Councillors clash in civic centre debate on borough’s housing crisis

Angry scenes as opposition Tories blame Labour-run council but the local administration points finger at Conservative government for massive spike in homelessness, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Enfield Civic Centre
Enfield Civic Centre

Labour and Tory councillors have clashed over a deepening housing crisis that has seen homeless families from Enfield being sent to live in Leeds and Manchester.

The row came after the Conservative opposition group proposed a range of measures aimed at improving the condition of the council’s existing housing stock and boosting the delivery of new homes during a full council meeting on Wednesday (27th).

It follows criticism of the council for its handling of safety concerns at Shires Estate in Edmonton, where two 18-storey blocks were found to be at risk of collapse in the event of a gas explosion. Plans to switch off the gas supply had to be brought forward urgently following the discovery of a leak and residents are now being moved out of the blocks.

The Tories claimed the council had failed to ensure its homes were well maintained and criticised delays to the Meridian Water regeneration scheme. Labour hit back at the accusations, attacking the Conservative government for fuelling the housing crisis and failing to provide enough funding for councils to build and manage homes.

It comes amid a housing crisis sparked by the collapse of the borough’s private rental sector that has led to hundreds of homeless families staying in bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation. The council is now moving families out of London and the south-east to plug a £20m hole in its budget caused by escalating spending on B&Bs.

Measures proposed by the Tories included carrying out a review of housing stock and making it available to the public, undertaking rolling condition surveys, and prioritising the movement of tenants out of “failing” properties.

The opposition group also called for clarity on the use of proposed modular homes and rooftop extensions to boost housing supply, as well as a greater focus on brownfield sites and the replacement of George Savva as cabinet member for social housing “with someone whose ability might enjoy the confidence of more councillors within the chamber”.

Speaking during the full council meeting, shadow cabinet member for housing Lee Chamberlain said recent events had made it “crystal clear” that the council was “failing to properly manage its housing properties”.

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Claiming the authority was being “driven by events rather than anticipating them”, he added: “Only by understanding the condition of the properties we have in the borough can we reliably plan for their maintenance, and in some cases, replacement.”

Cllr Chamberlain called for the council to create a “clear plan” and be “up front with residents” about housing maintenance and delivery.

In response, council leader Nesil Caliskan attacked the “disastrous” mini-budget of Liss Truss’s administration for pushing up interest rates and said the local Conservative group had consistently opposed the borrowing needed to fund building and estate regeneration projects.

Cllr Caliskan said: “The hypocrisy is quite astounding. On one hand they oppose council borrowing […] and then in the same breath they argue there should be more housebuilding and investment in our housing stock.”

The council leader said borrowing was needed because the government had underinvested in housing and was not providing local authorities with grant money. She insisted the authority was already carrying out actions proposed by the Conservatives, including focusing on brownfield sites and carrying out stock surveys.

Cllr Savva, who has previously faced calls from the Tories to quit, tore up the opposition business paper which called on him to be replaced. He said that instead of undermining the council’s work on housing, the Conservatives could have written to the government asking for “more money for the things you are asking us to do”.

Labour councillors also criticised Conservative members of the planning committee for voting against schemes that would deliver affordable housing. Susan Erbil said: “What the opposition wants to do – they just want the borough to have fewer homes, clearly.”

Conservative planning lead Mike Rye interjected to claim the Labour group whipped members to vote on the planning committee, which Labour whip Sabri Ozaydin denied. Later, Cllr Rye said it was “entirely inappropriate to bring in members of the planning committee” in a political debate, as they “vote entirely independently”.

Cllr Rye blamed the borough’s housing crisis on the Labour administration’s failure to build Meridian Water quickly enough and meet housing targets.

Conservative leader Alessandro Georgiou also accused the council leader of “destroying” the Meridian Water scheme by “forcing the council to become the master developer” which had “only 20 properties in 13 years to show for it”.

Cllr Georgiou added: “The sickening fact is they are using their failures at Meridian to destroy our Green Belt.”

Following the debate, Labour members voted in favour of their leader’s rejection of the opposition business paper. The Conservatives voted against.

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