Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Local Government, and cheerleader for H&F Tories (whom he calls the ‘apple of his eye’) has unsurprisingly agreed to the Council’s fire sale of the West Ken and Gibbs Green Estates to property developer CapCo, despite the opposition of 80% of the 760 families who live there.
What is extraordinary are the reasons Mr Pickles give. He thinks £90 million is a good price for one third of a development said to be worth £8 billion. Many independent experts – including the District Valuer who advised the Council – queried this, saying that at the least there should be reviews over the 20-year life of the project to see if it was continuing good value for the taxpayer.
But Pickles has changed the rules, so provided the deal is worth more than the debt remaining on the existing housing (£11m), he is not interested in whether H&F residents make a gift to CapCo worth hundreds of millions.
Pickles main requirement is that the developer gets vacant possession; like the council he is on their side. So there is a guarantee that everyone will be evicted, but no guarantee that they will be re-housed locally. The 760 ‘replacement’ homes could at any stage be sold or handed back to CapCo, as happened at Imperial Wharf, and the Council is already looking to move residents elsewhere, backed by the threat that otherwise they will live for 10-20 years in run down properties on a building site.
But vacant possession may not be so easy to deliver. When the Tories tried the same trick with Fulham Court 30 years ago, many residents sat it out until the election of a Labour Council and bad publicity for the developer saved their homes.