Hammersmith and Fulham Council has abandoned its ambitious plans to transfer its housing stock to a specially-formed housing association which was intended to strengthen residents’ control over the future of their homes and protect them against unwanted future demolition.
A report by the Labour-run borough’s director of finance and resources, to be considered by a council committee next week, says that “the stock transfer programme has been closed” due to the government making clear there is no funding to support it and “all other options” for financing it falling short of what is required.
Council members voted to pursue the transfer to a “community gateway” not-for-profit body in December 2015 following the recommendations of a Residents’ Commission on Council Housing it had set up earlier that year under the leadership of former Streatham MP and Labour housing minister Keith Hill.
Labour gained control of what had been a flagship Conservative authority in 2014, promising to “work with council tenants to give them ownership of the land their homes are on”. The pledge was made in the context of a Tory regeneration programme which had already seen an agreement made for selling two estates to a private developer as part of the wider Earls Court redevelopment project.
At a conference for council tenants in March 2015, Hill warned that the Conservatives could win the Town Hall back in 2018 and said that Labour’s manifesto pledge was to combat “the risk, as several residents have put it to me, of having their homes sold out from under them”.
Tory councillor Harry Phibbs, the opposition group’s spokesman for housing, has welcomed what he calls an “unwanted proposal to abolish council housing in the borough” as “excellent news”, claiming that the plans had been a waste of money and “left many of Labour’s traditional supporters feeling betrayed”.
Conservatives in Hammersmith opposed the stock transfer during the 2015 general election campaign, which saw Labour’s Andy Slaughter re-elected as the local MP. The Tories will be eager to win back Hammersmith and Fulham in next year’s council elections, having lost it against expectations by 26 seats to 20 in 2014.
The director of finance and resources’s report lists “a number of important benefits” as arising from the residents’ commission and stock transfer programme, despite their core objective being dropped. These include a “blueprint for the housing service” based on evidence gathered at a dozen public hearings, a survey of the condition of the borough’s council homes and improvement engagement with residents.