Opinion: Tories’ housing plot uncovered?

The Evening Standard published a bold article last Thursday suggesting that Hammersmith & Fulham Council and the Tory leadership were in a plot reminiscent of the days of Dame Shirley Porter (‘Plot to rid council estates of Poor’, 9 July 2009)

Hammersmith & Fulham Council is currently consulting on their Local Development Framework (LDF) Core Strategy Options which repeatedly refers to a need for ‘decent neighbourhoods’. Neighbourhoods that are currently not ‘decent’ have been identified throughout the borough.

It seems to me that if these neighbourhoods contained homes which do not meet national ‘decent homes standards’ then the Council and Hammersmith & Fulham Homes should be working to bring them up to standard. Where the neighbourhoods have residents who are jobless and on benefits, then the Council has a duty to provide training and improved skills. The solution should not be to demolish and decant whole estates.

The Council has, however, shown a preference for the easy fix by proposing the rebuilding of properties primarily for sale. The only assurance they provide existing residents is that the equivalent number of ‘habitable rooms’ (not number of units) for social renting will be preserved, and this over the next 20 years!

There are two conclusions that we can draw from this. First, many local residents will be without a home in Hammersmith & Fulham in years to come and will be likely to have to seek housing outside of the borough. Second, the Tory Council seems to be focussed on changing the demographics of their voters in this marginal constituency.

The present Labour MP Andrew Slaughter has felt suitably threatened and has raised the alarm claiming to have uncovered a trail of evidence showing possible complicity amongst the leadership of Hammersmith & Fulham Council – the Tory leadership as well as the right wing think tank, Localis – on this subject.

So what can we do about this? My initial reaction was to call on Lib Dem colleagues at the London Assembly to pressure the Mayor to ensure delivery of real affordable housing in the borough. Mayor Boris Johnson has yet to fulfil his pre-election pledge to build at least 50,000 new affordable homes. I believe that these homes must include at least 35% social rented properties as opposed to low cost properties for sale, or co-ownership which Tories like to masquerade as affordable housing.

In addition, I and local Lib Dems will continue working with those residents worried about losing their homes to ensure that their voices are heard. We have also in our response to the ‘consultation’ called for a balance of private, commercial and community interests, improved transport links that would help bridge the north south divide within the borough and reminded the Council that new buildings would have to be sustainable and energy efficient.

As for the vision of Hammersmith as a ‘Borough of Opportunity’, we just hope that the slogan does not belie a more sinister intent as did Westminster’s ‘Building Stable Communities’.

* Merlene Emerson is Lib Dem PPC for Hammersmith.

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3 Comments

  • Merlene, this strikes me as a golden campaigning opportunity for H&F constituency party ahead of next year’s local and general elections.
    Alan Bullion PPC 2005 Hammersmith & Fulham

  • Good luck – it would be good to see us return to H&F council. But remember that there is good evidence that monolithic estates are poor for kids and adult outcomes, even when you take into account everything you can take into account (see John Hills Report, Ends and Means, and the latest Lupton/Tunstall paper)

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Jul '09 - 11:07am

    From the Evening Standard article:


    The report says council estates “deliver a risible return on assets”. It calls for council rents to be increased to market levels, a move that it estimates would raise £5billion a year nationwide in extra income that could then be spent on building new homes.

    Well, yes, council estates by law must deliver 0% return on assets. They must be run at cost, through a separate account which neither funds nor is subsidised by the general account into which council tax goes.

    If council housing were let at market rate rather than the costs of maintaining it and paying off the long-term loans which were used to pay for building them, the net result would be a huge increase in housing benefit – which already pays much council house rent as most tenants can’t afford it even when it is at cost price rather than market rate. But, that’s paid for by national taxpayers, not from council tax or direct grant to local authority general funds, so why should the council worry about that? Employers benefit from the cheapo labour which this housing benefit enables, so we taxpayers are subsidising them as well as the landlords.

    It would work out better all round to have more housing provided at cost not market rates – more availability would drive down market rates – paid for by local authority bonds which deliver a modest but safe interest rate to investors. That is how it used to be before Mrs Thatcher decided to smash up council housing.

    It would be nice if the architecture profession showed some degree of contriteness over the fact they have bestowed on us buildings which are unpleasant to live in, expensive to maintain, and in fact it is more cost effective to tear them down and start again only decades after they were built. As the recent furore over Chelsea Barracks shows, not only are they unable to do this, they still seem to use artsy waffle to justify erecting things which seem to be more about satisfying their own egos with something that looks striking on the drawing board than building something long-lasting, which does the basic job of keeping its residents comfortable, and which doesn’t cost a fortune to keep in good order.

    The result of this is that there are plenty of places where this is being done – rubbishy block-style council housing being torn down to be replaced by new housing with the costs partly paid for selling off some of that new housing to private buyers. The only issue I can see here with H&F is that they have been a bit more forthright about the hoped political effect than is sensible.

    One other thing to note with large scale decant and demolition plans is the pressure that places on existing council housing. While it’s being done, much council housing that does become available goes to decant cases, meaning a reduction in what’s available to be offered to anyone else. The people in the quiet cottage estate at one end of the borough (built before the days of architects’ egos) may find it hard to understand why a house becoming available there always goes to a mum with one kid from the other end of the borough when their own grown up children with two or three kids can’t get one – the one-kid mum was a decant case, you see but they don’t. Now you can imagine what they say in your councillor’s surgery when the decant cases tend to be a different colour than them …

    On H&F, I recall that they had another way of getting rid of people they didn’t like from their borough. I seem to remember a few years ago they had a London-wide advertising campaign to encourage private landlords to get in touch with them to have H&F tenants delivered to them – guaranteed housing benefit income through the good offices of LB H&F. And once these tenants were living in another borough, if as their messy lives often dictated they fell apart and some of them landed up homeless and in need – well, it was now the borough in which they were living that had to provide the council housing for them under the Homeless Persons Act.

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