St Michaels Gate, Peterborough – The political view…

img_1538Radio interviews transcript

Subject: St Micheals Gate Evictions
Date: 21 October 2016
Station: BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
DJ: Paul Stainton

Interviews with Peterborough City Councillor Ed Murphy and David Seaton and MP for Peterborough Stewart Jackson.

Cllr Ed Murphy

Paul: Before we get onto the families there have been accusation that Peterborough City Council only got involved when the media got involved, that they’ve messed up here, that they could have brought these houses, that the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing. Some have said its solar panels mk2.

Ed: I think it is solar panels mk2. That cost £3.5 million that we wasted on that before the council saw sense and didwhat people were telling them and did the sensible thing. On this one now we’ve got people saying it doesn’t make sense. At the call in on Wednesday night one of the officers admitted that they knew about St Michael’s Gate in May.

Paul: But we had someone on this show saying they didn’t.

Ed: That was Adrian Chapman also admitted that night that they hadn’t briefed the local councillor Jo Johnson who’s Labour who would have been against it. She’s trying to get all the information now and is asking for disclosure. I think Stewart Jackson is being good, he’s asking question now and I hope he’ll get the Housing Minister to step in and take this decision away from the City Council. And also do some serious investigation into the whole decision making process at the council. They’re not doing things honestly, they’ve not consulted with anybody on this one. You had someone from Cambridge City on earlier on about traffic. They’ve consulted, gone back to the drawing board and changed their mind. Peterborough have been trying to do this in secret.

Paul: They’re business men, they’ve done nothing wrong Peterborough City Council have theoretically done nothing wrong.

Ed: Its quite clear that someone has been lying through back teeth on this one. Luton were never interested in these properties. Somebody told the MP last Friday at a public meeting that it was Luton.

Paul: Well we’ve had that confirmed. We’ve spoken to them.

Ed: That’s a lie. Last night, David Seaton, the cabinet member who signed off this decision and waived the five day notification to it sent me an email going on about the eviction notices. Another lie, he circulated that to loads of people. No eviction notices have gone out. Its notices of seeking possession which will have to go before the court. And they are also pedalling the stuff that Steff and Phillips are saying as well, that they will bring someone in. They may bring somebody here, but if the government minister intervenes the local association of government nationally, all the local councillors work together. If they say don’t get involved with these people then we can break the back of this one. Your right it’s not just a Peterborough phenomenon.

Paul: Councils are over a barrel.

Ed: This is the big one that the media are running with and I think this is the one where the government will realise it’s wrong to make money out of peoples misery. It’s wrong to spend millions. Go back to six months ago when we weren’t using Travel Lodge and I asked the council what the future is going to be. No, we’ve got no problem with homelessness coming up ahead, don’t worry about it. That’s why we are cutting the budget, that’s why we don’t need your money your putting in the budget for new housing. Fair enough but a few months along the line they need to find £1.2 million. They shouldn’t be putting people in the Travel Lodge, they should be making the homeless persons decision quickly and putting them in leased housing until we build the council housing we need.

Paul: So is it the fact that with the council, right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing? Is there ineptitude? People not doing their jobs properly?

Ed: They have been cut back in their staff and they haven’t really got a housing department. And the ones in there are there are working really, really, really  hard. Particularly the officers on the front line. But there are mistruths coming out, and there are mistakes being made and there are things being said that when you check them they are not true.  Now to say they are all liars is probably over the top but we need to find that out. If the cabinet member has been lying the leader should sack him.

Paul: Lessons we were told will be learnt from previous debacles from solar farms and what have you. Have they learnt lessons? Notwithstanding the fact that they could be over a barrel here and they may have to sign this deal to stop these people coming in from. But the level of what appears to be, what appears to ineptitude or something else. Have lessons been learnt?

