The bulldozers will soon be out for the south London council flat that was Aysen Dennis’s home for 30 years. After leading a fierce battle against the council and developers, claiming their plans to fill much of her estate with private homes amounted to “social cleansing”, she has finally moved.
Dennis, 65, has been relocated to a swanky new flat in a development bought back by Southwark council. She claims it paid £690,000 for her ninth-floor flat with panoramic views of the park – and is convinced it was an attempt to shut her up before a legal challenge.
If it was, it has not worked.
On Tuesday morning, Dennis will be in the high court continuing her fight against the council and the housing association, Notting Hill Genesis, over their attempts to tweak a planning application for the redevelopment of the Aylesbury estate. Since she is still a resident, albeit in one of the new blocks, her case remains.
“Nothing will stop me until I die,” she said. “Even after this court case I’m going to take it wherever it takes me. I’m not going to give up. I will not stop fighting.”
Dennis, who initially refused to leave her home and even opened up her flat for an anti-gentrification exhibition, sees the court case as part of a bigger attempt to block councils and developers from making it harder for council tenants to live in central London.
The second phase of the redevelopment of the Aylesbury estate, which the case focuses on, is more controversial, since it proposed a reduction of social-rented homes in favour of shared ownership and at least 50% privatisation.
Tuesday’s legal challenge will argue that the council was unlawful in granting an application to tweak the wording of the original planning permission to regenerate the estate, which was once the location for 2,000 council homes. The change in language makes it easier to wave through new projects that differ from the original masterplan.
Lawyers say those made to leave their homes were not consulted on plans that differ from the original permission. Gains by residents – such as restricting the height of buildings to 20 storeys to allow light into the area – could be lost with a proposed 25-storey all-private tower.
“This is a political choice they are making, because they don’t want us to occupy a zone 1 area next to the park,” Dennis said. “We are not counted as human beings. We are just things to throw away when it comes to working-class minority ethnic council tenants. We are in their eyes disposable things. And that’s what makes me so angry.”
The block she now lives in was bought by Southwark in 2020 for £193m. “They could have used that money to refurbish our estate,” she said. “We were not asking for much.”
Among the packing boxes in her new flat is a red flag bearing the slogan: “Social housing, not social cleansing.”
She hates the new hipster cafes springing up around her and says “thousands” of those who made up the original community of the Aylesbury estate have been moved on.
Alexandra Goldenberg, a solicitor for Dennis at the Public Interest Law Centre, said: “We hope this case demonstrates that it is worth pursuing justice and accountability from those who seek to develop public land such as housing estates.
“It is always powerful when those who are subject to regeneration, and indeed the negative side-effects of gentrification, have agency in multimillion-pound developments.”
Dennis was studying and working in catering when she moved into the Aylesbury estate in 1993. She came as a young woman to the UK from Turkey, where she faced political difficulties as an outspoken socialist, and settled after marrying a British man.
Dennis shared the two-bedroom flat with her sister, who died five years ago, and was devastated to leave. “I collected 30 years of memories and I lost my sister in that house,” she said.
Her moving day was two weeks ago and she said it was a wrench. “All day I cried. Packing up was the hardest thing to do.”
A Notting Hill Genesis spokesperson said: “As a not-for-profit housing provider, we are committed to delivering homes that Londoners can afford, whatever their personal circumstances, and to creating places they can call home and communities they can feel a part of and engaged with.
“We are very proud of our plans for the regeneration of the Aylesbury estate. Replacing old, inefficient homes with warm, safe, high-quality housing in a vibrant, thriving community with quality public space, top-class facilities and improved play and sport areas will benefit existing and future residents alike.”
Southwark council said it had completed more than 220 council homes on the Aylesbury estate and had more than 350 under way. It said it had more new council homes than any other local authority in the country.
Helen Dennis, a Southwark council cabinet member for new homes and sustainable development, said: “We are thrilled that residents are happy with their new homes on the Aylesbury estate.
“Each of them deserves to have a home that they can be proud of and that meets the council’s high standards. That is why it’s so important that we’re replacing the homes that were badly built in the 60s and 70s, which are reaching the end of their life.”