Boris Johnson’s deputy mayor for policing has backed down over the sale of Metropolitan Police owned residential properties in Merton which would originally have resulted in tenants being evicted before Christmas.
The homes were built to accommodate Met officers but for the past 20 years have been rented out at below market rents, many to public service workers.
Stephen Greenhalgh, head of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), sanctioned the sale as part of a wider disposal strategy which has seen dozens of Met buildings sold off to help meet funding cuts.
Earlier this year tenants were served eviction notices which would have allowed MOPAC to sell the properties as vacant, pushing up their value to potential buyers.
Residents and Green Party, Labour and Liberal Democrat London Assembly members had urged the Mayor to halt the sale, warning that high local rents mean many tenants would be forced out of the area.
Critics also said the sale contradicted Mr Johnson’s claims that making affordable homes available was a key priority for his administration.
Speaking in March, Green party AM Baroness Jenny Jones said: “There is housing crisis in London so I find it perverse that the Mayor is selling off the affordable accommodation that is part of the police estate and evicting key workers from their homes in order to plug the hole in the Met’s budget.”
The Mayor has repeatedly defended the planned sale, saying that “MOPAC is not a landlord and their resources should be focused on policing London.”
In June he told Labour AM Tom Copley: “These properties remain under lease to Crown Housing until December 2014.
“It is my understanding that tenants were informed from the outset that these leases were time limited and that this was not a long term arrangement.”
Mr Johnson made similar remarks to Liberal Democrat AM Stephen Knight in September.
Last week Mr Knight urged the Mayor to compensate families after his office’s “last-minute decision” to halt eviction proceedings.
Today MOPAC announced the sale would not now go ahead, with Mr Greenhalgh claiming to have “intervened” to reverse his own original decision.
The deputy mayor also announced the introduction of new guidelines which will require existing tenanted properties to be sold to the local council or other housing provider willing to offer occupants “similar or better terms.”
Mr Greenhalgh said: “I have stopped the sale process for Raynesfield and introduced a new approach so that eviction of long-standing tenants, some of whom are key workers, cannot arise in future.
“The Metropolitan Police is not a landlord, but it is right that we find new owners for sites like this that can give tenants the security they deserve.”
In his statement Mr Greenhalgh said he was “grateful to the local MP and ward councillors for bringing this matter to my attention,” but made no mention of the numerous questions tabled by opposition Assembly Members over the past year.
Commenting on today’s announcement, Mr Copley said: “I really welcome the fact that these properties will be saved, it is a great victory for the residents who have campaigned so hard against the plans to sell off their homes.
“That said, the idea that Stephen Greenhalgh and his Conservative colleagues have benevolently intervened to stop the sale is as laughable as it is disingenuous, after all this was his plan in the first place.
“Since March we have been calling for the sale to be abandoned, yet Stephen Greenhalgh and the Mayor have refused at every turn. That has meant the families living in Raynesfield Park have faced over half a year of anxiety and uncertainty about their future.
“The Deputy Mayor trying to claim credit for this decision, when it is clear that he was forced into the u-turn by massive public pressure, really scrapes the barrel. Stephen Greenhalgh should be ashamed that he thought evicting tenants and selling off more affordable housing was an acceptable idea in the first place.”
Baroness Jones said: “I am pleased the Deputy Mayor has reversed his previous decision to evict the residents of Raynesfield. Several Assembly Members have raised this issue with the Deputy Mayor it’s good he has listened.
“There is housing crisis in London so I find it perverse that the Mayor is selling off the affordable accommodation that is part of the police estate and evicting key workers from their homes in order to plug the hole in the Met’s budget.
“House prices and rents in London continue to soar above people’s incomes. The Mayor must do more to make sure ordinary Londoners, doing the jobs we rely on, are not being priced out of London.
“If the Mayor wants to achieve his stated desire to recruit more officers from within London he should stop selling off the Met’s affordable accommodation and start working with Councils and Housing Associations to meet the housing needs of Londoners.”