London homes: MP and council leader clash

The prospect of a London borough buying land in Peterborough for homes has sparked a war of words between the Conservative city council leader and the city's Tory MP.
The prospect of a London borough buying land in Peterborough for homes has sparked a war of words between the Conservative city council leader and the city's Tory MP.
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Thursday, 8am: How the prospect of a London borough buying land in Peterborough for homes has sparked a war of words between the Conservative city council leader and the city’s Tory MP.

Council leader Marco Cereste has clashed with city MP Stewart Jackson over his criticism of plans to allow a posh London borough to home scores of people from its housing waiting list in Peterborough.

A traffic-filled  Notting Hill Gate in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Photo: Alan Storer

A traffic-filled Notting Hill Gate in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Photo: Alan Storer

There has been much debate and publicity since the PT exclusively reported last week that Cllr Cereste has been holding talks with Sir Merrick Cockell, the leader of Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council over the move.

The plans, although at the very earliest stage, could pave the way for Kensington and Chelsea to buy land for housing in the city.

And if a partnership can be agreed, it is hoped that it could bring millions of pounds to Peterborough in jobs and homes and create new cultural and sporting links.

But despite those promises Mr Jackson branded the idea as a “mad-cap scheme” which “doesn’t stack up” and labelled Cllr Cereste as “arrogant” and “bombastic”.

Cllr Cereste said he was “disappointed” with those comments and stressed that the project may only see a total of 50 new homes built in the city over a three-year period.

Mr Jackson, who is calling for a pubic debate on the plans, also sent the PT a list of key questions on the issue which we put to Mr Cereste.

Q. Kensington and Chelsea is one of the richest councils in Europe, can it really not afford to house its own residents?

Cllr Cereste: “There is no law in this country to stop any council from buying land, building homes on it and then renting those houses to whoever they wish.

“I have previously discussed the possibility of collaborations with other cities in the country.

“As I have stressed, at this moment in time all we have done is have early discussions with Kensington, it may come off it may not. It’s not for me to say what Kensington should or should not look to do.”

Q. What estimate has been made of problems such an influx of people could have on local schools and health services?

Cllr Cereste: “Let’s get back to reality here, we are talking about a development that may only be as many as 50 homes over the next two or three years.

“There are thousands of people coming to Peterborough every year and that is something we are having to deal with.

“We would be looking to create jobs and links with museums in Kensington, we want to do something nice, not something that will create problems.”

Q. Is it not time that Peterborough had a bias towards the building of middle-class family homes in our city?

Cllr Cereste: “Yes of course, in an ideal world, we like to see that happen.

“But the property market has been through a hard time and we have to look at ways of bringing investment in.

“Another aspect of this potential development is that it would attract young upwardly mobile people to Peterborough, who will come here and add value to the city.

“Where is the evidence to suggest that the people coming from Kensington and Chelsea would not be hard-working, aspiring people?

“It disappoints that our MP has so much time on his hands that he has to take something potentially positive and look for holes that are not there.”

Q. Kensington and Chelsea have fewer people (8,500) on its housing waiting list, which is less than the 9,000 Peterborough has. Surely the most logical policy is to transfer people from our list to Kensington and Chelsea?

Cllr Cereste: “The reality is that people can go and live anywhere.

“Obviously we are aware that the city has a high housing waiting list and we looking at ways of tackling this.

“What I want to make clear is that Kensington and 
Chelsea would not be off-loading people on to Peterborough.

“And there is no way that anyone from Peterborough will be pushed to one side to make way for people from Kensington.”

Q. Why has there not been a public consultation or talks with the council’s cabinet about this scheme?

Cllr Cereste said: “I am surprised that our MP has reacted so strongly to something 
that so far is at an embryonic stage.

“Discussions are still going on with Kensington, if they develop and it becomes a possibility then of course there will be talks with the cabinet and consultations.

“People need to stop getting ahead of themselves, at this stage the scheme is still on a drawing board.”

Q. What discussions has Cllr Cereste had with businesses, companies, museums and art galleries etc about setting up partnerships with Peterborough?

Cllr Cereste: “Again, let me emphasise talks at the very earliest stage.

“But I make no secret that the scheme could lead to several exciting partnerships.

“We would be looking to work with museums in Kensington and bring proper operas and orchestras to Peterborough.”

Q. How many of the mainly unemployed and new 
immigrant social housing tenants are likely to land in our city?

Cllr Cereste: “Again there is no evidence to suggest this would be the case.

“This is simply scare-mongering by our MP, I want to be certain that anyone coming here will add value.”

City MP Stewart Jackson continued his campaign against the plans by issuing a statement yesterday.

He said: “This is about 
Kensington and Chelsea outsourcing their welfare dependant and workless tenants affected by the benefits cap and higher rents and I fail to see what there is in it for Peterborough.

“Our scarce local homes should be for local working people on modest incomes and not be given away in a project marked out by short term greed and grandiose vanity projects.

“We need a proper informed debate on this policy as a matter of urgency.”

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Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson deeply critical of council leader in interviews following PT housing story:

Mr Jackson has been deeply critical of the idea to allow Kensington and Chelsea to buy land in the city.

Speaking in an interview to the BBC Cambridgeshire Breakfast Show in the wake of the news, Mr Jackson also said that Marco Cereste was “arrogant” and “bombastic” for wanting to press ahead with the idea.

Mr Jackson said: “This idea is nonsense, it is mad and it is a vanity project of behalf of councillor Cereste.

“We should build homes in Peterborough for people from the city, not from London.

“I am also concerned that there are no financial figures in terms of what Peterborough can expect to get out of this.

“And why would anyone living in London, who is settled there with friends and family, want to move 84 miles to Peterborough?

“We already have a housing list of 9,500 in Peterborough - what is going to happen to them?”

Mr Jackson added: “This is not democracy, it is a one-man band, there has been no consultation over this.

“In my time as MP for the city, there have been four council leaders.

“He (Cllr Cereste) is a bombastic and arrogant leader.

“There is so much about this scheme which doesn’t stack up.”

Cllr Cereste hit back at these comments accusing Mr Jackson of “scaremongering”.

He said: “I am disappointed by these comments, I think he (Mr Jackson) is scaremongering and trying to make a name for himself.

“He should spend more time supporting the party that helped to get him elected and realise that the council is doing a good job here.

“He has no right to go around saying that Kensington and Chelsea are looking to offload people to Peterborough.

“His reaction is totally off the scale for something that has only gone so far as talks.

“We are trying to do a good thing here - we want to create lnks with museums and opera and set up new jobs in the city.

“It would be positive.”