Councils snub Westminster homeless plan

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The Independent Online
A plan by Westminster council to export its homeless families to other parts of greater London and the Home Counties has been given the brush-off by many of the 43 authorities approached for co-operation.

Westminster claims that the scheme, under which new homes would be built or developed by housing associations, would house two homeless Westminster families outside the central London borough for the same cost as housing one within it. But there has beenscant interest among the targeted "host" councils, despite a pledge that one-quarter of the homes would be reserved for people on their own local waiting lists.

It is the second such scheme developed by the council, currently the subject of public hearings into allegations that Tory councillors wasted £21m on the 1980s "homes for votes" policy to ensure that key wards remained Tory-supporting.

An earlier arrangement, disclosed in today's issue of Inside Housing, the independent magazine on social housing, involved raising private investment through the Government's business expansion scheme (BES).

The council said yesterday that it led to the acquisition of several hundred homes for Westminster clients in the outer London borough of Hillingdon, by the Peabody Trust.

A further 102 homes that would have been eagerly accepted by local homeless families were developed by Airways Housing Society much further afield, in areas covered by Epsom and Ewell, Spelthorne and Elmbridge District Councils, and given to Westminster families.

The ending of the BES prompted Westminster to devise the replacement scheme. Both were justified because of high property prices, the council said.

Mervyn Caplan, chairman of the housing committee, insisted that Westminster homeless families would be under no compulsion to move out of the borough. But the reality dictated that they would be unlikely to receive a home unless they did.

Acquisitions of more than 20 "units" of outside housing require the permission of host councils, however. Although letters outlining the proposal were sent out in August, no agreements have been reached and Westminster is now describing the plan as "one option for the future."

Mr Caplan admitted: "We are disappointed. The response has not been very good, even though the host area would get 25 per cent of the homes to house their own people."

He disputed that Westminster tenants would displace local homeless families. "These areas don't have the funds to develop the schemes. If we don't develop the schemes, they wouldn't happen."

He denied that the "homes for votes" allegations had influenced councils. "It would appear to be a purely political decision. We are a Conservative council, and in many cases these are not Conservative councils."