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Westminster Council’s housing policy: ‘Social mix is under threat,’ claims Mayor Sadiq

23 January, 2017 — By Alina Polianskaya

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan

SADIQ Khan has warned that policies to move households out of the borough could lead to the “hollowing out” of London and risk the capital becoming more like Paris where segregation between the rich and poor is more stark.

His words came in Mayor’s Question Time on Wednesday after he was quizzed on his views about Westminster Council’s housing policy. He also slammed the government’s welfare benefit changes.

Mr Khan said: “You visit Paris and compare and contrast to London. Cheek by jowl, people who are wealthy and those who are less wealthy is one of the joys of London and I wouldn’t want any council to have policies which change the joys of our diverse London.”

He added: “One of the joys of London is our social mix and if we are not careful one of the consequences of these policies is the hollowing out of London,” he said.

He was asked by Assembly Member Andrew Dismore whether Westminster Council’s plans to offer housing to people in outer London boroughs – and even further afield – echoed the Homes for Votes scandal of the 1980s. The infamous political debacle, overseen by Dame Shirley Porter, involved selling council homes to potential Tory voters, while pushing poorer residents out the borough.

Mr Khan added: “I take your point about learning from history and Westminster’s policies during the 80s and 90s were shameful. I’m sure that the future generations of politicians, not just in Westminster but elsewhere, have learnt from that and learnt that is not the way to conduct local government policy.”

Mr Dismore said he feared they had learned a “different lesson”, adding: “It seems to me that inevitably Westminster is doing exactly what you said, which is hollow out the city and make it much, much harder for ordinary people to live in the city, as opposed to the wealthy who they seem to be keen to have move in.”

The questions were raised after a series of controversial plans about housing were revealed by Westminster Council. The council recently purchased 200 homes in the outer London borough of Hounslow to be used to house Westminster’s social housing tenants.

It was also revealed that the council could house homeless families elsewhere in England, as the council struggled to find suitable and affordable accommodation within the borough’s limits.

Westminster Council’s cabinet member for housing, Daniel Astaire, said: “In common with other London boroughs, Westminster has high levels of demand for affordable homes, exemplified by the approximate 2,500 homeless households living in temporary accommodation.

“This situation is made more challenging because of Westminster’s high land and rental costs. Although the council is building more homes inside Westminster and uses its planning powers to deliver affordable housing, the scarcity and cost means we cannot secure enough to meet demand.

“Purchasing 24 high quality new homes in Hounslow is an innovative way of meeting this demand and providing people with a stable home more quickly. These homes are in a location with excellent local amenities and nearby transport facilities so that households who need to travel into Westminster for work, education or social reasons can do so quickly and at reasonable cost.”

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