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David Miliband, (centre left), during his visit on Tuesday with Camden Council leader Raj Chada, (centre right), and Camden councillors

Minister turns on critics of housing cash deadlock

Miliband challenges party rivals to come up with solution to crisis

LABOUR’S local government minister David Miliband accused rival parties of not knowing how to solve Camden’s council housing crisis on Tuesday.
He said Liberal Democrats and Conservatives were quick to criticise policy but had failed to come up with new ideas to improve life for council tenants.
Mr Miliband, who lives in Primrose Hill, is a key broker in the two-year stalemate which has blocked the funding Camden needs to refurbish its estates.
More than £280 million of investment was promised to the Town Hall by ministers in 2003 but has been withheld since residents emphatically vetoed a switch to homes controlled by housing associations and new independent boards known as Arms-Length Management Organisations (Almos).
The issue remains a major sore point between Labour members in Camden and their senior colleagues, including Mr Miliband.
The run-up to the May 4 council elections has brought accusations from opponents that tenants and leaseholders have been failed by the Labour government.
On a recent visit to Camden, Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell said Labour had unfairly “fined” Camden’s tenants £283 million and ignored a democratic vote.
Mr Miliband told the New Journal: “Discussions are continuing with Camden to make sure we can find a way forward. There is only one party that will keep investment in council housing going. That’s the simple choice that we face. The other parties can say what they are against but they are not saying what they are for.”
He was speaking at the launch of the party’s manifesto at Talacre Sports Centre in Kentish Town.
Town Hall Labour leader Councillor Raj Chada told him that Labour members would keep “hassling” him on the issue.
Privately, some local Labour members believe Mr Miliband could hold the key to the deadlock but has found it difficult to help Camden without blowing a hole in national policy.
Mr Miliband, who has already made three visits to Camden in the run-up to the elections, added: “People will always want more and there is a very effective team here arguing for more. We’ve got to carry on the discussions. We respect the vote that happened here and we have got to continue to find a way forward. We are committed to making sure Camden housing is the highest possible standard.”
Asked by the New Journal whether he expected Camden to meet the national manifesto pledge to bring all council homes up to national standards by 2010, he simply said: “Let’s see where we are in 2010.”
Cllr Chada originally backed the creation of an Almo to run Camden council housing but is now campaigning for direct investment. He said: “It is not just about new kitchens and bathrooms. We are looking at what tenants actually want and need. That might be new heating or lifts in tower blocks. We are looking beyond the decent homes standard.”
Mr Miliband, a former Haverstock School pupil now tipped as a future Prime Minister, said that life in Camden under Labour was sweet and backed Cllr Chada’s pledge to drive drug dealers out of Camden Town within two years.
He said: “It’s possible, through tough choices and real leadership, real working with the police and the health service. I think if he (Cllr Chada) says it’s true then it is true. I look forward to seeing the benefits of the changes.
“This isn’t just Raj saying this. He is working with the Borough Commander (police chief Mark Heath). They are on a mission to make this a place not just to live in, but to come to.”
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