Ed: No they have not been learnt, this one is even worse really than the solar farm because they haven’t even looked at alternatives. They haven’t got the full information. And before you make such a big decision you should consult with the councillors, with local residents, with tenants themselves, with the people of Peterborough. It’s going to cost people who live in Peterborough £30 on your council tax this year just to pay Steff and Phillips. That’s £30 we are wasting, we shouldn’t be spending that money on making people homeless to home other homeless people. We should be spending less of that money on building new homes or leasing properties to put people in or tackling homes people at its source.

“It’s going to cost people who live in Peterborough £30 on your council tax this year just to pay Steff and Phillips.”

Paul: I wasn’t aware that there wasn’t this sort of homeless black market going on where we are shipping people around the country from council to council and property companies where coming in the middle and making profit from it. A councillor this week said it smells like yesterday’s rotten fish. Is it time for a change in the law to stop this happening. Should anyone be making money out of the homeless and treating people in desperate need like a commodity?

Ed: You shouldn’t be profiteering out of this sort of misery. The private sector shouldn’t be involved with this as it shouldn’t be involved in child protection or policing. We need to sort this out and we need the government minister to make it clear that he doesn’t want the homeless act interpreted. At the end of the day it costs us all more and more money, it’s the council tax payer who pays for these rents. You shouldn’t be having to pay seven or eight hundred pound a month to rent a house in Peterborough. You shouldn’t be having to pay £1500 a month to put a homeless family in that house.

Paul: And the thing is as Beverly said early that letter came out of the blue. 10 years in that house, made it her own. You know what about other people that are in houses at the moment that, in Peterborough, Cambridge, across the county that think I’m all right, I’m renting from a housing association. And there are some good housing associations out there, don’t get me wrong. But is anybody safe? Can they get a letter?

Ed: But don’t believe what’s in the letter or what’s inferred in it. Talk to shelter, get some legal advice. Jo Johnson called the meeting the meetings with the tenants last Thursday. Before the meeting I did some checklist with them. I used to be a housing advisor so I went through it. Out of them 20 not one of them is facing imminent eviction even though they have got letters implying they are.

Paul: So don’t panic.

Ed: Yes two of them have tenancies until right next year. One who has now presented themselves as homeless to the city council was being illegally charged parking charges and the council officer has confirmed that that is wrong. I’ve said to the council that rather than offering information to Steff and Phillips, where they’ve got it wrong in their notices, now put Steff and Phillips on notice that you are seriously going to consider them under what is known as the protection from eviction act because they may have committed offences. If you put pressure on people, if you lie to them, if you go round on a Sunday and put a letter through their door telling to get out, I think that could be an offence.

Stewart Jackson MP

Paul: As we mentioned earlier the government are going to examine the whole affair. It was brought up in the House of Commons by the Stewart Jackson yesterday. Stewart, you felt it was sufficiently important not just for these residents in Peterborough but this sort of whole homeless black market that’s grown up. This market that people are making profits out of. The whole affair really.

Stewart: Yes I think that the difficulty is that the local authority is in question in London , in Milton Keynes, in Luton and Peterborough, they have a statutory duty to house people who present themselves as homeless and particularly if they have children. They really can’t get out of that obligation to house those people. Although to be fair Peterborough City Council rules are quite tight in terms of having lived in Peterborough for a while, escaping from an abusive relationship those sort of things. It’s not just everyone that can just walk in and get a home.

Paul: Is that what caused this market, this sort of homeless black market?  Being shipped around, middle men making profits off peoples misery.

Stewart: I think there are a number of issues here. The first issue is fairness. I don’t blame the city council but I do think that they have been rather lapse in respect to planning for this. They should have been aware of what was happening at St Michael’s Gate many months ago and they shouldn’t really of been caught in this position. They’re starting a housing company with Cross Keys Homes. They’ve got £13.6 million pounds of capital receipts from right to buy.

Paul: Where is that sat? Just sat in a bank?

