Britain's 'most expensive council house' can't be sold
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Communities, Finance
Britain's 'most' expensive council property can't be sold
A council property labelled Britain's "most expensive" by a right-wing think tank can't be sold, it has emerged.
Policy Exchange's latest report - 'Ending Expensive Social Tenancies' - calls for the selling off of expensive social housing, and notes a Camden Council lodge building as being the most costly.
But the property (pictured) on the outskirts of Waterlow Park was gifted to the council by philanthropist Sir Sydney Waterlow and can't be sold due to the conditions of the legacy.
In its report, Policy Exchange says of the property: "Camden own perhaps the most expensive social property, valued at over £2 million. The Camden council-owned gatehouse is so far removed from the average taxpayer’s house as to beggar belief. It is absurd this is social housing."
It referenced a Daily Telegraph article run in 2008, which revealed that a Camden council tenant had moved into the Grade II-listed building while repairs were carried out on her home.
The building was used for temporary accommodation from November 2008 to Jan 2011, but is longer part of the council's property portfolio.
Leader of Camden Council, Councillor Sarah Hayward, said: “Swains Lane Lodge is situated in Waterlow Park which is a public park managed through a charitable Trust by Camden Council. It is not part of Camden’s housing portfolio and there are legal restrictions in place which would prevent the building being sold. We believe it was therefore disingenuous of the Policy Exchange to include this in their report.
"We are working with and consulting local stakeholders, residents and the Charity Commission to find a use for the lodge which will give it a sustainable future. How the building can be used is restricted by the terms of the charitable trust which ensures that the park and the buildings within it are used for public benefit.”
David Cameron’s favourite think tank wants a mandatory obligation on councils and housing associations to sell off the 22% of social homes – 816,000 properties – above the median value in their areas when they become vacant (some 28,500) a year. The sales could fund up to 170,000 new homes a year with the £4.5bn raised, it says. This, it argues, could reduce waiting lists by between 250,000 to 600,000 households in five years.
However, Cllr Mike Jones, Chairman of the Local Government Association's Environment and Housing Board (LGA), is wary of the plans. He said: "These are decisions that should be taken at a local level by councils who best know the value of their housing stock and the extent and type of housing needed in their area.
"While selling off expensive stock to pay for more new homes may be sensible in some parts of the country, in other areas it could risk driving out key workers and undermining councils' efforts to ensure that the demographic makeup of towns and cities is conducive to a vibrant local economy. In addition, we need to make sure people living in affordable housing can access jobs, education and other opportunities to avoid concentrations of unemployment and disadvantage."
Commenting on the publication of the Policy Exchange report, Cllr Sarah Hayward said: “We believe the widespread sale of social housing to fund rebuilding programmes is wrong and fails to grasp the needs and complexity of housing mixed communities in some of the most deprived areas of the country.
“Here in Camden we have over 20,000 people waiting for accommodation in social housing. Raising funds by selling off properties is a false economy. It would be equally as expensive to purchase land in central London and commence a re-building programme, re-providing the homes sold.
“As a Council we have shown that the widespread sale of social housing is not required to provide investment and build new homes. We have developed a Community Investment Programme (CIP), a plan over 15 years to invest money in schools, homes and community facilities. While making a commitment to increase the number of homes in the social housing stock we may sell or redevelop properties that are out of date, expensive to maintain, or underused and difficult to access. This will help us generate funds that are not otherwise available to reinvest into improving other services and facilities.
“Our innovative approach of looking at where we can protect and enhance our communities will see the first social housing for a generation built in Camden. 850 social and affordable homes will be built, £119 million will be spend on improving the homes of our tenants and our children and young people will benefit from £117 million of investment in our schools.
“All of this investment comes at a time of when central government has cut over £80 million from Camden’s budget in addition to £200 million earmarked to rebuild schools across Camden.
“We have shown that a Plan B can be developed in the face of central government savings that retain the unique social mix in Camden without ripping the heart from established communities, something the Policy Exchange report appears to advocate.”