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Tories 'moved Labour voters'

WESTMINSTER City Council was accused of 'wholesale gerrymandering' yesterday in a report alleging that poor Labour supporters had been encouraged to move out of the borough while Tory voters had been enticed to move in.

A Labour report into the Conservatives' strategy to retain control of the council in the 1990 elections says the Tories set about reducing the number of council tenants and increasing the number of home owners in eight marginal wards.

Designated Sales and the Social Cleansing of Westminster, by Peter Bradley, deputy leader of the council's Labour group, says the key element was the 'designated sales' policy. In 1987 the Tories designated tower blocks and estates totalling 9,650 properties. Flats falling vacant would be offered for sale at a discount of up to 70 per cent rather than be let to someone on the 10,000-strong waiting list.

Over the period the cost of bed and breakfast and temporary accommodation for the borough's homeless rose from just under pounds 2m to pounds 6.6m a year, the report says. The council adopted a new policy of sending its homeless families to hotels and leased properties outside the borough. By July 1993, Mr Bradley estimates that the cost of the policy to council tax payers in terms of lost assets and increased revenue costs was pounds 20m.

In the six years that the policy has been in force (it still exists in a modified form), the report adds, 1,100 flats have been sold and not one of the households on the waiting list has been found accommodation.

Yesterday Alan Bradley, the Conservative chairman of Westminster's housing committee, said: 'We are housing record numbers of homeless families: 1,300 last year. Of those, 1,040 were housed in Westminster and 260 outside.'