How a housing minister helped swing a four year battle over Peterborough’s council housing stock

A Presidential cycle in America lasts four years - the same time period it took to win a fight over council housing in Peterborough.

By Joel Lamy
Friday, 21st May 2021, 5:00 am

Winning the White House may be one of the most gruelling political contests, but the mission to convince sceptical tenants that they would be better off transferring their properties from the city council to a new housing association called Cross Keys Homes was far from straightforward, albeit the winning margin was one few politicians get to experience.

John Holdich the recently retired council leader, was in charge of persuading the doubters to vote through the proposals, a lengthy mission which he puts down as one of his proudest achievements.

At the time the local authority was paying £14 a week to the Government for each council tenant, meaning it was unable to afford the desperately needed repairs on approximately 40 per cent of the homes which were deemed not fit for purpose.

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John Holdich (left) at the handover of council houses to Cross Keys Homes

Therefore, a switch to the newly created Cross Keys was seen as a win-win situation for all parties, with the council saving on costs and more money available to fix up the properties.

Recalling the episode in an interview with the Peterborough Telegraph, Mr Holdich said: “It took me four years to convince the tenants it was the right thing to do the transfer. I had 400 people at a meeting because they thought we were going to take their tenancies away.

“They turned up at the old John Mansfield School and we put a buffet on. I went on to explain to them it wasn’t about taking their tenancies away but improving things in the long term. When we had a break for coffee, ladies with rather large handbags were scooping the food into them and weren’t there after the break!

“The tenants realised we could make a difference. They said ‘we don’t want any of these old housing associations, we want our own,’ so I set up Cross Keys Homes, and I think it’s been a success.

John laying carpet at the home of a resident

“I’m quite proud of that. People are entitled to a decent home.”

To convince residents to vote for the transfer, Mr Holdich used some pearls of wisdom from a politician on the opposite side of the political divide.

“The best advice I had was from a Labour housing minister. He said ‘do something for everybody’. I said ‘like what?’

“He said ‘you can talk about kitchens and bathrooms and front doors and back doors, but one thing that’s important to people is parking their car’.

“Where possible we got parking outside people’s houses and I got an 86 per cent yes vote. It took me four years to attain it!”