Councillors back controversial housing plan

By Kaye Wiggins

Councillors have approved a plan under which some social housing tenants will be given short-term “flexible tenancies,” prompting criticism from unions and tenants’ representatives that the decision would “destroy the concept of social housing.”

Lambeth Town Hall, by Laura Spargo

Under the council’s tenancy strategy, approved at a cabinet meeting this week, social housing landlords will be able to give five-year tenancies to people moving into bedsits, one-bedroom flats and properties with four beds or more. In exceptional cases they will be able to give contracts for less than five years.

However, tenants classed as “vulnerable” will be exempt from short-term tenancies.

Cllr Lib Peck said the council had opposed government plans to allow “flexible tenancies” but, now that the measure was in law, it made sense to approve of it in some circumstances.

She said housing associations were not forced to abide by the council’s housing strategy, so a plan that ruled out flexible tenancies altogether would not necessarily be followed. Instead, she said, it made sense to attempt a compromise that landlords would be more likely to support.

“As a local authority we have little power over housing associations,” she said. “Our biggest clout is when we work with them.”

However, representatives from the tenants’ council said there was an alternative. “Lambeth could decide that having examined the government’s flexible tenancy policy it is not appropriate for the borough,” one said. “It would be a perfectly reasonable decision for the council to make.”

A TUC representative said: “Everyone has a right to secure housing. This will turn communities into transit camps and ghettoes and what we need is mixed communities. It will destroy the concept of social housing.”

Also at the meeting, the cabinet approved a plan that will see Brixton library’s budget cut from £580,000 in 2012/13 to £525,000 in 2013/14. Under the plans, the library will continue to open seven days a week. The council has also acknowledged that the library building “requires capital investment to update its general condition and remodel its internal layout.”

The total budget for the running of libraries in Lambeth will fall from £4m in 2012/13 to £3.6m in 2013/14.

Councillors also announced at the meeting that an extra £7.5m would be spent on roads and pavements. Cllr Pete Robbins said: “This year alone, over 100 roads and pavements will be brought to a first class standard.”