St Albans council cabinet snubs majority ruling over tenancies

St Albans City & District Council

St Albans City & District Council - Credit: Archant

A DANGEROUS precedent which could create a constitutional crisis is the damning view of a local councillor after St Albans cabinet reaffirmed its tenancy strategy on Monday night.

The Conservative-run cabinet was meeting after the issue of flexible tenancies was referred back to them by a scrutiny committee and a full meeting of St Albans council because of opposition party concerns about abolishing lifetime tenancies.

While the cabinet reaffirmed its decision of last November to introduce flexible tenancies – which could affect those on higher incomes and responsible for anti-social behaviour – it has agreed to set up an all-party task and finish group to look into the strategy in more detail.

But Lib Dem group leader, Cllr Robert Donald, whose party joined forces with Labour to oppose flexible tenancies, said the cabinet had “flown in the face of a decision by council and thrown out a bone to keep us happy.”

He said that to his knowledge it was the first time a cabinet had overturned both a scrutiny committee and council recommendation.

At the moment tenants enjoy a lifetime tenancy but the new flexible arrangements mean that the tenancy would be renewable for up to five years subject to tenants keeping within their contract and not causing a nuisance or anti-social behaviour.

Cllr Donald said that families whose joint income had risen over the flexible period could also find themselves losing their council homes with the knock-on effect of lack of security and children facing the unheaval of changing schools.

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He warned: “For families with young children at various stages in their life, there will be a Sword of Damocles over their head and it is going to be extremely unsettling.”

He is also concerned about vulnerable people – while over 60s who live in sheltered or elderly designated bungalows would be exempt from flexible tenancies, other susceptible tenants would not have such safeguards.

Cllr Donald’s concern about the issue was echoed by Labour which is equally critical of the cabinet for pushing ahead with its strategy.

Cllr Mal Pakenham told cabinet at its meeting on Monday night that the decision risked a shift towards an “elected dictatorship.”

He said later: “It is quite incredible that a policy that all parties promised they would not introduce in their 2010 manifestos and that a majority of elected representatives are against, is going ahead.”

But council leader, Cllr Julian Daly, insisted that cabinet had taken on board the recommendations of council while insuring that a tenancy strategy was in place by January 15 which was laid down in the Government’s Localism Act.

He said: “Although it is not what council asked us to do we took the view that we needed to comply with the law.”

Cllr Daly stressed that because tenants would continue to be offered a one-year introductory tenancy as had always been the case, it would provide time for the strategy to be looked at and consulted upon properly so all concerns could be fully considered.