centre the practices and analysis of frontline workers and activists, as well as people and communities treated by our (legal-political-economic) system as marginal or disposable—who inhabit, as Denise Ferreira Da Silva writes, ‘that place where what should happen to nobody happens every day’.

We don’t see this series as an exercise in ‘inclusion’ or ‘user voice’. Making the tent bigger is pointless if the rules of the game stay the same. We’d like these publications to upset the terms of the ‘policy debate’ around migration and homelessness—its language, its horizons and the power relations expressed through its very silences.

Our contributors—PILC staff, clients and friends—speak & write with eloquence, intellect and deep feeling, challenging received narratives and leaden theories of change. They offer a sobering account of the way things are now.

Through the spirit & energy of resistance they articulate, they also gesture towards a future worth fighting for.

Illustrations by Aurelia Lange.

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 Alexandra.Goldenberg@pilc.org.uk and Saskia O’Hara saskia.ohara@pilc.org.uk

14Oct 2022

PILC launches rights guide for migrant rough sleepers

14th October 2022|

Photo: Global Justice Now

PILC has today published a know-your rights guide to deportations, international ‘reconnections’ and voluntary returns for homeless non UK-nationals and those supporting them.

Non-UK nationals are at increased risk of homelessness, including rough sleeping. Some may think they have no option to leave the UK—even if they want to stay. In the past, some councils and charities worked with the Home Office to force or persuade homeless people to leave the UK.

Our new guide is intended to help homeless non-UK nationals assert their right to remain.

The guide is available online, with versions in English, Polish and Romanian. We also have a limited number of printed copies to give away to organisations and groups supporting homeless non-UK nationals. 

Please contact benjamin.morgan@pilc.org.uk for more information or to request hard copies of the guide.

22Sep 2022

PILC domestic abuse report and campaign launched 

22nd September 2022|

Image: Nicobobinus – licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Tonight sees the launch of our new report and campaign around the systemic ‘gatekeeping’ by local authorities of housing support for domestic abuse survivors.

Housing is one of the major barriers facing women and girls fleeing abuse. Most domestic abuse survivors have the legal right to access emergency housing and longer-term safe and secure accommodation.

Yet systemic ‘gatekeeping’ (the placing of bureaucratic or other obstacles in the way of those seeking statutory support) across local councils means many survivors are unable to access the help they so desperately need. 

Our report, authored by PILC’s Isabella Mulholland, is based on original research, including casework and litigation undertaken by the law centre over the past three years, as well as witness testimonies from survivors and frontline domestic violence advocates across all thirty-two London boroughs.

PILC has written a legal submission to Simon Clark MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Levelling Up, and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, highlighting the findings of the research.

The letter calls on the Secretary of State and the Mayor to commission an independent investigation into local authorities’ widespread failure to provide housing support to domestic abuse survivors.

As our research shows, the systemic ‘gatekeeping’ of housing support for victims of domestic abuse is placing survivors at risk of further abuse and retraumatisation.

Key findings from our report include the following:

  • The ‘gatekeeping’ of housing support for domestic abuse survivors is a systemic issue across London local authorities
  • ‘Gatekeeping’ by councils takes a variety of forms, including: long (and sometimes unlawful) delays in making decisions around housing for survivors; unsuitable offers of temporary and long-term accommodation; the failure to provide emergency accommodation to survivors and their children; the imposition of unlawfully high evidence thresholds before support is provided; failure to apply the statutory definition of domestic abuse; the application of value judgements by housing officers; survivors being wrongly instructed to stay in or leave their borough; and the refusal of support until there is a threat of legal action
  • Council ‘gatekeeping’ is having a serious impact on survivors, with some being forced to remain in properties where they are at risk or having no option but to return to the perpetrator of domestic abuse
  • ‘Gatekeeping’ across London local authorities has worsened over the last decade as a consequence of austerity and a chronic shortage of social housing

The full report can be downloaded here.


