Howe Barracks housing saga: We should not be setting communities against one another

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Empty homes in Sobraon Way at Howe Barracks

Whether it is African refugees, east European migrant workers or folk who have been re-housed from London to Canterbury, blaming people for where they find themselves is never a good look.

Yet this is the risk our own council runs in its response to the former Redbridge residents who have been rehoused to the former Howe Barracks homes.

But of course, the former Redbridge residents – who are now citizens of Canterbury, remember – are completely correct when they say that the situation into which they have been thrown is not their fault.

In fact, looking at the actions of everyone involved they are the least blameworthy of all.

In any case, to apportion blame is to suggest that something bad has happened.

That is of course true for those 2,700 families who have lived in the city for a long time and have been waiting to be housed by the council.

But that doesn’t mean that any fault lies with the people who have moved here from Redbridge, any more than it is the fault of people like me, one of those infamous DFLs, who have moved into the district from London in increasing numbers – but one-by-one rather than as a group.

If we really must allocate responsibility for the fact that those who have moved into the Barracks were not originally from Canterbury, we need look no further than our own Council, which should never have been in the position of having such a massive housing waiting list in the first place.

It is this council, not Redbridge, which has overseen a long term failure to build any Council homes while they have been in power.

It is this Council which failed to bid enough to buy the Barracks. And it is this council which raised residents’ hopes about buying the remaining small number of houses on the site because, it appears, they hadn’t bothered to find out that Redbridge had secured the first option on those houses as well. This is a list of failures for which someone in Canterbury ought to take responsibility rather than looking to blame everyone else. But of course that’s not our council’s way of doing things.

They would rather blame central government funding cuts and constraints, which has the merit of being at least partly correct. But not for the first time, this Conservative council blaming their own Conservative government policies rather misses the point that they agreed on the underlying rationale: the application of austerity and reduction in local government powers, together with the cuts in funding that inevitably flow from it. For that they are, in short, wholly responsible.

To repeat: the people who end up in the middle of this muddle are not at fault. Neither the local people who have been waiting patiently for housing for so long nor those who have moved here are responsible for the shambolic policies that have resulted in the present situation. Nor is Redbridge Council at fault. It has simply played the system the government created better than our own council has, in pursuit of delivering housing for people on its own housing waiting list.

We should welcome our new fellow citizens. They clearly appreciate the joys of Canterbury all the more for having moved here from London: the fresh air, greenery, job opportunities are all better than they had before. From what I have seen, they seem determined to make the most of their new home. So let’s welcome them, while resolving to make sure we quickly build enough homes to meet the existing needs of residents.

The positive to take from this situation is that some people now have homes who didn’t have them before. Setting our communities against each other is neither helpful nor hospitable, and no-one should be tempted to indulge in that.

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