Stewart: I expect it is, with respect to the joint venture partnership that they are going to be entering into with Cross Keys Homes. Now that’s fine for the future but at the moment that money could perhaps be should be used in a more productive way. The second thing is that someone in the former British Housing Association that owned those units decided it was prudent to sell it onto a private company which is why Steff and Phillips also known as Paul Simon Magic Homes who have the same director incidently, why they now own it. Because that would to have been signed off by a Housing association regulator. Why did that happen?

Paul: Who would that be? Who would waive that through? Is that a government organisation?

Stewart: No, it an autonomous decision under the auspices of the regulator responsible for the housing association. Possibly the Homes and Community Agency. But someone should have flagged up their why are you disposing of social affordable housing to a private company.

Paul: To make a profit on?

Stewart: Yes. And the third issue you touched on very eloquently is that there is this, what I find frankly morally repugnant and dubious is as I said in the commons yesterday. Practice of exploiting the housing benefit revenue stream from homeless people at the expense of decent hard working settled people like Mrs Nichols and Mr Roberts who are being turfed out. I think the government has to look at benefit regulations and how the system is actually working because it’s not working for those people who are at St Michael’s Gate.

Paul: It breaks your heart but it there’s been criticism about the way Peterborough City Council have dealt with this and various. People have accused them of being inept, of telling untruths. We were told by Sean Evans who is Housing Needs Manager that they didn’t know the houses were for sale. Then we were told they did know the houses were for sale. The tenants weren’t contacted until the media picked up the story, you know all sorts of accusations. Has it been dealt with correctly by Peterborough City Council.

Stewart: No I don’t think is has been in the first instance but to be fair when we had our public meeting at Michael’s Gate in Parnwell last week. It was a positive meeting because I agreed to try and seek legal advice for those people. I haven’t succeeded this week because I haven’t made contact with housing law lawyers but hopefully someone will come forward who would be prepared to help these tenants. The council did undertake to form a task force to help those individuals and families. And obviously I brought it up in parliament, I’ve applied for a debate in Parliament and I’ll be meeting the minister next week to talk about these issues but essentially it’s a private contract between Peterborough City Council and Steff and Philips. Can I just nail this thing about Luton Borough Council. I was criticised at the meeting for quoting it, but I’m not telling tales out of school but I’m just telling the truth. I was told personally by the leader of the council that Luton Borough council were in the frame to take those tenancies.

“I’ve applied for a debate in Parliament and I’ll be meeting the minister next week to talk about these issues but essentially it’s a private contract between Peterborough City Council and Steff and Philips.”

Paul: So you were lied to?

Stewart: I think Councillor Holditch possibly was confused and wasn’t aware of the up-to-date situation. I very much doubt whether a man like him would tell a lie.

Paul: We’ve spoken to Luton Council on this and they don’t want these houses. They are going to end up being one bedroom houses because they are chopping them up for profit and Luton don’t want them so it’s not true.

Stewart: Surprised that the leader was so keen to say it was Luton and advised me of that because I’ve been told by you and others it’s not the case.

Paul: Other boroughs will ship them in won’t they?

Stewart: I think the general point he was making was is that because they are now in the private sector and they are subject to these housing benefit regulations and rent regulations in terms of Steff and Phillips that is more profitable for them to make that money in that way and therefore they will do it with Milton Keynes, Waltham Forest or Barnet or any other local authorities. It’s the generic overall system we need to look at notwithstanding the fact that my duty as a locval MP is to look after the interest of those people who are naturally like Mrs Nichols very worried about their future.

Paul: she got a letter out of the blue after 10 years in her rented house, they thought it was a housing association house when she moved in. She thought she was settled, she thought she was sorted. What’s to stop anybody else in rented accommodation in this county of Cambridgeshire listening to this show this morning, anybody else who is renting their house, what’s to stop this happening to them?

Stewart: Well can I just say in public what I said in private. Steff and Phillips if they are listening, I’m coming after you because if you think that you can do this to my constituents and get away with it you’re not willing to come on the media, you’re not willing to reply to my letter. I wrote to you three weeks ago. I will be coming after you and I will use all the forces that are possible that a member of parliament with ministers with regulators, with her majesty’s revenue and customs and if you know what’s good for you engage and explain your position. So Paul I’m not taking this lying down I’m very cross about it and number one priority is my constituents so Steff and Phillips better start engaging.

