Tenants fighting the controversial sell-off of estates in Hammersmith and Fulham are celebrating the long-awaited publication of the draft regulations for the Right to Manage and Right to Transfer.
The regulations, when finally approved, offer the real prospect that the tenants will be able to fulfil their wish to take over the estates themselves, scuppering the Tory Council’s plan to sell them to private developers as part of the massive redevelopment of Earls Court. It is a reprise of the story of the Walterton and Elgin estates in Westminster, where residents also used Conservative legislation to take control of the estates under tenant control. Community organiser Jonathan Rosenberg, who led the W&E campaign in the 1980s, is assisting the Hammersmith tenants today.
Although now dressed up in the language of Tory Localism and the Big Society, the regulations are made under legislation passed by Labour in 2008 (technically s34A of the 1985 Housing Act). They will put tenants in a much stronger position to take over the management or ownership of their estates. Whatever their position on a proposed transfer, Councils will be under ‘a duty to co-operate’ and will be required to take forward the process of consultation and balloting. As has been the case with all previous stock transfers, the Secretary of State will have the final say within the terms of the guidance set out in the regulations.
Tenants’ groups wishing to exercise the powers will have to demonstrate that their group is credible and that their proposals have the support of the tenants whose homes are affected. In the case of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates in Hammersmith and Fulham, the residents’ group will have little difficulty in showing that this is the case, with huge local support and the majority of residents already signed up to membership of their own community housing trust. Their website provides a history of the struggle over the estates with links to all the key documents and includes hundreds of passionate statements from residents making the case for saving their estates in their own words.
The residents’ statement in response to the draft regulations says:
This long expected announcement spells certain death for the Earl’s Court scheme, which depends on the demolition of the West Kensington & Gibbs Green estates, where residents have long since proven their determination to use S34A to save and take over their homes. It comes bang after residents’ 12 March massive response to Hammersmith & Fulham Council’s proposal to sell their homes to the developer for demolition. A huge majority voted No by a factor of several to one. Indeed, an absolute majority (in excess of 55%, perhaps 60% or more) of all households voted to save the estates.”
It is intriguing to see the policies of the Tory Government in favour of tenant empowerment clashing with the policies of a Tory Council determined to sell council estates off to developers. No surprise that, so far, Boris Johnson has been helpful to the Council and the developers. The leader of the council, Stephen Greenhalgh, has seen many of his favoured policies for council housing – many fewer social rented homes in total, rents moving towards market levels, and less security of tenure – translated into national policy. He will also claim to be a fan of localism, but localism is a difficult concept for Tories when it threatens multi-billion pound property deals.
These estates are not only hugely valuable to the developers: they provide over 600 homes to 2,000 people, both tenants and right-to-buy leaseholders. The residents are proving that council estates are often strong communities and that council tenants are not only willing to fight for their rights but have all the skills needed to take over and run their estates well.