Wednesday, 8 September 2010

DEATH BY 1,000 CUTS: the future of social housing in Kensington and Chelsea

Since the ConDem government told Councils in July to ignore housing targets set by Labour, we hear that a shocking 100,000 new homes have already been cancelled. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles calls the targets ‘soviet’, preferring a more ‘consensual’ system, which like that other ‘con’ of consultation sounds more like spin than policy.

In any event this will make little difference in Kensington and Chelsea, as the Council was already refusing to accept these targets. The severe overcrowding and shortage of socially rented family sized homes in the borough - to which the ‘consensual’ solution is splitting up families – together with the issue of secure tenancies, might cause the ConDem government to self-combust. Meanwhile the future of shared ownership – which was supported by Labour’s Homebuy funds – is also under threat.

All of which, as we feared and warned the electorate during the election, will do nothing to reduce Council waiting lists and will trap in social rented homes those who might previously have been able to afford shared ownership. They however will be forced to move out of social housing as they will be deemed ‘too rich’, while our poorest and most vulnerable residents and those with children will not be able to afford the homes their neighbours have just moved out of because of Housing Benefit cuts. They will also be thrown into the housing abyss leaving whole swathes of Council and housing association property empty to be sold off; which is already happening right under our noses.

Meanwhile some housing associations are also under stress. Genesis, who owns Paddington Churches, had to selling off a half-finished development beside the canal near Trellick Tower. Catalyst, who owns Kensington Housing Trust, is shuddering under the weight of loans totalling a gob-smacking £250m. Half of this dates from the heady days of 2001, and half in less certain times in 2008 just as the property market had peaked and was beginning its downward slide.

Kensington Housing Trust, struggling with the early stages of the Wornington Green development, needed £30m pumped into it. Insiders now tell us that KHT is braced in anticipation of the possible ConDem trashing of the Low Carbon Building Programme, as part of the comprehensive spending review in October. This scheme funds the photovoltaic cells they are sticking on roofs to get the essential Code 3 Sustainability ticket they need for Phase 1a of Wornington Green. The Labour government had supported the installation of pv cells with generous grants and ‘feed-in’ tariffs for surplus electricity sold back to the National Grid. If this is cut the development, which is teetering on a knife-edge of financial viability, will be scuppered.

As rumours abound that KHT is spending more on PR, spin and consultation at Wornington Green than on repairs and maintenance, the much-loathed development is looking increasingly doomed.

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