Cllr David Seaton

David: I certainly wouldn’t want Stewart Jackson coming after me so good look to them.

Paul: That’s his take on it, your take on it is you’ve got no option here. And there’s been accusations this morning that perhaps you do have options, perhaps also there have been untruths told of ineptitude in the way you’ve dealt with this. How do you respond to that.

David: I think there had been a lot of confusion. I’ve had a huge amount of questions thrown at me by opposition councillors, letters from opposition councillors, members of the public we want to respond as quickly as we can, that being the case if we made a mistake I’m sorry for that.

Paul: Is it not more than mistake though. We’ve had council Fitzgerald saying Luton Borough Council were interested in renting these houses, that’s not true. The council has told us that all the tenancy agreements are expiring soon and when I asked Housing Needs Manager Sean Evans when we broke this story two weeks ago why you never brought St Michael’s Gate he said wasn’t an option. Maybe you’d of been better off buying the houses before they did.

David: I’m not sure that was an option Paul I think that the sale was at such a stage it was pretty much a done deal.

Paul: Was an option thought wasn’t it David. It doesn’t make financial sense, you did look at it, you did look at this.

David: Let me actually respond to those three point, firstly we looked at it, when it was brought to our attention. We were told by the agent when we visited the property that they had another offer on the table. They’d  actually by that point sold the properties to Paul Simon.

Paul: So it was all signed off, there was no chance of buying it. We were told you made a bid?

David: No we didn’t make a bid.

Paul: Well that’s in the public domain that you made a bid.

David: Where?

Paul: Councillor Fitzgerald said you made a bid. It’s in the public domain David.

David: Paul I have not heard that from Councillor Fitzgerald. We did not make a bid. Now Councillor Fitzgerald can speak for himself but I know we didn’t make a bid. But let me just answer the points you make. Councillor Fitzgerald at a public meeting gave an example of a council with 1,200 homeless people who need a solution, and that’s Luton. My understanding is he did not say that people from Luton would move to Peterborough. He’s was giving an example of where’s there a problem.

“Councillor Fitzgerald at a public meeting gave an example of a council with 1,200 homeless people who need a solution, and that’s Luton. My understanding is he did not say that people from Luton would move to Peterborough. He’s was giving an example of where’s there a problem”

Paul: John Holditch told the MP for Peterborough that Luton would fill those houses, and that’s not true.

David: I think again that Luton is an example of a council with 1,200 homeless who have a real problem and need a solution. So there’s a lot of misinformation around this a lot of different stories going on but…

Paul: The tenancy agreements where expiring soon, that’s what you were told. That’s not true, did you even investigate?

David: You just said, we said the tenancy agreements are expiring soon that we were told.

Paul: You were told that, then you told us that, why didn’t you check?

David: We checked fully  when the tenancy agreements were expiring. We know some of them are not immediate. We know some of them

Paul: That’s not true David, that’s what were told. We were told that the agreements were, you were told by Staff and Phillips that those tenancy agreements had expired to it was all lovely, all hunky dory, that’s not true.

David: Paul, the majority of tenancy agreements are expiring. Sorry if there’s a handful that aren’t then if that was said by someone that’s wrong. But the majority are. We need to get back to the key point here.

Paul: People?

David: Whatever decision the council makes these tenants will continue to be given notice and I’m sure none of us approve of that, but as you said this morning it’s done lawfully and if the council does not step in and enter into a contract, and we are over a barrel the properties will be offered to another local authority, we’d see a constant stream of homeless people being located to the city. We’ve listened to Mr Roberts and Mrs Nichols this morning, there in terrible situation. All ward councillors support residents who loosed their homes. We’ve seen the impact.

Paul: Why weren’t the ward councillors briefed. Why did the Conservative ward councillors when they were contacted, why did they ignore their tenants and tell them they didn’t know anything about it?

