The purpose of the comments by Conservative Councillors in Covingham and Dorcan (‘Anger over claims about new homes in Covingham’) in relation to the possibility of Council houses being built on their doorstep, is clear. The ‘threat’ of such building was used for electoral advantage, as a stick to beat the Labour Councillor recently elected in the area. The threat of another ‘Penhill’ was not just derogatory to that estate, it was short-hand for denigrating Council housing as such. Mr Heenan and Co  were seeking to mobilise anti-Council housing and anti-Council tenant prejudice for electoral advantage. You wouldn’t want Council housing near you would you? is the message. 

It’s clear that Mr Heenan, not only by these comments, but by others made at the Cabinet is an ideological opponent of Council housing. However, as a Cabinet member he knows that the Cabinet voted through a document entitled “Housing Market Support”. I don’t know whether he bothered reading it, but this document holds out the possibility of the Council building new Council housing. Under the heading “developing more Council owned housing to rent”, it says “The self-financing settlement for the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) presents some opportunity for new build and regeneration projects .” I don’t know whether Mr Heenan voted for it, perhaps he can tell us. If he did that would seem to be in contradiction with his apparent hostility to the idea of building new Council housing.

Even worse, the leaflet was in the name of Richard Hurley, the Lead Member who is responsible for our Council housing. That Mr Hurley could allow a leaflet with his name on it, using the threat of “a new ‘Penhill’ ”, is an absolute disgrace. Is he in favour of new Council house building or opposed to it?

Ever since the time of the Thatcher government Council estates and Council tenants have been stigmatised in the most disgusting way, by politicians and the mass media. The comments of these Councillors are a sickening expression of the prejudice that has been cultivated over three decades.

What concerns us is not a spat between Councillors of political parties. Swindon faces a massive housing crisis and if it is to be addressed then new Council houseing building is part of the solution. What the ruling group has to decide is whether it agrees with this or whether it shares the prejudices expressed by the Covingham and Dorcan Councillors in their leaflet.

Martin Wicks

Secretary, Swindon Tenants Campaign Group