Why the city council cannot be blamed for losing housing to a London borough

Empty homes in Sobraon Way at Howe Barracks

Is Canterbury City Council useless? No more than any other – and I spent 40 years in local government, here and in Essex.

This included four years as a councillor and a quarter of a century active in politics before I gave it up.

I hope readers will think I know of what I speak.

Take the issue of housing at Howe Barracks being snapped up by Redbridge Borough which is now exporting their families in need of housing to us. It’s no good blaming Canterbury City Council.

What happened is this: years ago the Ministry of Defence decided to cut its costs by selling its housing stock at barracks up and down the country to a private owner and then leasing them back as and when they needed them, a sale and leaseback arrangement. It’s very common and can be beneficial to both parties.

Housing not leased back remained within barrack areas and was thus generally inaccessible.

It also had to be held in case the armed forces wanted. When they didn’t in the short term, it was neglected.

Cuts in the numbers of the armed forces and closures of barracks meant that the armed forces relinquished their right to use the housing so the owners sold them.

It was a straightforward enough sale. I expect it was sealed bids so that nobody knew what anybody else was bidding.

Redbridge being a London Borough has a much bigger budget than does a shire district like Canterbury and so was able to pay more for the housing.

What no one could know was that in buying the first tranche of housing Redbridge had done a deal to be offered first refusal of the remainder.

This meant Canterbury never got a look in and local people in need of housing never had a chance. You can’t blame the city council. It never had a chance and yet gets all the stick.

The over-riding factor here is that London Boroughs, which are an amalgam of County and District Councils, have very large budgets.

Instead of carrying out expensive housing developments within their borough boundaries, they find it cheaper to export their housing applicants to shire counties and districts where housing is cheaper.

From their point of view this makes sense. For the same amount of money they can house more families.

From our perspective it stinks as incomers are seen to get housed before local families.

But you can’t blame the council for that – and you can’t blame Redbridge for doing their best for their families.

Decanting from London is not new, go to Ashford and look at the London overspill estates, go to Essex and look at the New Towns.

London has been exporting its surplus population for decades and as long as we want to retain a Metropolitan Green Belt encircling Greater London it will continue to do so.

As the Journal’s Down From London (DFL) columnist writes elsewhere, having lived in London, who wouldn’t want to live in the countryside, and like it or not, we might call ourselves a city and be proud of it. b

But from my front windows on the northern edge of the Canterbury I can see the green fields beyond the southern edge, so yes we live in the countryside and have almost the best of all worlds.

You want seaside, yep we’ve got that, you want rolling hills, pretty villages, castles, cathedrals, pubs, decent beer, theatre, access to Europe and to London, what’s to complain about?

Well, Europe of course but that goes with being near neighbours, they’re like the near neighbours with irritating habits.

So lets not blame the council, it really isn’t their fault and I suspect that some of the brouhaha is manufactured by politicians with one eye on the upcoming local elections.

Oh and don’t blame the incomers from Redbridge either.

Who wouldn’t move from London for a decent home in the countryside. The DFLs do it all the time!


  1. Having read this…it WAS done with sealed bids…so who,s got most money doesn,t come into it. NO TRANSPARENCY.?As for the Army not that long back,Woolwich barracks,went under total refurbishment,my son was stationed in Dhekelia and was one of the 1st regts to be barracked back in Woolwich….meanwhile the 5th Scots were barracked in Howe and the 2nd Batt PWRR Were never coming back, it,s home for aeons. So rhe writing was on the wall for yrs. Back to the Council..how did they know they couldn,t afford it..if it was sealed bids? Mind you money to buy the Whitefriars back and the new carpark seems more important than housing? And i cannot judge that one..it,s all about priorities…cutting deals up where your hands are so called..tied behind your back…sounds like Brexit…

  2. If District Council’s in Kent don’t have the financial
    muscle to compete with London Boroughs and the current rules remain unchanged doesn’t that strengthen the case for a Unitary Authority?

    Would also avoid a lot of who does what squabbling and facilitate a clearer strategic approach to large housing and supporting infrastructure development.

    Or is it the case that whatever the local authority structure here in Kent ,London Council’s will always have more money per capita via demography and measures of deprivation

    An interesting article.

  3. How was it that “nobody knew” about Redbridge having an option? Why does a former Principal Planning Officer have to write “I expect it was sealed bids” Does he not know? This is a typical civil service cover-up – you get your old mate to write an “authoritative” piece explaining that you had done everything you could, you are not at fault, etc… Does anyone who has watched “Yes,Minister” believe a word of this pathetic excuse?

    If anybody wanted evidence that the City Council bungled, here it is


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