MORE than 150 campaigners for better housing met in Burgess Park by the Old Kent Road in south London on Saturday 14th March to defy local council plans to tear down the huge, now emptied Aylesbury estate and replace it with luxury flats way beyond what the people who once lived there can afford.
Their action followed a protest march at the end of January demanding more affordable housing for local people, a cap on rents and an end to the privatisation of council-owned land.
After that demonstration a large group of protesters went to the Aylesbury estate, now boarded up but not too securely, and occupied a block of flats.
Police came to remove them that day but seeing them securely settled decided they did not have the resources to remove the squatters then and there and left them.
The council brought in private security guards to secure the whole of what is left of the estate — although there are still some tenants living there.
On 17th February the squatters were evicted from the original squat and there were six arrests. But others went on to squat new territory.
Earlier this month Southwark Council obtained an Interim Possession Order for 69-76 Chartridge on the Aylesbury Estate. It became illegal for anyone to trespass” in the eight occupied flats.
The squatters responded, in their own words: “Rather than wait for the police to evict us from our second occupied block, 69-76 Chartridge, we took the initiative, and moved into another empty nearby earlier this week.
“We are now in occupation of the disused council offices at the base of Chiltern House, at the corner of Portland Street and Albany Road.
“We have spent the past few days cleaning the place up, and trying to fix some of the disrepair and damage it’s suffered since the Property and Regeneration Departments moved to their new offices, over five years ago.
“We’ve already held a few events at our new space, and hope to organise more over the next couple of weeks. Keep checking the website for news, and details of film screenings, meetings, music and more.”
After meeting in Burgess Park, the activists marched through local shopping centres at the Elephant and Castle and the Walworth Road where they were well received by local people.
Then they went around the part of the estate scheduled for the next wave of demolition, which has now been turned into a camp-like fortress of wooden and metal fences, topped with anti-climb “curly wurly” — rotating sharp steel
All gates to the estate have been sealed and are guarded by security guards, including the dog patrols. The remaining residents have to ask these hired thugs permission to come in and out, and are ordered to walk round the estate to the “main entrance”. Visitors are checked off against a list of official inhabitants.
“If Southwark Council scumbags were looking for a way to piss their tenants off even more, they found it,” said the squatters. “During the demo there were even more security than usual in the last days, a few dozen altogether at the various entrances and in reserve. And they were backed up with more bodies from the Metropolitan Police.
“Despite all these heavies, we managed to open and push our way in through two gates. It was a bit of a scrum for half an hour or so, as gates were pushed back and forth, some metal strips torn off, and whole fence panels nearly flew off their hinges. In the end they just couldn’t stop us, and in rushed the crowd.
“As we reached the occupation in Chiltern House, massive banners were unfurled from high up in the 12 storey block. The comrades inside had taken the whole building, expanding from the ground floor former council offices to occupy a number of flats.”
The occupation posted a statement on its website last weekend, after the march opposing the demolition of the estate:
“We occupied residential flats above the ex- council regeneration and planning offices in Chiltern House. Rather than waiting to be evicted from our occupation in the offices, we took the initiative and expanded.
“The Aylesbury will not sit empty, waiting for demolition. We who have need of it will make use of it. We won’t wait in vain for the council to change their policies. We will take control of housing conditions ourselves.”
They added on social media: “Loads of beautiful flats occupied today! Come and take one!”