The really ideal home show

There was some really good news at Earl’s Court this week. But it had nothing to do with the opening of the Ideal Home Show or the fact that Prince Charles was there and everything to do with the future of the exhibition hall and the surrounding area.

The good news came from an unlikely source too: housing minister Grant Shapps and a DCLG consultation on ‘helping tenants take control’. The plans include a ‘right to transfer’ that will allow tenants to ask that that the ownership of their homes be transferred from the council to a housing association. At the moment they can ask for a transfer but the council has no obligation to consider the idea. Under the consultation, the council would be obliged to work with them.

Normally, something like that might be the cue for tenant activists to attack Tory plans for ‘privatisation’ but not this time. Instead tenant campaigners on the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates are celebrating what they see as ‘certain death’ for a huge scheme to demolish their 750 homes as part of a redevelopment plan for Earl’s Court. Developer Capital & Counties says that it will bring huge benefits to residents if local Conservative council Hammersmith & Fulham includes the two estates in the scheme.

The council enthusiastically backs the idea but the residents beg to differ and have just voted by a big majority to reject the idea in a community consultation. But they had already gone beyond that by registering their own resident-controlled housing association and writing to communities secretary Eric Pickles to invite him to make the regulations requiring the council to co-operate.

If all of that sounds familiar, that’s because it is. As Steve Hilditch explains over at Red Brick, that’s pretty much exactly what happened to the Walterton & Elgin estates in Westminster in the 1980s when local residents used Conservative legislation to seize control against the wishes of the Conservative council and Shirley Porter. One of the architects of that, Jonathan Rosenberg, is now helping the West Kensington and Gibbs Green residents.

All of which posed quite a dilemma for Pickles and Shapps and their ‘localist’ agenda. Would they interpret that literally and go along with the residents’ wishes? Or would they listen to Hammersmith & Fulham leader Stephen Greenhalgh, a rising star in the Conservative party, author of a radical plan to deregulate social housing and enthusiastic backer of the redevelopment? He spent last year lobbying the DCLG to water down the transfer plan and ended a letter to junior minister Greg Clark with a handwritten plea that ‘PS: I really need your help on this.’ More detail on that on Dave Hill’s London Blog here.

There’s still a long way to go of course and the right to transfer plan is only out to consultation (until 23 May). But for the moment it’s hard not to celebrate a very rare bit of good news about housing – and for once it has absolutely nothing to do with Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen.

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