There was a Hammersmith and Fulham Council Cabinet meeting last night which pushed ahead with plans to abolish council housing in the borough – despite preventing any proper scrutiny of the plans.
First of all they will need to persuade a majority of our 12,260 council tenants to vote for it in a ballot – that is a statutory requirement.
But what about the 4,858 leaseholders?
I asked the council leader Cllr Stephen Cowan if he would guarantee that they would have a ballot – and that the stock transfer would only proceed if a majority of them voted for it too.
There followed a prolonged series of evasions. Their views would be “taken into account”, they would have a “voice”, there would be a “consultation”, there would be a “sample”, the “law would be followed to the letter”.
I concluded that the short answer was: “No.” Leaseholders in the audience drew the same conclusion. “Come on, no ifs, not buts”, demanded one. All he was rewarded with was another torrent of waffle from the council leader.
Some Labour councillors persist in presenting the proposal as a way to block estate redevelopment.
In fact it would make estate redevelopment a legal and financial imperative. There would be no veto by the residents of an individual estate to have their homes demolished. There would be no assurance that leaseholders would be able to afford replacement homes on the same land- which would be of higher market value and cost more than there existing properties even with a discount.
Cllr Cowan said he had blocked redevelopment on the Queen Caroline and Ashcroft Square estates. But we don’t know whether or not they would be redeveloped under the “Community Gateway”. We are told there would be 500 net new homes achieved through redevelopment – but we are not told where.
So far £1.25 million of your money has been spent on this misguided proposals and last night’s meeting voted through the spending of another £1.25 million.
Yet even if they were of merit what are the odds of them happening. They would require George Osborne to provide a £208 million debt write off.
If the new “Community Gateway” took over it was presented as being able to borrow – and therefore spend – as much as it liked without the “dead hand of the debt cap” that the Council is subjected to. This ignored the point that it would need to persuade hardheaded commercial investors that they would get return on their money. The Council’s Housing Director said that this “could” happen.
This is not to say that everything is fine at present – far from it.
As the Housing Commissions report said of independent market research they carried out:
“59% of respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with the quality of the housing services provided by the Council as their landlord. This is a lower figure than expected and would be regarded as a matter for concern by comparison with other social landlords if it were to be replicated in annual STAR survey returns.”
That is quite right. The national average of the Survey of Tenants and Leaseholders is an 86% satisfaction rate for tenants and 62% for leaseholders.
The below average score reflects the declining standards since Labour took control of the Council. For example fly-tipping on estates has become much worse.
A council report approved last night said the 59 per cent score was “comparable with other housing organisations in London” – which I felt was a misleading indication that it was average. Cllr Ben Coleman is (supposedly) the co-author of the report but when I asked which housing organisations we were comparable to. He didn’t have a clue.
I’ve just read the LBHF Cabinet Report dated 07/12/15 which covers this. Two items got my attention:
However stock transfer would require Government to write off circa £208m of housing debt
There are no express statutory requirements to consult leaseholders
We didn’t bother going to Monday nights meeting. It has been clear from the outset that the Labour group would recommend sell-off of the entire stock. The consultation was a sham, we received no advance notification of over half of the initial consultation meeting, and this was acknowledged and then ignored by the reports author Keith Hill MP when he acknowledged this in a public meeting.
Has anyone seen the record of Keith Hill at Lambeth Living (London Borough of Lambeth housing organisation). It isn’t that great, well not from a tenant/leaseholder basis anyway!
The Labour group stated in their manifesto to consult on the transfer of ownership of council housing to – both – the tenants & leaseholders, not just the tenants, so the leaseholders should be balloted as it was a manifesto commitment to transfer all homes, however tenanted/occupied.
Oh, and of course transferring the stock from one landlord to another, does nothing at all to actually meet the manifesto commitment of allowing council tenants the right to own the land their home is on. In fact, you lose all democratic accountability on stock transfer, whilst still giving away the land your home is on to a private company. Seems daft and it appears to me to breach the manifesto commitments made in the local election!
The reason they don’t want to ballot leaseholders is that there in no benefit at all to them from the transfer and they will vote against once they know the details.