‘Hang your head in shame, Peterborough City Council’ - that was the message to Conservative councillors during a debate on the controversial St Michael’s Gate deal.
Residents from the estate in Parnwell, and opposition councillors, took it in turn to attack the ruling Tories over its decision to sign a contract with Stef & Philips, the company evicting tenants and their families from 74 homes at St Michael’s Gate.
The council is paying the firm nearly £1 million a year to use the properties as temporary accommodation for its large homeless population.
It has repeatedly insisted that it had little choice but to agree a three year deal with Stef & Philips.
The authority said Stef & Philips was going to evict the tenants and their families anyway, but that if it did not use the homes then a London borough would do a deal to move in its homeless population instead.
A protest group was last night (Wednesday, December 14) loudly chanting outside the Town Hall.
The crowd held up banners in Bridge Street before eagerly watching a debate on the evictions inside the council chamber.
The debate followed the submission of a petition by St Michael’s Gate resident Jelana Stevic which had received more than 500 signatures.
The petition stated: ‘Please help to stop St Michael’s Gate residents being evicted’.
Ms Stevic told a packed council chamber: “We from St Michael’s Gate and the people of Peterborough feel betrayed by our own council.
“There were options. We could have united as a city, both people and council, and boycotted and fought Stef & Philips as you yourselves have admitted it’s not morally right what they have done. But instead you decided to sign the contract with them.
“We do not want to hear that it’s too late and pointless and that you are going to lobby local government or other councils or look into anything. This is too little too late for us. It could have been addressed earlier in May when you were aware of what Stef & Philips’ intentions were.
“But I guess you could not be seen to question their business policy of evicting us if you were going into business with them.
“The people of St Michael’s Gate deserve an apology from the Conservative Party and councillors.
“Peterborough City Council, hang your head in shame. We are the people that pay your taxes.”
Cllr Nick Sandford, Liberal Democrat group leader, commented: “It’s said the council did not have any choice but to contract with Stef & Philips, but councils always have choice - moral and political as well as economic choices.
“And recognising that doing the right thing may not always mean going for the cheapest option.
“We can’t get out of the Stef & Philips contract, but we must draw a line in the sand and say it must not be allowed to happen again.”
Labour councillors also told the Conservatives that they had brought shame to Peterborough due to the huge media interest in the deal.
They said to their fellow councillors that they should admit a mistake and apologise.
Conservative cabinet members said it would have cost the cash-strapped authority £2 million a year not to use the homes offered by Stef & Philips.
And Cllr David Seaton, cabinet member for resources, who signed off the deal with Stef & Philips, said he was acting in the interests of all residents.
He added: “We prevented a constant stream of homeless people being moved here by another council. It would have happened.
“We would have had added pressure on schools and nurseries, employment, social services, GP surgeries, the NHS and, after six months, social housing.”
Council leader Cllr John Holdich submitted a motion which called upon councillors to support him with his plea for help from the Local Government Association (LGA) “to ensure that neither Peterborough City Council, nor other local authorities, are placed in such an impossible situation again and to investigate these issues at a national level.”
Cllr Holdich has written to the LGA chairman, Lord Gary Porter, to lobby for the issue to be addressed nationally.
That motion was passed after the Conservatives had voted down an amendment from Lib Dem member Darren Fower which called for a council scrutiny committee to “investigate and make recommendations to cabinet and full council on ways in which council policy can be amended to prevent the council from entering into arrangements where existing tenants are evicted in order to house homeless people.”