Published: 00:01, 27 May 2016
A controversial move of almost 150 London families to Canterbury’s Howe Barracks could be “just the start” of an influx of people from the capital.
County council leader Paul Carter delivered the warning after it emerged that the east London council of Redbridge had secured the ex-military homes after out-muscling Canterbury City Council in a bidding war.
City council chiefs are enraged that the ex-army homes – which will go to people living in B&Bs – will not be available for the 2,500 local families on their own housing waiting list.
And Mr Carter fears that this is the beginning of a process which will see London authorities with little housing moving people to Kent.
He said: “I have a number of serious concerns the tender has been won by the London Borough of Redbridge and on Tuesday we wrote to its chief executive asking for assurance that the families will not place additional burdens on public agencies, health, schools and social care as a result.
“This could be the start of a significant flow of London boroughs, in their duty to provide homes for vulnerable families, placing families outside of London into the coastal areas of Kent and peripheral regions in the South East.”
Canterbury City Council – which has 45 people living in temporary accommodation – found itself in a bidding war for the former Ministry of Defence homes, which are owned by a private property firm.
It says it could not beat Redbridge’s offer for the lease of 147 homes at the barracks and concedes it has no legal way of overturning the arrangement.
Council leader Simon Cook said: “It is very disappointing that we were not successful in the selection process.
“We did our utmost to try and get these properties for people on our waiting list because it would have made a difference to so many local families.
“We have explored the effective legal avenues open to us to prevent this from happening, but sadly there is none at present. The law allows councils to place people in districts outside of their own, provided they follow correct procedures.
“We will monitor this to ensure Redbridge follow due process and will take action if they fail to do so.
“The idea that a London borough can solve some of its housing problems by moving people miles away from friends and family in this way is very regrettable and we will be pushing the Local Government Association and other professional bodies to lobby for a change in legislation.”
Cllr Cook added that council staff would discuss the needs of the new families with their colleagues at Redbridge.
But one expert warns that whatever their needs, they would place a strain on the district.
“It’s quite unprecedented for all concerned,” said Prof Phil Hubbard, a lecturer in urban studies at the University of Kent.
“Every year London boroughs house approximately 1,500 families or households outside of London.
“But for one to do 150 all in one go is extraordinary and it’s clearly going to place a burden on Canterbury, which it will not have been expecting.”
The leaders' sentiments were echoed by one father-of-three desperate for accommodation in the Canterbury district.
Colin Manser lives with wife Naomi and their three sons, including one who suffers from type 1 diabetes, in a cramped two-bedroom house on Margate’s Millmead Estate.
“I just couldn’t believe it when I read the KentOnline story about the former barracks in Canterbury and how they would go to families from London,” the 31-year-old said.
“Well, they say they’re from London, but they could be from anywhere, London or migrants who have only just got here.
“But the fact is that we should be a greater priority.
“I’ve been trying for months to get improved accommodation for my family and then I find out we are going to missing out again.
“We’re obviously out in Margate, but all our family support structure is in Herne Bay and we really need to be as near to them as possible.”
Mr Manser, 31, is a former pupil of the Community College, Whitstable, and lives in a flat with wife Naomi, 25, and their sons, Layle, four, Lucas, three, and one-year-old Tobias.
Despite Lucas having type 1 diabetes he shares a small room with Layle.
The other three sleep in the main bedroom.
Schools in Canterbury are also being urged to brace themselves for more arrivals from London boroughs.
Stuart Pywell, the head teacher at St Stephen’s Junior School, believes the city’s schools will have to work together to cope with the influx of children coming in from the capital.
“We did our utmost to try and get these properties for people on our waiting list because it would have made a difference to so many local families" - Council leader Simon Cook
“I suspect this situation with Redbridge Borough Council is just the tip of the iceberg and there will be headaches for Canterbury schools in the future,” Mr Pywell said.
“A lot of these children who come down will be in challenging circumstances and looking after them will have to be done sensitively.
“There is tremendous pressure on schools in the area already and as far as our schools in Canterbury are concerned, I think the best way to cope will be for all of us to work together to decide how to accommodate these children.
“It would be unfair if the children were dumped only on the schools which have places available.”
School managers across the district have been warned that the transfer of London families to east Kent will have “considerable implications” for them.
The London Borough of Redbridge is more than 60 miles away from Canterbury and sits on the Essex border.
In a statement on its website, the Labour-controlled authority insists that with a statutory duty to house people it is often left with no option but to find them accommodation outside the capital.
“The chronic shortage of affordable housing is a London-wide issue and due to the pressure in the housing market it has become increasingly difficult for us to secure enough local supply,” the statement said.
*Canterbury City Council on Tuesday said it was expecting 208 families from Redbridge - the number of properties it had bid for. Annington has since announced it has only 147 homes available for the London borough.