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Crusader loses bid to halt housing transfer

PUBLISHED: 15:17 01 August 2007 | UPDATED: 21:42 02 July 2010

BATTLING grandmother Carole Swords on Friday (July 27) suffered final defeat in her legal campaign to stop a swathe of Tower Hamlets Council housing being transferred to a private landlord.  Mrs Swords launched her crusade in February when Communities Sec

BATTLING grandmother Carole Swords on Friday (July 27) suffered final defeat in her legal campaign to stop a swathe of Tower Hamlets Council housing being transferred to a private landlord.

Mrs Swords launched her crusade in February when Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly gave the council the go-ahead to switch 2,285 properties on Bow's Parkside Estates to Old Ford Housing Association.

But the controversial decision led to Parkside tenant Mrs Swords persuading a High Court judge to grant an injunction.

Dismissed

Another judge dismissed her judicial review at the High Court. Undeterred, Mrs Swords, of Arbery Road, Bow, took her fight to the Court of Appeal.

But on Friday (July 27) her case hit the buffers when three judges dismissed her case and refused her permission to challenge their ruling in the Lords. They lifted the injunction, opening the way for the council to press ahead with the transfer - despite vociferous opposition. The Town Hall insisted that transfer was the only viable way of meeting the Government's "decent homes" standard.

Mrs Swords claimed a ballot of tenants and leaseholders over the move was mishandled by the council and Ms Kelly had failed to take adequate account of objections. However, Lord Justice Wilson said Mrs Swords' legal team had declined to go into detail about the grounds for objection.

He added: "It was, in my view, not perverse...of the Secretary of State to attach no weight to the clear, albeit in effect unreasoned, objections of some leaseholders."

The judge said it was "absurd" to suggest information given to tenants before the ballot should have been so "neutral" as to suggest "the arguments pro and con transfer are evenly balanced".

Ms Kelly had been satisfied that information given to tenants "was presented in an appropriate manner and gave sufficient information" and that the consultation process was "proper and effective".

The judge concluded: "There is no ground for concluding that, before granting consent, the Secretary of State failed to have regard... to the adequacy of the pre-ballot consultation of tenants conducted by Tower Hamlets."

Ruling that Ms Kelly had "done more than enough legally to fulfil her functions", the judge said more than a year had elapsed before the application for consent and its grant, during which there was a "protracted dialogue" between her and Tower Hamlets.

"In my view, all the complaints brought to her attention were treated by the Secretary of State with a degree of attention at least equivalent to, and in my view greater than, that which the law requires," said Lord Justice Wilson.

The judge said that, even had Mrs Swords shown legal flaws in Ms Kelly's decision, she would have "faced formidable difficulties" in persuading the court that the housing transfer should be stopped in its tracks.

Ms Swords was legally-aided and the council and Old Ford will have to pay their own legal bills.

Earlier, David Wolfe, for Mrs Swords, told the court: "Having been a council tenant for 30 years, enjoying statutory protections as a tenant of a democratically-controlled public sector landlord, Mrs Swords does not wish to become the tenant of a private landlord."

That, he said, would involve the "irreversible loss of, among other things, many of the current protections she and others currently enjoy by statute."

The massive housing transfer is part of the Government's flagship Housing Choice.

More than £40m will now be invested in the Parkside Estates - Lakeview, Lanfranc, Locton, Ranwell East and Ranwell West.

Planned works include new kitchens and bathrooms and structural works as well as better security, communal and open space areas and a major programme of community development activities.

Cllr Rupert Bawden, Lead member for Housing and Development, welcomed the judgment and said: "For a second time, the courts have decided that the council and the Secretary of State have acted properly.''

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