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£14m spent buying back council houses

PUBLISHED: 10:10 09 January 2009 | UPDATED: 15:47 07 September 2010

HOUSING chiefs have spent £14million buying back council houses sold off by disgraced ex-council leader Shirley Porter for as little as £25,000. About 60 properties have been bought for £250,000 each to tackle the crippling shortage of social housing in W

HOUSING chiefs have spent £14million buying back council houses sold off by disgraced ex-council leader Shirley Porter for as little as £25,000.

About 60 properties have been bought for £250,000 each to tackle the crippling shortage of social housing in Westminster.

The portfolio of properties - which will be used to house families currently in temporary accommodation - includes eight flats sold off by the infamous Dame Shirley in the illegal Homes For Votes scandal of the 1980s.

The latest initiative is principally funded by Westminster's taxpayers but has been topped up with a £7million government grant.

Westminster's Labour group leader, Cllr Paul Dimoldenberg, has branded the move a "complete shambles".

He said: "After years of aggressively championing the sale of council houses at knock-down prices, the Conservatives have created a severe shortage of affordable homes for rent and are now being forced to buy back council flats for 10 times more than they sold them for. Shirley Porter's Homes For Votes policy has left an expensive legacy for Westminster residents who are continuing to pick up the bill for the council's illegal actions in the 1980s."

But while housing boss Cllr Philippa Roe admitted a devastating shortage of social housing in Westminster, she rejected claims that the initiative was needed as a result of Tory housing policy.

"I think it's unfortunate to tar the selling of council houses when it allowed people onto the housing ladder who would otherwise not have been able to own their own property," she said.

"The number of properties sold at that time would not solve the issues we have with housing today.

"Lots of people want to live in central London and we have huge numbers of people coming into the borough wanting housing.

"As soon as we find one person a house, there is someone else on the waiting list."

Cllr Roe added the most pressing problem in Westminster was the number of people living in overcrowded conditions.

But she said the £7million government grant stipulated that people must be moved from temporary homes - not necessarily from overcrowded properties.

"This is a successful initiative which is trying to make use of existing properties in Westminster," she said.

"However, the government criteria do not allow us to tackle the real issue of overcrowding which we would very much like to resolve."

A council spokeswoman also pointed out that house prices had increased massively since the 1980s when these properties were sold off.

Dame Shirley's Building Stable Communities policy - which included the sale of much of Westminster's social housing stock to boost Tory voters - was found to be illegal by the district auditor in 1996.

After the decision was overturned, it was reinstated by the House of Lords in 2001.

Tesco heiress Dame Shirley and her deputy leader David Weeks were ordered to pay back the costs of the policy - calculated to be £27million. So far, only around half of this has been clawed back despite Porter's controversial return to Britain after years spent holed up in Israel.


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