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Labour snubs social housing

London Labour authorities are planning 'no-go areas' for social housing on valuable inner-city sites, which they would like to see redeveloped with private housing. Some authorities will try to relocate tenants to cheaper areas following demolition of their estates. Boroughs involved so far include Hackney, Southwark, Lewisham, Lambeth and Newham, with Barking & Dagenham also considering the issue at officer level. The policy, which has emerged from arguments about whether to 'contain' or 'disperse' poverty, is likely to attract criticism for 'social engineering', just as council house-building policies did 30 years ago.

Newham plans to ring-fence its Docklands area in favour of private rented accommodation rather than social housing, a policy spelled out in its pre-deposit unitary development plan, now out for consultation. Southwark, which has around 60 per cent social housing by comparison with the inner London average of 40 per cent, is boosting the private sector to help fund its housing repair bill - £460 million for more than 40,000 properties. It plans to raise cash by selling off sites from its portfolio, which covers nearly half the borough. The sell-off would conform with government regeneration policy - expressed by chancellor Gordon Brown - which encourages asset sales.

The policy is already causing local trouble. One Southwark scheme, to demolish and then sell three estates around Tooley Street, close to Tower Bridge, has caused uproar. Prospective Liberal Democrat leader and local mp Simon Hughes has already criticised the policy for coming in 'through the back door'. He added, 'People should not be treated as pawns in the property market.' Values in the area would rise even more should Foster and Partners' Greater London Authority building be picked for development on the riverside site opposite.

Southwark leader Niall Duffy denied that the borough was declaring 'no- go' areas for social housing, describing such a policy as 'social engineering at best and ethnic cleansing at worst'. But he said that it would have been wrong for his employees not to inform him of the revenue which could be raised by a sale - around £20-£25 million - which could be 'hypothecated' for repair work on an estimated 1500 properties elsewhere.

'It would be remiss of my officers not to tell me what parts of the borough are worth more in terms of land prices - it's good management,' he told the aj. 'It's part of my role to take decisions as to what will benefit the population - the trick is to try and consult properly and take the people with you.'

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