A residents’ ballot on the demolition of homes and businesses in Lewisham has resulted in a ‘yes’ – but many who will be affected were excluded from the vote. 

Lewisham Council is proposing to knock down 87 homes and 15 businesses around Achilles Street in New Cross to build 450 new homes and “up to 150 new council homes”. 

A spokesperson said: “The reason the council proposed the regeneration of the Achilles Street estate was to build additional council homes, and the overwhelming support of residents on the estate demonstrates that the majority of them support this aim.”

The proposals were backed by 73 per cent of eligible residents, 92 per cent of whom voted.  

Of the 88 eligible people who voted – social tenants and leaseholders – 59 votes yes and 22 voted no. 

The ballot follows a ruling by the Mayor of London in 2018 which means the demolition of social housing cannot go ahead without the backing of residents.  

But campaigners in the area say the vote was “unfair” because the only people who had a vote were residents named on the council tenancy or lease.

Residents not named on the council tenancy or lease, private tenants (unless they were on the council waiting list for over a year), and all of the businesses were denied a vote.

Jacquie Utley, from the Achilles Street Campaign, who has lived on the estate for nearly 30 years, said: “So many people were excluded from the right to vote – it’s been a very unfair process and not a level playing field.  

“Lewisham went to Mayor and Cabinet just before Christmas to secure a budget to start buying out leaseholders before the ballot. 

 “Then they’ve been putting temporary tenants to gain more yes votes and there’s incentive there – you will be provided with a new home so you’re most likely to vote yes. 

“It’s a rigged ballot.” 

Campaigner Christian Codjoe, a life-long resident in the estate said the posters he has put up have been consistently ripped down.  

He said: “We’re a small group without a lot of resources but we are trying our best to inform people.  “I’ve done five rounds of posters but within a day or two someone rips them down”.  

He added: “Lewisham Council has put so much money into this.  “My dad spoke to a woman yesterday who voted yes but has lived here for just three months.” 

Jacquie criticised the lack of proposed social housing, adding: “Only 11 per cent will be social rent, the rest is private and affordable rent which is not actually affordable to council tenants.

Lewisham Council is one of the few that says affordable rent is social rent.”

She added there is a “distinct lack of clarity” around the plans for the area, with the council using phrases like “we aim to” and “we hope to”.  

The council has given residents a Landlord Offer, which includes a list of commitments, but it is not legally binding.  

Jacquie said there has been a “deliberate managed decline” of the area to encourage residents to vote yes.  

In response to a Freedom of Information request she submitted, it emerged that the council had spent £238,899 on repairs and maintenance between 2011 and 2017 but rents and service charges had brought an income of £2,601,009 during the same period.

  She said: “There’s been a deliberate managed decline to get people to vote for the demolition of their own homes.  

“They’ve put a lot of resources into getting this yes result, they’ve put more money into the yes result than they did between 2011 and 2017 on repairs and maintenance.” 

Christian added: “I’m quite upset about [the vote] but I know it was an obvious result with all the resources that Lewisham had.  

“With Austin House and Fenton House people were complaining about rats and cockroaches.  

“When we went around it didn’t look too nice. It looks quite run down.

 “The council have done that so people can be like ‘yes we want to move out of this s***hole – not knowing that Lewisham Council has provided this s***hole.” 

The businesses in the area had no say in the vote and some received no information from the council until today (Wednesday, November 13), when a letter arrived informing them of the result.

News Shopper:

Ali and his cousin, who run a restaurant set to be demolished, are very worried about the future  

Ali Akpinar, who took over the lease of Mez Mangal Turkish Cuisine last September, has spent £300,000 setting up the restaurant.  

He said because of his debts he has lost his family and his future is “destroyed” because of the plans for the area.  

Ali, who runs the restaurant with his cousin, said: “When I took over last December no one told me they were planning any of this.

 “I paid £80,000 to the previous leaseholder and about £220,000 on decorating.

“They say they are trying to make this area better for people but what about the people who are here? They should make all the people in the area happy. 

“I come from Turkey, I would expect this type of thing there but this is England – it’s supposed to be democratic. Where is the democracy?” 

The council worker who delivered the letter today told him construction would not start for five to seven years.  

Ali added: “We are really down, we don’t know what we are going to do. I can’t sleep and I don’t want to go into work. What sort of life is that?

“I’ve tried to see if I could sell but of course no one wants to buy.” 

News Shopper:

Serkan Tanksisi, manager of a cafe set to be demolished said businesses should have a say

Serkan Tankisi, from Delicious Café, said: “I feel bad about this because I am here five years now in this area, I know my customers, I know everyone here.

“The council has not renewed the lease but when we contact them for information we get nothing back. We weren’t told about the vote either.

“If they are planning something for us they should tell us about it.”  Jacquie said money is behind the demolition of the area.  

She said: “There’s an element of social cleansing, they see that the area is right in the middle of New Cross.  

“This is a prime location, we’ve got city views and brilliant transport links. They see it as an opportunity to make some money.” 

A council spokesperson said: “We are pleased that the vast majority of residents voted in favour of regeneration.

“This allows Lewisham Council to begin the process to improve the site and with the expectation that we build additional council homes to help alleviate the demand for housing the borough.

“The ballot held on the Achilles Street estate was a resident ballot, where the people that live on the estate have the primary say on the future of the estate.

“However the ballot is not the final step in the process and there will be ongoing consultation and engagement with all of the local community, including businesses as the design of the redevelopment is finalised.

“All of the businesses within the redevelopment area have been informed of the ballot result, and the council will work with them over the coming years to find the best individual solutions for each business.

 “In our Landlord Offer to residents on the Achilles Street estate, we have set out that a maximum of 50 per cent of the new properties built will be private homes for rent or sale, to pay for the redevelopment.

“At least 35 per cent of the new homes will be council owned homes for social rent, with the remaining 15 per cent being a combination of additional council owned homes for social rent and other types of affordable homes such as shared equity for existing resident leaseholders, shared ownership, or London Living Rent.

“The reason the council proposed the regeneration of the Achilles Street estate was to build additional council homes, and the overwhelming support of residents on the estate demonstrates that the majority of them support this aim.

“The ‘yes’ vote will allow the council to provide 100 to 150 new council owned homes for social rent.

“All current council tenants and residents leaseholders have been guaranteed new homes on the rebuilt estate."