Following Tory think-tank proposals to sell off expensive council houses and build cheaper social housing in poorer areas, Frank Dobson accuses government of ‘favouring estate agents over people'

Thursday, 23rd August 2012

On the warpath: Frank Dobson

Published: 23 August, 2012
by RICHARD OSLEY

HOLBORN and St Pancras MP Frank Dobson has accused the government of backing policies for “estate agents, not people” amid suggestions that expensive council homes should be sold off to pay for cheaper social housing elsewhere.

The Labour MP is on the warpath over ideas unveiled on Monday by Conservative-aligned think-tank Policy Exchange which called on local authorities to sell council properties that command high prices and to even set a regional cap on how much a council home can be worth.

The money would then be redistributed to build social housing in cheaper areas. The think-tank’s ideas were welcomed by housing minister Grant Shapps and Prime Minister David Cameron, whose spokesman said: “If they [local authorities] can sell very high value housing and use that to invest in more social housing and find homes for more people that is clearly something they should look at.”

Mr Shapps added that only “perverse left-wing dogma” was holding councils back from going to the market.

Camden would be a key target area for any such policy due to the scale of inner-London property prices and the money that could be raised by selling houses and flats in areas such as Bloomsbury, Camden Town, Hampstead and West Hampstead.
But Mr Dobson said: “When we look at the social impact, we are talking about the breakdown of communities and the creation of ghettos. Parts of London will be left for rich foreign bankers and nobody else. This mad idea shows this is a government not for people but for estate agents.”
He added: “We are talking about communities where people have had families for generations, often starting off in basic flats and homes. There is a practical element too. Once they’ve got all of this money, where are they going to build new council housing, because there is nowhere in Camden they can do that on that scale?”

Mr Dobson said he was aware of a housing association which had followed the same route by selling social housing in Camden and using the money for new-builds in Cambridgeshire.
He added: “When the toffs move in, who do they think is going to clean their streets and deliver their milk? People would have to commute into work for these jobs.”

Leader of Camden’s Liberal Democrats, Councillor Keith Moffitt, said he and his colleagues did not back the scheme. “I think a place like West Hampstead is a classic example of a mixed community,” he added. “It benefits from people from all walks of life. We don’t want to get to a stage where London is just a place for the rich.”

Conservative group leader Councillor Andrew Mennear said that it was important to distinguish between think-tank ideas and government policy.
“We think there is merit in the proposals that short-term tenancies should be offered in new leases but not existing tenancies,” he added.
“This is an idea from a think-tank at a time when parties will be thinking about future manifestos. This is not government policy, so people shouldn’t get too excited about it now – but if Frank Dobson wants to draw attention to the fact as an MP he has been living in a council house for many years, that’s up to him. It’s him that’s raising it.”

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