David:  Paul I can’t come on your show and talk for what individual councillors did or didn’t know. But they need to speak for themselves.

Paul: If they come on that would probably be nice. If you could invite them to come on at a later date.

David: I know that they were briefed. I know that Councillor Johnson wasn’t briefed at the same time, I’ve asked the legal office why this was the case.

Paul: They then told the tenants that they didn’t know anything about it. That’s a sort of dereliction of duty isn’t it.

David: They need to come on and talk about timings and what actions were taken.

Paul: Look the accusation are you made a mess of this, whether your over a barrel or not, you’ve made a mistakes, you didn’t look into this fully. You were sold a pup and you didn’t check whether it was male or female. That’s the accusation here that you’ve not learned lessons like the debacle of  the solar farms of the past.

David: Well I had said that I’m happy for councillors to see what happens and when. If councillor Murphy has evidence that Steff and Phillips have acted incorrectly, or the council has acted incorrectly please let us have it, we’ll look at it. But we have a very difficult situation here, we have hundreds of questions being asked, we are trying to answer those questions as quickly as we can. If that occasionally means we give a confusing message or get an answer wrong I’m sorry. We are trying the hardest that we can in a very difficult situation.

Paul: Why is it, it took us, the Peterborough Telegraph to get involved before you got involved or even contacted them or even got in touch with them. Ed Murphy has spoken to them, sat down with them has offered to work with them, you’re not working with him. Are you ready to do that now. Are you ready to put right what you got wrong.

David: Paul there’s a point at which the council finds something to say when we make a decision that we will enter into a contract with Steff and Phillips. That’s the point at which it was made public. We can’t speculate on things that might happen, or decision has gone before a cabinet member, Cabinet member signed it. That is the point at which you picked it up and it started to be discussed in the media.

Paul: You know well before that, that you’d signed the deal. Before that letter arrived through the Mrs Nichols letterbox telling her to get out with no covering letter, with no advice, no help. The stress of all that, you knew before the letter hit here doormat. You must have done, they wouldn’t have sent the letter.

David: Right Paul. We knew that a landlord had brought some properties but we didn’t know that the council would then sign a contract with that company. The decision has to be made by a cabinet member. We made that decision and you immediately publicised it in the media. Before a decision is made by a cabinet member we gone on a start writing to people what might or might not do something. I think that’s would be entirely inappropriate.

Paul: It’s a shocking state though isn’t it, whether your over a barrel or not.

David: I think it’s crazy and it’s a national issue. The BBC investigated this issue in October last year people go on line and look at London Boroughs homeless. They’ll find hundreds of families being moved out of the city. I mean there where 45 families moved from Barnet to Luton. In Birmingham we’ve got families being moved into Birmingham and Birmingham moving their families around the west midlands. Its absolute madness and I’m so grateful that Stuart Jackson has got involved and raised this in the house of commons because something needs to be done at a national level with this.

“Its absolute madness and I’m so grateful that Stuart Jackson has got involved and raised this in the house of commons because something needs to be done at a national level with this.”

Paul: What would you say to the residents of St Michaels Gate, People like Mrs Nichols who are stressed to the high heavens. Thousands of pounds in debt because they’ve had to find another house. People who are in rented accommodation across the county, across Peterborough think this could happen to me. There’s no check or balance to stop it happening to anybody is there?

David: Paul its happened to my wife, she was moved from a property by a brutal Landlord so I understand what these people are going through. But the council is giving them a point of reference in Bayard place to help them. We will do all we can to help them. If we can do more than we are doing now, I’ll be very happy to look at that. I feel for Mr Roberts and Mrs Nichols and all the residents, this is a horrible situation for them.

Paul: Do you think you could of dealt with it better then?

David: Are there specific things in terms of communicating, yes there are always lessons we can learn from that. Could we have stopped it happening, no I don’t believe we could. Are we now responding to it appropriately yes I think we are.

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