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Camden New Journal - By RICHARD OSLEY
Published: 24 January 2008
Frank Dobson MP
Frank Dobson MP
Commons hears plight of ‘shit-heap’ homes tenants

End this punishment and release cash for repairs, MP urges

TENANTS must be experiencing a heavy bout of déjà vu but it did not stop them descending on Parliament on Tuesday afternoon to demand – for the umpteenth time – investment in their council homes.
It isn’t the first time Camden campaigners have lobbied MPs for a change in policy but if housing ministers thought they were winning a grinding war of attrition this latest show of defiance must have given them second thoughts. The stand-off with the government has now run for four years.
Tenants made it clear to a panel of MPs investigating government housing strategy on Tuesday that they are not prepared to lose control of their homes.
The latest protest came as Holborn and St Pancras Labour MP Frank Dobson showed his growing frustration by accusing the government of leaving stranded tenants to live in a “shit-heap” by investing only in areas where local authorities back national policy.
He told the parliamentary inquiry: “The government say they want local people to take local decisions – well, this is the decision that Camden have taken and we ought to honour it. We have just got to keep battling away on this because it is absolutely bloody ridiculous what’s going on.
“We need to make sure wherever people want to remain council tenants they should be allowed to stay as council tenants and they shouldn’t then be punished by not having their housing done up – because that’s the arrangement at the moment.”
Campaigners want ministers to use the housing bill, currently creeping through Parliament, to open the door to funding and clear a growing backlog of repairs.
In short, protesters want Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s warm words about council housing when he moved into Number 10 last year turned into reality. Camden has essentially missed out on investment purely because of ideological reasons.
While tenants want to keep the council as their landlord, giving them in theory the power at the ballot box to influence its decisions, the government has been hiving off homes to housing associations and new companies known as arm’s-length management organisations (Almos). All transfer options have been rejected in Camden.
Mr Dobson added: “If you vote for the Almo you get your house done up, if you vote for the council you live in the shit-heap. That’s basically the choice they [the government] has been putting forward. It’s unfair, it’s wrong and I have to congratulate everyone who has been campaigning against it.”
Brian Pordage, from Camden Federation of Tenants and Residents Associations, told MPs: “The government know that council housing is the tenants’ choice, the choice they have made over the years. Unfortunately, in Camden the housing stock is deteriorating and needs a massive amount of money spent on it. Reaching the decent homes standard for all homes has been put back to 2017.”
He was speaking at an evidence-gathering session held by the House of Commons housing group, which aims to reveal how the government has misjudged the mood over council housing in recent years by trying to hive off as many homes as possible to the private sector. It was standing room only for latecomers.
Mr Pordage, from Lissenden Gardens estate, in Kentish Town, warned: “What we need is direct investment into our council homes. Camden tenants know they need that investment now.”
While protesters have seen the inside of the House of Commons on several occasions during their campaign, its urgency is becoming more critical.
Tenants might be willing to take on the government but Liberal Democrat housing chief Councillor Chris Naylor is not prepared to wait any longer and has mapped out plans to sell council homes to help plug the gaps.
Labour’s housing spokesman Councillor Roger Robinson said: “I know they are moving towards stock transfer in Camden. They have now got to the stage where they are selling off the freehold to leaseholders.
“Fifty per cent of our property in Camden is owned by private developers. We need a massive campaign. We support the campaign for council housing 100 per cent.”
Cllr Naylor passed his apologies to the inquiry for not being able to attend Tuesday’s session, which might have been akin to walking into the lion’s den.
He has supplied written evidence to the panel instead, the MPs were told.
The only Lib Dem in sight was parliamentary candidate Jo Shaw, who took notes from the public seats.

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