Tuesday 6 July 2010

Letter To Prime Minister David Cameron Following His Hammersmith "Lies" Comments

It is rare for great statesmen and women to make allegations of lies but David Cameron is a long way from proving he's anything close to resembling a great statesman.  On the 22nd May 2010, our Prime Minister, gave an interview to Robert Winnett and Andrew Porter of the Daily Telegraph. In it Mr. Cameron sought to explain why his candidate had failed to win the Hammersmith parliamentary seat by saying Labour had made up "appalling" lies about the Tories' plans to demolish social housing and make the rest of it unaffordable for social housing residents.

This is complete nonsense. There were no lies. So, on the 27th May 2010 I wrote to the Prime Minister detailing why he is wrong and seeking an explanation along with six important guarantees that will protect the rights of the tenants and leaseholders under threat. You can read the letter here. I am yet to receive any sort of reply.

"Dear Prime Minister

I was surprised to read your accusation in the Daily Telegraph that the Conservatives failed to win the parliamentary seat in Hammersmith because of “appalling Labour lies”. You went on to say “They were telling people in Hammersmith they were going to have their council house taken away by the Tories”.

There were no lies and the evidence clearly proves that. I would therefore be grateful if you would explain why you are making this accusation. Given your assertion, it is also reasonable to ask you to clarify your Government’s and the Conservative Party’s position on the housing proposals coming from the Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council. I have set out some of the details around these proposals below to assist you and will happily provide you with more information should you require it.

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”?
I would also be grateful if you would undertake to ensure the following guarantees are offered to the social housing residents in Hammersmith and Fulham:
  • 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 appreciate that four of the six guarantees I seek are in the gift of the Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council. He has failed to offer those to date. As Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party you are clearly able to obtain these.

I am sure you will appreciate that people will indeed find that their council houses have been taken away if Conservative councillors are allowed to knock down much of the affordable housing in our borough, and then fail to replace it with more social housing of the same tenure and level of affordability. And, if any government you lead puts rents up to “near market values” then many residents currently living in social housing in high value areas would be forced to move away to cheaper areas.

Given your assertions that the housing demolitions and loss of tenants’ rights are “lies”, I respectfully suggest that you are obliged to make sure that the housing proposals made by your Conservatives colleagues are stopped immediately.

I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely

Cllr. Stephen Cowan
Leader of the Opposition

Cc Rt Hon John Healey MP
Shadow Minister for Housing

Andrew Slaughter MP"

1 comment:

H. Rachi said...

I first heard of the situation in 2008 from ITV News. I was pleasantly surprised to find the topic on the BBC News during the 2010 electoral campaign as I assumed the situation was over and done with. It was, and is, a topic worth knowing especially for the residents of H&F. Until David Cameron can confirm otherwise, which the residents deserve if the Tory party really do want to back up their case, then I just think he should just admit defeat for both him and Shaun Bailey and stop being so stupidly stubborn on the subject. It isn't helping any thing for either of their credibility.