There are two aspects to the accusations made against the Conservatives on social housing. Firstly, that your colleagues on Hammersmith and Fulham Council hope to demolish 3500 council homes but will not replace them with the same amounts of social housing in the same tenures or level of affordability despite there being nearly 10,000 people on the Borough’s housing waiting list. The Council has already offered these homes to property developers and are currently engaged in negotiations with developers about two estates. Secondly, that Cllr. Stephen Greenhalgh and other leading Conservatives have made a series of policy proposals which they hope will form the basis of a new housing bill. Their proposals seek to remove tenants’ rights and introduce higher “near market rents”. As you will know, Cllr. Greenhalgh published these ideas last spring in a paper titled Principles for Social Housing Reform. During that period he also instigated a series of ‘round table’ meetings which were attended by Grant Shapps, your housing minister, and other leading Conservatives.
It is almost three years since I first uncovered information that this borough’s Conservative councillors were considering knocking down local council housing. Details of Cllr. Greenhalgh’s policy paper and round table meeting have been in the public realm for almost a year. So it is a concern that, despite all this and the high levels of publicity around it, the Conservative Party at no point took any measures to reassure residents affected by such proposals.
Instead, it appears that your party adopted a damage limitation strategy and refused to provide any comprehensive answers to your political opponents, journalists or residents whose homes are under threat.
Indeed, you will remember that John Healey MP took the unusual step of writing to you about this matter on 28th July 2009 when he was the Housing Minister. Given the content of that letter, it was reasonable to expect you to categorically deny any accusations you felt were unfair and to clarify the Conservative Party’s position. In particular, he asked you to assure him that “changes to tenancy rights and changes to rent levels as set out in Cllr. Greenhalgh’s Localis paper will not become Conservative policy”. You did not provide those detailed assurances.
Likewise, on 5th January 2010 you twice side-stepped residents’ questions on this subject when you visited St. Paul's Church, Hammersmith. You will recall that you initially answered a resident of the West Kensington Estate saying “There’s an awful lot of black propaganda being put about by the Labour Party and others.” When Maxine Bayliss, a resident of Queen Caroline Estate whose home is under threat, informed you that your Conservative colleagues on Hammersmith and Fulham Council had actually published a list of estates targeted for “redevelopment” you simply concluded that exchange by telling her "If you don't like them stand for election."
Ms. Bayliss was right to ask you to look at Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s Local Development Framework as you would have been able to view the list of council house estates under threat and explain what that meant for Ms. Bayliss and many residents like her..
I therefore ask that you clarify the following matters:
- Will you guarantee that no government you lead will ever seek to end secure council home tenancies as they currently stand?
- Will you guarantee that no government you lead will ever seek to put social housing tenants’ rents up to market values or “near market values”?
- Guarantee that there will be a vote by residents on any proposals of any estate threatened with demolition, requiring a 55% agreement – as was the policy of the previous Labour Council Administration
- Guarantee that all tenants whose homes are demolished will be given a new, similar sized home, on the new development with the same rent and tenancy rights and will have an opportunity to choose their new home.
- Guarantee that no resident whose home is demolished will lose out financially or lose any legal rights they currently hold.
- Guarantee that all resident leaseholders whose homes are demolished will be given a new, similar sized, home on the new development at a rate they can afford.
I look forward to your response.Yours sincerely
Cllr. Stephen Cowan
Cc Rt Hon John Healey MP
Shadow Minister for Housing
Andrew Slaughter MP"