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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 July 2007, 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK
Estate of the 70s divided by its future
By Jon Kelly
BBC News, Aylesbury estate, south London

Aylesbury Estate, Southwark
Tony Blair highlighted deprivation on the Aylesbury estate in 1997

Gordon Brown has promised to build three million new homes as the campaign group Defend Council Housing has repeated its call for more accommodation provided by local authorities.

So what do residents on a council estate that became emblematic of Labour's poverty policy think of plans to replace it with a mix of rented housing association properties and private homes?

When its stark, ugly concrete walls surround you on every side, it feels as though the Aylesbury estate, in Southwark, south London, doesn't want you to escape.

Architecture that once - in more idealistic times - must have looked bold and inspiring now appears merely bleak and oppressive.

'Extra money'

The 7,500 people who live here know all too well that their community has become a byword for urban decay.

Jean Bartlett
There's no doubt the extra money has improved the estate
Jean Bartlett

In 1997 Tony Blair made his first speech as prime minister here, promising an end to "no hope areas" blighting Britain's inner cities.

A decade on, local politicians can point to impressive crime and education statistics following record investment. But the lifts still smell of urine and the central heating keeps breaking down.

Local people are divided about the prospects for improving the estate, which was built between 1967 and 1977.

Jean Bartlett, 56, chairwoman of the Aylesbury tenants association, has lived here most of her life.

She is optimistic that plans launched by the local authority in 2005 to bulldoze the estate and replace it with a mix of private and rented housing-association properties, will transform it.

"There's no doubt the extra money has improved the estate - more people have jobs and the kids are doing better at school," she says. "But that hasn't stopped the buildings deteriorating.

"I'd rather live in a council house. But the option on the table for starting again with new housing association flats is much better than what we've got at the moment."

Jean points to the fruits of a 56m New Deal for Communities investment programme.

Since it began in 1999, the proportion of children achieving five good GCSEs has jumped from 17% to 55%. Fear of crime has halved and now there are 108 criminal offences per 1000 of the population, compared with 408 when the scheme was launched.

Police officer on the Aylesbury estate, south London
Crime has fallen on the estate - but the bleak architecture remains

But not all her neighbours are so supportive. Many are furious that a 2001 ballot - in which 70% of residents voted against a plan to transfer ownership of their homes to a housing association - has, they say, been ignored.

Southwark Council insists that the new scheme is different from the one rejected by tenants.

But domestic violence support worker Aysen Dennis, 47, who lives on the estate, is not comforted by this.

"At the end of the day, it's privatisation - and we voted against that," she complains. "They don't care what we think.

"They're trying to socially cleanse the area, drive all the working class people out."

'Design errors'

Piers Corbyn, of local anti-stock transfer group Tenants First, agrees. "I can't see a case for demolishing the estate," he says. "Why can't they just put the problems right?"

But Steve Pearce, director of Aylesbury New Deal for Communities, insists that starting from scratch is the cheaper option.

"There were fundamental design errors when the Aylesbury was built, not least the dominance of social housing across the area," he says.

And resident Cathy McIver, 51, says she welcomes the council's plans.

"I'd like to see more council houses. But what's on offer is much nicer than what we've presently got. Isn't that what's important?"

Housing dominates Brown's agenda
11 Jul 07 |  Politics
Fresh start for run-down estate
28 Sep 05 |  London
Q&A: Social housing
14 Jun 07 |  Politics

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