London's homeless offered council flats for pounds 35 a week - in Yorkshire

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The Independent Online
THE CLICHeS about it being grim in the north are becoming more than a little tiresome to the authorities in West Yorkshire. More than 1,000 council homes stand empty in Kirklees and, in desperation, councillors are offering them to people from London.

Kirklees Metropolitan Council in West Yorkshire's Last of the Summer Wine country is trying to lure people from the capital to a new life. The vacant properties are spread across an area which includes Holmfirth, where the BBC series is filmed, and Huddersfield.

Locals are "very choosy" about their council houses, according to John Earnshaw, the council's Voids Project Manager, whose job it is to fill them. So though there is a local waiting list for some homes, others have lain empty for months.

Now every London borough has been alerted to Kirklees's unwanted pounds 35- per-week one-bedroom flats and pounds 55-per-week post-war houses. "Everyone can relate to Last of the Summer Wine country," Mr Earnshaw said. "All I've seen on the news is that the South East is very crowded. This a nice area to live and if there is a shortage down there we have plenty up here so why not come and join us?" An extract from publicity material for the television series has been dispatched.

The empty stock is centred on the more deprived suburbs of Newsome and Crosland Moor, which are five miles from idyllic Holmfirth and Meltham, the setting for television's Where the Heart is, but have unemployment rates of more than 9 per cent. The average weekly wage is pounds 314.60, against the UK mean of pounds 351.17.

The council's firmness with council house tenants who get into arrears leaves little scope for delinquent tenants: 300 eviction orders have been granted, of which the council has executed 40, in recent months.

Prospective residents should take heart from a Wealth of the Nation report which showed that Huddersfield has one of the UK's highest income growth rates. Kate Markey, editor of The Big Issue in the North, warned that secure accommodation in Kirklees would not solve the problems of the homeless. "Getting them into the houses is only part of the battle - it's keeping them there."