The Housing Advisory Forum is the body which consults with tenants on housing issues in Swindon. Last week’s agenda included discussion on the Council’s Housing Strategy.   The Cabinet decided to review their housing strategy 18 months ago. This review should have taken place towards the end of 2013. (Swindon Tenants Campaign Group put in a submission to the consultation with a number of practical proposals . You can read it here: “Tackling Swindon’s Housing Crisis[1]) Yet a document was not presented to the Cabinet until this September.

In March 2013 the Council committed to organising a conference on the housing situation as part of the consultation. However, it has failed to carry out that commitment. We were told at the HAF that there would be ‘a consultation day’, though we don’t know what form it will take nor when it will be held. There is only a month left until the end of the consultation. So instead of an open debate we now have a rushed discussion with a ‘consultation’ supposed to take place in 8 weeks: Monday 15th September to Monday 10th November.

When we received the documentation for the HAF meeting we discovered that the Housing Strategy for the town will not be subject to discussion and vote at the full Council meeting but will be determined by the Lead Member alone who will issue a ‘Lead Member Decision Note’. The HAF members, save for the ruling Conservative group, opposed such a flagrantly undemocratic process. How can a single individual, whoever they might be, have the power to determine the town’s housing strategy? How can the elected members of the Council be denied the right to debate and vote on the strategy?

The tenant reps on the HAF, therefore, moved a resolution which was passed.

“The Housing Advisory Forum considers that the determination of Housing Strategy is a decision for the full Council after the widest possible discussion rather than a decision for the Lead Member.”

Swindon Tenants Campaign Group has written to Council leader David Renard:

“Swindon Tenants Campaign Group is calling on the Cabinet to reverse their decision (to Publish a Lead member’s Decision Note) and to ensure that the final proposals go before the full Council meeting. Moreover, we think that you should honour your commitment to organise a conference and to suspend the tight deadline you have set until such time as the conference takes place. Unfortunately, if you proceed on the basis currently set (and there is only a month left) then it will inevitably give the impression that you are merely going through the motions and the consultation will not give tenants or anybody else the chance to influence the outcome.

For something as important as Housing Strategy we need an open debate in public, in which alternatives can be discussed, rather than a rushed and formal consultation.

Martin Wicks

Secretary, Swindon Tenants Campaign Group

October 12th 2014

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