�2m for housing to be given to consultants
A BITTER row has erupted over the council s plans to spend nearly �2 million on consultant fees from a fund intended to create more affordable social housing. Westminster s Labour councillors are challenging the legality of the Conservative council s dec
A BITTER row has erupted over the council's plans to spend nearly �2 million on consultant fees from a fund intended to create more affordable social housing.
Westminster's Labour councillors are challenging the legality of the Conservative council's decision to spend money from the Affordable Housing Fund (AHF) - a fund set up to pay for social housing - on administrative, legal and financial outgoings of setting up a new house building programme.
They also accused the council of 'gerrymandering' by spending �7m from the AHF on building one bedroom flats, which they claim are too expensive for people on low incomes. The flats have a subsidised rent of �160 per week.
Cllr Guthrie McKie, Labour's housing spokesman, said: "The council is taking funds intended to help the borough's poorest residents, and investing them in a costly initiative, which will only benefit the lower middle class.
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"Spending nearly �2m on the administrative costs of setting up the Community Build programme is a total waste of money and will not help anyone in housing need today.
"The AHF was to provide much needed housing for those Westminster residents in most need. The proposed use of the AHF will not achieve this. It is those low income families who are desperate to move from their overcrowded homes or temporary accommodation who are being forgotten."
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Karen Buck, Labour MP for Westminster North, said there was a dire need for affordable housing in Westminster, where stocks remain seriously depleted following the 1980's Right to Buy sell off.
She said: "It is baffling that so much precious resource gets diverted into administration.
"We do need some low cost home ownership within the mix, but the real demand comes from people with much lower incomes than can realistically afford the deals on offer."
But the council hit back and accused the Labour opposition of 'political scare- mongering' in a bid to bag votes in the run up to an election - expected this May.
Cllr Philippa Roe, cabinet member for housing, rebutted the allegations, claiming that the consultant fees were reasonable given the work involved.
She added that the council's priorities remained re-housing people in over-crowded and temporary accommodation, and that people on the social housing waiting list would be given priority for the new flats.
She said: "We have spent �33.3m on tackling overcrowding and re-housing people in temporary accommodation, five times more than the money spent on this initiative.
"You have to be either extremely rich or be housed in social housing to live in Westminster, which creates a polarised community. This scheme is aimed at providing intermediate housing support to key workers, such as nurses, teachers and bus drivers who cannot afford to live in Westminster."