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Camden News - by RICHARD OSLEY
Published: 29 January 2009
Flats sale ‘ludicrous’

Town Hall defends decision to let property go ‘cheap’

HOUSING chiefs have been accused of surrendering control of a block of flats in a prime Holborn location for next to nothing.
Labour MP Frank Dobson is leading the attack on Camden Council for giving up the crucial “nomination rights” to 30 flats in Spens House in Lamb’s Conduit Street – effectively the opportunity to place people on the huge waiting list – for just £350,000.
The Town Hall said last night (Wednesday) that despite the dire need for accommodation across Camden, one-bedroom flats would not ease the crisis and that officials were more interested in family-sized properties.
The deal with the Rugby estate, the freeholder for Spens House, passed by largely under the radar two years ago. The financial smallprint was held in private council paperwork until Mr Dobson, himself a former Camden councillor, sent a series of questions to council chief executive Moira Gibb, asking her to explain what had been agreed.
Property experts rate the building as a potential goldmine in the private rental market. But the council suggested it had little benefit to the Town Hall because the block was in need of repair and the small units could not help homeless families.
Mr Dobson said: “One of the main problems that people coming to my advice service still raise is finding somewhere to live and that includes a lot of people who would be suitable for a one-bedroom flat. Why the council decided that Spens House wouldn’t help, I can’t imagine and in any case to sell this for £350,000 is ludicrous.”
Spens House is a former nurses’ hostel but was left empty for several years. The council had set up a deal in 1975 that said when it was no longer used for nurses, it could choose who moved in.
Under the £350,000 deal, the council has effectively torn up that agreement and allowed the Rugby estate to press ahead with a £2million refurbishment.
Liberal Democrat housing chief Councillor Chris Naylor, who had the final say on the deal, said that while the council once had nomination rights on the block, previous Labour administrations had not used them.
He said: “The benefit had lapsed and the best we could do was be paid to release the owners from any remaining obligations and free-up the building for future use.”
A council spokesman added: “It is true that Camden has high demand for housing, but this is predominantly for larger family sized units. With over half of our council homes needing urgent investment it did not make economic sense to enter into costly litigation to enforce our nomination rights to this property.”

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