Mayor's office furious at minister's claim that proposal was put forward without proper departmental consultation
A row between London mayor Boris Johnson and housing minister Margaret Beckett over a £135m housing package has escalated after comments by Beckett were branded “bizarre” and “inaccurate” today by a mayoral adviser.
Beckett yesterday told the House of Commons that the department would be examining the £135m package, which she said was “not put forward with proper scrutiny and agreement in advance”.
The communities department said the decision to spend £42m to turn private sale homes into low-cost housing for sale needed to be approved by the department. Beckett described the way the measure had been introduced as a “rather chaotic way to continue”.
However, Richard Blakeway, the mayor's housing adviser, today said the announcement had been signed off in advance by the government's director general for housing and planning, Richard McCarthy, and the department had been kept informed at all times.
Blakeway also said that Beckett had been personally invited by Johnson to attend the launch the previous week. He said: “Beckett's comments were bizarre and simply inaccurate.
“We're very frustrated. We think it's a good package, and I think the sector will be frustrated they've called it in in this way.”
He said the action of the communities department meant the mayor had no choice but to delay the implementation of the scheme. “We were given no indication or notice that they were concerned with this. We've been given no timescale for this review and no reason for it. We've taken this through the National Affordable Housing Programme in the normal way.”
The money for the announcement comes from the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), the spending of which is controlled in London by mayor Boris Johnson, who chairs the London HCA board. The HCA's budget - of over £1bn a year in London - comes directly in grant from the communities department.
Blakeway said that the first the mayor's advisers knew of the department's concerns over the plan was a call from the HCA at 7pm on the evening before the announcement, requesting that a line be added to the mayor's press release stating the package was subject to the approval of the communities department.
A spokesman for the communities department said the department always reserved the right to examine spending that fell outside pre-approved National Affordable Housing Programme guidelines. He said. “We are disappointed that the mayor has prematurely announced these proposals without first securing the necessary funding approval from government.
“It is vital that we ensure any new schemes offer a good deal for London and the taxpayer and we have asked the Homes and Communities agency to look further at the detail of this proposal so they can quickly assess whether it should go ahead.”