29Jun 2022

Call for help with domestic abuse campaign

29th June 2022|

Image: Leo Reynolds (CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0)

In the next few months PILC will be launching a campaign to end London local authorities’ gatekeeping of housing for domestic abuse survivors.

Housing is one of the major barriers facing women and girls fleeing abuse. Gatekeeping—the placing of bureaucratic or other obstacles in the way of those seeking statutory support—is systemic across London local authorities and has got worse over the last decade as a consequence of austerity and a chronic shortage of housing stock.

It is common for survivors to be pushed from pillar to post and experience long delays before being housed. Advocacy from a support worker is often needed for them to have any chance of accessing housing. As a result of these failures on the part of local authorities many survivors remain stuck in unsafe and unsuitable housing where they are at risk of further abuse. 

PILC is working to change this. Our new campaign aims to highlight the widespread and systemic gatekeeping that DA survivors and VAWG survivors face from local housing authorities.

As part of the campaign, we’d like to speak to survivors who’ve faced barriers when trying to access housing through their local council.

We want to tell the stories of survivors who have faced multiple obstacles in accessing housing: from facing unlawful delays to being told they do not have sufficient evidence of abuse or being required to report abuse to the police before making a housing application.  

We would like to interview survivors from the following London local authorities:

  • Brent
  • Ealing
  • Greenwich
  • Haringey
  • Kingston upon Thames
  • Merton
  • Sutton
  • Wandsworth

Please email DVProject@pilc.org.uk if you or someone you support would be willing to speak to us about their experience. Please note that we intend to keep all information confidential.

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.

10Aug 2021

New PILC briefing on Domestic Abuse Act

10th August 2021|

We have today published a briefing on the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, many of whose provisions are now in force. Our explainer focuses on the six main changes in the act that relate to housing. We hope the briefing will be of use to advisors, frontline workers and survivors.

One major concern regarding the Domestic Abuse Act is that it does not cover survivors of abuse who have No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF). Such survivors find it very difficult to access housing support and may be forced to remain in abusive homes.

We will be publishing a further briefing on NRPF, DV and access to housing in the near future.

1Jul 2021

PILC launches EU homeless rights report

1st July 2021|

UPDATE (12/07/21): The full recording of our online launch event for this report is now available, with speakers including: Mihai Calin Bica from Roma Support Group; Polina Manolova from the University of Tübingen; PILC’s research and communications coordinator Benjamin Morgan; and Agnieszka Radziwinowiczówna from the University of Warsaw.

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On Jul 1 2021 PILC published a research report on the key rights and social-justice issues faced by homeless and otherwise marginalised EU citizens living in the UK. The report, entitled Still Here: Defending the rights of homeless EU citizens after Brexit and Covid-19, is based on research, casework and litigation undertaken through our EU homeless rights project (2018-21).

Our report finds that EU citizens living in the UK experienced large-scale destitution and rights violations well before Brexit. Homeless EU citizens were especially at risk of not having their rights upheld by statutory agencies, while the legal exclusion or ‘differential inclusion’ of EU citizens with respect to social assistance was a major cause of destitution, including rough sleeping.

We identify three overlapping groups of EU citizens who were particularly exposed to poverty, hyper exploitation and rights violations before Brexit : working-class EU citizens from the ‘A8’ and ‘A2’ countries of Central and Eastern Europe; EU citizens or qualifying non-EU family members who may identify or be racialised as non-white; and survivors of domestic abuse.

Our advocacy report proceeds via an analysis of six key rights areas (access to housing; support for domestic-abuse survivors; access to welfare benefits; employment rights; access to NHS care; and access to community care), illustrated with examples from PILC’s casework and litigation.

We then discuss issues relating to EU citizens’ right to remain after Brexit, showing that the UK’s departure from the EU is likely to exacerbate the rights issues faced by marginalised Europeans. This section of our report looks at current and historic policies aimed at deporting homeless EU citizens and the shortcomings of the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS). We also analyse the experiences of destitute EU citizens during Covid-19, an issue first covered in detail in a 2020 report co-authored by PILC.

