Question from Sally Taylor, Resident
“I am a resident of West Kensington estate, and want to ask the council to confirm that the estates of West Kensington and Gibbs Green are fully returned to LBHF from the developers and why the original sale of our homes (against our wishes) ever went ahead at such a low price?”
Answer from Councillor Stephen Cowan, Leader of Council
“Can I thank Sally Taylor, for not just asking her question but for spending the last 12 years fighting to save her home. Now, many residents come to talk to us about many different things - their loss of their hospital, their loss of services - but particularly galling is the loss of the place where you sleep at night, the place where you feel safest. And Sally, I can assure you, after your 12 year long fight, that the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham is now the full landlord of your home.
Now your second question, should there be some kind of inquiry into what happened? I suppose I have some sympathy with the Councillors on the Conservative benches. The second question is, go why did the sale go ahead at such a low price. I will absolutely explain why. I’m already being heckled from the Conservative benches. And actually, what I want you to do and tell people back on the West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates is exactly what you’re witnessing here. Because there is no good explanation why the West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates were sold for £105 million when they were a ransom site, which means you have to have them in order to build big buildings next to it - and they were roughly a third of the total Earl’s Court site - and at the time your homes were sold Sally, the Earl’s Court site was valued at £12.5 billion pounds. Now that in itself should be a concern, not just to the residents of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates who faced the nightmare of turning up to the Council and doing what, as one of the Conservative Councillor said, ‘shouting and screaming’ at meeting, after meeting, after meeting - only to be ignored. Only to be facing a consultation that four to one voted against the sale of their homes but still saw them sold off.
The real issue here is that every single resident of the borough, everyone who lives in Hammersmith and Fulham, who is in here tonight, would have had to pay for that mistake. And it was a mistake, despite the tweets I’ve seen from some of the Conservatives involved. And the reason it was a mistake is because that £105 million was not index linked, and what the Council was required to do with that £105 million was to buy all the freeholders and the leaseholders out with compulsory purchase orders - and to do it on a scheme that was said to be a 25 year long scheme.
Now, imagine if we had inherited a Council plan from 25 years ago that gave us a sum of money to buy peoples’ homes which we had to buy today but in money from 25 years ago. What’s that, 1985, ’86 - imagine the prices. We all bought properties here at some point, we all rented properties here at some point - back then, those of us who are old enough - it was significantly cheaper. People are astonished when you tell them how much.
And I tell you, sometimes people say ‘you know an awful lot’ about some things - I know a lot about Hammersmith Bridge these days, I knew about the deal I inherited with the ridiculous BT Managed Services deal - I know everything there is to know about the West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates deal. And I can tell you something - other than maybe one person on the opposite benches, none of them do. And so the answer is there needs to be an inquiry that looks at the people and why the price was sold so cheaply - and that’s what we will do.
Can I just add we should be expecting from you (opposition bench) is an apology rather than this ridiculous heckling. That’s what they deserve and that’s what you should be giving. Show some shame in what you’ve done, don’t sit there and heckle.”
“How do I know that it won’t happen again?”
Answer to the supplementary question
“I would remind everyone who’s doing the heckling, we are talking about people who faced losing their homes and it is a legitimate question to ask - how do we know this is not going to happen again?
So we’ve done a number of measures - we’ve set up a defend council homes unit as it wasn’t just the West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates - it was most of the council estates in the borough that were offered for sale, as we’ll hear later on. And what we’ve done is take a variety of legal measures to make it very difficult for it ever to happen again.
But in a democracy, people who win national, regional or local government get to make decisions irrespective of whether that housing is private, council, freehold, or housing association - and the only guarantee that it can’t happen again is to make sure no politician of any colour gets into office who thinks that over a curry they can negotiate your home away. That’s how you guarantee it.”