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UK Politics

'If I have to move to Stoke, how am I going to see my son?'

Kevin Rawlinson meets Newham locals who say empty homes are being wasted

Martyn Wood is on his way to a friend's flat above a launderette, and he is not happy. "I don't understand it, I could count 30 properties on a five-minute walk round here that are boarded up. It's disgusting."

He, like many others in Newham – one of London's most deprived boroughs – is worried that he may be forced to move away to get a roof over his head.

And that could mean that the 28-year-old father-of-one, who is currently homeless, will end up living miles away from his 18-month-old son. It emerged yesterday that Newham Council has been talking to authorities as far away as Stoke-on-Trent about taking some of the people waiting for a new home.

"I would be happy to take anything, as long as it is not hundreds of miles away," he said, "but if I had to go to somewhere as far away as Stoke, how would I be able to see my boy?"

Although he plans to visit the council to make sure he is on the local waiting list, his hopes are limited: "I spoke to someone recently who was having to go to Leeds because they have council houses there."

Mr Wood is a recovering drug addict, who came to London three years ago after getting clean. After splitting up with his partner this Easter, he has found himself temporarily homeless.

"It is wrong that you should have to be moved out of your own area when there are so many properties," he says, pointing down the road. "There are blocks of flats three storeys high down there, a lot of them have two of those storeys boarded up and yet there is no way people can live near their families."

Pointing in the opposite direction, he adds: "And over there they have built a huge new shopping centre and they're going to host the Olympic Games in a few months."

The housing shortage in Newham is doing little to help community relations. Mr Wood, like some other locals, says he feels that immigrants are prioritised when it comes to housing.

Two market-stall workers, who don't want to be named, say most of the people they used to know in the area who could move away have already done so. Others may not even get a choice about leaving.

"I knew one girl with four kids who couldn't get a place. I was told myself two years ago I could go on the list but that it would be 12 years before I was likely to get a place round here," says one.

His colleague adds: "Work will be the main issue when you start telling people to move out of the area if they want a house. You may be giving them a choice: lose your chance of a home or lose your job."

While Newham has a few of the plush houses more characteristic of other, wealthier parts of the capital – and is supposed to be one of the main beneficiaries of post-Olympics regeneration– it is home to some of the capital's most deprived communities. But it is also home to people, rich or poor, who have set down roots – people who have jobs and families in the area.

One recent addition, Sabbir Zaman, a 22-year-old student, said he would be happy to make the area his home once he finishes his studies. "It is friendly, quiet and safe," he said, adding: "I would be unhappy if I was one of the people who had to just move out."