The final section of the report examines the homelessness sector’s work with EU citizens. We argue that the sector in the shape of local authorities and commissioned services is failing marginalised Europeans, and non-UK nationals more broadly. We suggest that a culture change is urgently needed, and that the sector must assert the right to shelter, welfare assistance and to remain of all EU citizens in the UK.

28Jun 2021

Rough sleeping rule challenge: update

28th June 2021|

On 1 December 2020 the government amended the Immigration Rules to make rough sleeping a ground for cancelling or refusing permission to stay in the UK.

On 2 December 2020 PILC, instructed by the Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex and London (RAMFEL), formally wrote to the Secretary of State for the Home Department (SSHD) to request that the new rough sleeping rule be repealed. We argued that the rule was unlawful, disproportionate, discriminatory and violated the UK’s international obligations in respect of victims of trafficking. PILC also sent the SSHD a detailed report evidencing the potential effect of the new rule on non-UK nationals sleeping rough.

On 6 April 2021 the rough sleeping rule was amended so that permission may only be refused or cancelled where a rough sleeper has also:

  • repeatedly refused suitable offers of support; and
  • engaged in persistent anti-social behaviour (ASB)

On 20 April 2021 the Home Office published guidance on the interpretation of the rough sleeping rule. This guidance significantly limits the scope of the rule.

There is little doubt that these changes have come about as a direct result of our legal action and strong opposition from the voluntary sector, local authorities and trade unions.

In light of the recent changes to the rough sleeping rule, we have updated our factsheet for homeless non-UK nationals and those supporting them.

What does this mean for PILC’s legal challenge?

Although the latest guidance appears to have significantly limited the scope of the rough sleeping rule, a number of concerns remain:

  1. The rule may result in people who find it hard to engage with services as a result of mental health difficulties, lack of mental capacity or substance-misuse issues being targeted for immigration enforcement. The behaviour of such individuals may be interpreted as ‘anti-social behaviour’.
  2. The rule presents a significant risk to Roma people whose needs have historically not been met by support services and who have been disproportionately targeted for local-authority and immigration enforcement in recent years.
  3. The ‘available support’ listed in the Home Office guidance is largely applicable to non-UK nationals with recourse to public funds. Little effective support to leave the streets is available to the group most likely to be affected by the rule: non-UK national rough sleepers with no recourse to public funds (NRPF).
  4. We are concerned that the rule may be used coercively, with rough sleepers being offered ‘voluntary’ return and threatened with deportation if they refuse. It remains unclear who will decide whether ‘voluntary return’ is a ‘suitable’ support option. Although the Home Office guidance suggests ‘voluntary return’ as an option for those ‘who want to go home’, ‘voluntary return’ (or ‘reconnection’) has historically been offered to rough sleepers as a ‘single service offer’.
  5. Anti-social behaviour powers raise significant issues around proportionality, due process and accountability. Rough sleepers are commonly targeted by ASB enforcement measures—often just for rough sleeping. The evidence threshold for the issuing of Community Protection Notices (CPNs) is significantly lower than for older ASB orders.
  6. The rough sleeping rule lends itself to misuse or abuse by empowering individual local authorities to advise Immigration Enforcement around support available/refused and target individuals/groups with ASB orders or notices.

We remain committed to:

  • Pressuring the government to scrap the rough sleeping rule altogether.
  • Monitoring how the rule is being implemented on the ground and challenging the government in cases where it is being abused or misapplied

We will continue to provide updates about our legal challenge in this area.

What can I do?

If you or someone you know is affected by the rule, or if you believe the local authority in which you live or work may be planning to co-operate with the rough sleeping rule, please contact office@pilc.org.uk

You can also support one or both of two active campaigns opposing the rough sleeping rule:

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:  http://35percent.org/2019-03-30-no-room-for-traders-in-the-new-elephant/

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.

Background

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:

https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/stop-the-elephant-shopping-centre-destruction/

https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/save-the-elephants-diverse-com-appeal/

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.