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Blast from the past 6th October 2006 – Tower Hamlets’ agenda of choice stopped in its tracks.

Anti-transfer campaigners have declared Tower Hamlets Council’s controversial Housing Choice programme ‘dead in the water’ after tenants comprehensively voted against stock transfer in four ballots last week.

The latest transfer rejections, which included 62.7 per cent of residents who voted on the 1,600 home Ocean estate, reflect a growing trend of tenants turning against transfer in the borough. Out of the last 15 estate based ballots, 10 have elected to keep the council as their landlord.

The other no votes were on the Cleveland, Locksley and Boundary estates. On the Boundary estate more than 87 per cent voted no in a 74 per cent turnout.

Tower Hamlets was the birthplace of Defend Council Housing in 1998. The Housing Choice programme, in which overall 18 out of 30 estates have voted to transfer, was set up to give each estate the opportunity to transfer.

Glyn Robbins, Respect Party chair in Tower Hamlets, claimed that the housing choice programme was now ‘dead in the water’.

‘It has now got to the point of critical mass and the council cannot continue to be the King Canute of housing policy,’ he said. ‘They are sitting there and the waves are lapping at their feet.’

Sanctuary Housing Association, which had hoped to take over the homes on the Ocean estate, had set up an office on site and had spent ‘significant sums’ preparing for the transfer.

Chris Withnall, group housing services director at Sanctuary, said the association was ‘stunned and disappointed’ at the result. ‘We have been working with tenants for three years,’ he said. ‘All of the proposals were worked up with residents.’

Maureen McEleney, director of housing management at Tower Hamlets Council, said the council was set on continuing its Housing Choice programme of transferring estates one by one. ‘In so far as we have made a commitment to our residents to give decision making to them, we have an obligation to honour that,’ she said.

But the latest results meant it was ‘highly unlikely’ the council would meet the government’s 2010 decent homes deadline, she admitted.

Staff cuts at the council are a possibility as a result of the wave of votes against transfer. ‘I think we would have to consider all sorts,’ McEleney said. The council would need to scrutinise its revenue account if it
was to consider using prudential borrowing to fund housing investment, which would include examining staffing levels.

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