Gordon Brown and the contenders for deputy leadership of the Labour Party might be making soothing noises about council housing – but the New Labour council in Tower Hamlets, east London, is determined to press ahead with privatisation.
Residents of the Ocean estate in Stepney rejected council-backed plans to transfer their homes to the Sanctuary housing association in a ballot held last October.
But now the council has come back with new proposals for the estate that, like the rejected plan, involve widespread demolition and private luxury housing.
Moreover, the council plans to set up a legal entity called a “special purpose vehicle” to manage the estate – a manoeuvre that may allow it to avoid reballoting residents.
Tower Hamlet’s Respect opposition has vowed to help Ocean residents fight against New Labour’s latest attempt at backdoor privatisation of council housing.
“New Labour should beware of declaring war on the Ocean – this estate has a proud tradition of defeating governments and councils,” said councillor Oliur Rahman, who represents the Ocean estate.
“Ocean tenants will not let New Labour steal what belongs to the people. We will not allow developers to rip down homes and drive out families in order to build more private luxury homes for sale.
“We want to keep the council as our landlord and get the repairs we’re entitled to. We need improvements and new building on the vacant sites, and community centres need to be reopened.”
The council’s insistence on pushing ahead with its redevelopment plans has even angered tenants who voted in favour of transfer last year. They see the council as flagrantly ignoring the democratically expressed wishes of estate residents.
Tower Hamlets council’s dedication to privatisation comes at a time when senior figures in the Labour Party are admitting they might have got it wrong over council housing.
“Even cabinet ministers now see that investment in council housing is the only way to address Britain’s housing crisis,” said councillor Abjol Miah, leader of the Respect group on Tower Hamlets council.
“But Tower Hamlets council wants to tear down much needed council homes to replace them with the type of housing that local people cannot afford – some 43 percent of Ocean families live on less than £10,000 a year.”
Reballots have opened the way to bigger struggle