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Last Updated: Friday, 2 February 2007, 10:04 GMT
No place like home...
Trudi Davies
The Politics Show South East

Row of houses
Will the area's housing meet the required standards

It is a quarter of a century since Margaret Thatcher encouraged council tenants to buy their homes and in the South East.

Like everywhere else it has had a big impact.

In Brighton this month, they move on to the next stage in the story of council housing - the citizens are being asked to vote on the possible transfer away of all housing stock from council control.

Every tenant in Brighton has been in receipt of a DVD outlining the benefits should they vote 'yes' in the ongoing ballot, but not everyone is convinced by the arguments that the council has put forward.

It is not just Brighton that is affected.

All 21 councils in our region have had to take a look at their housing stock over the past 10 years or so and assess whether or not it will meet the new "Decent Homes Standard" that the government has decreed all social housing should meet by 2010.

No one could argue with their ambitions, the Department of Communities and Local Government state: "Decent homes are important for the health and well-being of those living in them.

"Poor housing helps an area to get a bad reputation. That makes it an unpopular place to live, which in turn may lead to the breakdown of communities. "In short, decent homes are a key element of any thriving, sustainable community.

"In order to be decent, a home should be warm, weatherproof and have reasonably modern facilities".

Win, win..?

But a lot of the participants are arguing with their methods.

Brighton seafront
Behind the splendid facade...

In order to meet these new standards, some councils will need to spend enormous sums of money - money that they say they just have not got.

The government's solution to the problem is to encourage the transfer of housing to a housing association.

This, they claim, will solve the problem because, unlike councils, housing associations can borrow money in the private sector from banks and building societies.

Legislation protects rent increases, tenants can sit on the board and maintain control and councils lose the debts and the responsibilities of being a social landlord.

In short, everyone will be a winner.

Not so, say "Defend Council Housing" and other critics of the scheme.

A transfer to a housing association is simply privatisation by another name.

As council tenants, people effectively elect their landlord, and if they do not like what they do they can make a change at the ballot box.

With transfer, comes the loss of direct democracy. And they claim housing associations, like all private companies, are under pressure to expand.

Several of the smaller Housing Associations in our region have since come under the umbrella of much larger groups.

Tenants excluded

For example, 1066 in Hastings, Rother Homes Ltd, Shared Horizons, SLFA Ltd and Swale HA are all now part of the Amicus Horizon Group - themselves the product of a merger between two companies and "managers" of some 28,000 homes.

Critics point out that when this happens, tenants get no say.

There is no ballot to ask whether they want to merge and no rights attached to the transference from one housing association to another.

Brighton Pier
Storm clouds may grow over the region's housing associations

Research of all the authorities in the South East by the Politics Show, reveals a number of interesting facts and figures.

We have approximately 120,000 housing units in the region and, by and large, the prospects for them meeting the Decent Homes Standards are good.

An average of 90.16% of housing already meets the government requirements.

But two councils fall far short.

Brighton and Hove (42%) and Crawley (41%) are looking at enormous sums of money to achieve the target.

Brighton and Hove City Council estimate that around 130m will be needed to bring their stock up to date and claim that the only way to do that, without cutting council services, is for the tenants to vote "yes".

Crawley District Council has failed in its attempt to persuade voters and has abandoned the idea of even going to a public ballot.

Taxpayers pay

Perhaps more shocking though, is the amount of taxpayers' money that has been spent on campaigns across the South East.

The Politics Show asked all the authorities in our region how much they had spent on publicising, campaigning and consultancy for the possible change of ownership.

Only five councils were either able or willing to provide the figures, but this still totals nearly 1.7m.

Row of houses
Follow the indoor-outdoor discussion on the programme

Crawley spent an estimated 600,00 of this whilst Brighton and Hove, a council which has one of the worst rates in our region for keeping its properties up to the expected standard, has managed to scrape together an impressive 850,000 to convince its tenants to vote yes.

But does it really matter who owns the stock?

This week we have a report from Brighton and we come live from Maidstone.

Paul will be presenting the programme from the front room of a housing association house and asking whether the tenants there feel better or worse off since they left council control.

Joining him will be council and housing association tenants from both sides of the argument as well as Cllr Don Turner Chair of Brighton Housing Committee and Cllr Francis Tonks.

Are you a tenant or are you shocked at the amount of money being spent?

We would like to include as many of your views as possible so:

Text us on 07786 209252 or e-mail us via the link below. The earlier we receive your comments the more likely we are to get them on air. You don't have to wait until the show has started!

In the papers...

Melody Ryall is with us for a look at some of the other stories making the news in our region this week.


Last week we asked: "Should the government spend money to make us keep fit and healthy"?

The results are in!

69.70% of you voted Yes

30.30% voted No


It is easy... to take part in the show... If you have an idea for an item, want to make your own report or simply want to comment on what we are doing then please get in touch by e-mailing through the form below or write to the Politics Show team at:

Politics Show, Lambent Productions, The Media Centre, 21-22 Old Steyne, Brighton, BN1 1EL

The Politics Show South East

Join the Politics Show team on Sunday 04 February 2007 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.


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