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Move by Tower Hamlets to grab back council housing from 'failing' social landlords

PUBLISHED: 16:38 06 June 2016 | UPDATED: 13:25 08 June 2016

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs (inset) addresses Old Ford housing protest meeting

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs (inset) addresses Old Ford housing protest meeting

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Talks are under way to try and bring social housing estates in London's deprived East End back under local authority control, it has emerged.

Bethnal Green & Bow MP Rushanara Ali urges Tower Hamlets council to stand firm against Circle Housing organisationBethnal Green & Bow MP Rushanara Ali urges Tower Hamlets council to stand firm against Circle Housing organisation

It follows protests that some landlords don’t carrying out repairs or proper gas safety checks and have “lost touch” with the community.

Now Tower Hamlets Council is in talks with Circle Housing—which runs the troubled Old Ford Housing Association—to try and prevent its planned merger with Infinity Sutton, turning it into Europe’s biggest social landlord and becoming even less accountable to local families.

“Circle Housing has screwed up,” Mayor John Biggs told a packed meeting of Old Ford families.

“We’ve talked about the idea that estates could be taken away from them.

Tenant Fred Hadley bends to Mayor's ear about Common Law acrtion against social landlords who don't carry out repairsTenant Fred Hadley bends to Mayor's ear about Common Law acrtion against social landlords who don't carry out repairs

“But Circle Housing has given us a ridiculous price to take the estates back.

“They have borrowed against the properties, so they owe money to the banks—they’re not as locally accountable as they should be, so we need to change that.”

Affinity Sutton, the conglomerate poised to take over the failing Circle Housing which runs Old Ford, is writing to the mayor about how they would deal with the request to transfer estates to a community-based association.

“We are actively looking at how it can be done,” the Mayor added. “There’s a real possibility of switching the estates away from Circle or Affinity Sutton into a local housing body, although it requires their consent—there’s no legal way to force them to do that.

Cllr Mark Francis chairs Old Ford packed protest meetingCllr Mark Francis chairs Old Ford packed protest meeting

“We are talking to them about it. I will use the council resources to push this further.”

Bethnal Green & Bow MP Rushanara Ali, addressing Saturday’s meeting at St Paul’s Old Ford church hall, urged Tower Hamlets to stand firm as the local planning authority and stop Circle Housing applying to build more properties if they couldn’t manage the ones they already run.

One campaigning tenant, Fred Hadley, 56, who has lived in a council and housing association property nearly 40 years, called for action under Common Law Remedy—where the landlord “is legally duty bound to keep properties in good repair”.

He suggested using the right to claim compensation by notifying the landlord about getting estimates for repairs, having the work done in reasonable time, paying for it and deducting the sum from the rent.

“This is all about reclaiming our neighbourhood,” Mr Hadley insisted. “They are in breach of contract when they took over these estates 10 yeara go.”

But priority was now to try and stop Old Ford being swallowed up by Affinity Sutton.

Bow West ward councillor Marc Francis, who chaired Saturday’s meeting, told the East London Advertiser: “It’s not too late to stop the take-over.

“The Old Ford housing board should make a decision on what’s best for residents—without fear or threat from the parent Circle Housing.”

The council, meanwhile, has voted that Circle Housing be dropped as a preferred partner for development, a move that would seriously hinder any future planning applications for new properties.

Cllr Francis, who chairs the local planning authority, has already brushed against Circle Housing when he quit the Old Ford board in protest at the merger and a string of complaints about repairs, maintenance and gas safety checks.

He explained: “I could not say objectively that Circle should be allowed to build more housing because they don’t look after the housing they’ve already got.

“This is a fundamental fight to make sure we look at every opportunity to take Old Ford away from the Circle Group.”

But the local authority fears it would be a struggle to reassert control because the government “doesn’t like council influence” over housing.

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