Legal challenge bid over Sheffield housing paper

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a GROUP of tenants are seeking a judicial review after Sheffield Council did not publish a report listing pros and cons of future housing control before a crucial ballot.

The confidential report, seen by The Star, said services to tenants could “deteriorate or fail” if Sheffield Homes was scrapped and control of the city’s housing stock returned to the council.

A tenant ballot then saw an overwhelming majority of people vote for council control.

The report was only made public after repeated Freedom of Information requests failed and Lowedges tenant Martin Brighton appealed to the Information Commissioner.

Yesterday, the council’s monthly full meeting heard a “substantial” group of tenants had agreed to commence judicial review proceedings in respect of the council’s conduct.

Opposition housing spokeswoman Coun Penny Baker, who also gave a Liberal Democrat motion calling for an independent investigation into the matter and said unanswered questions were “worrying”, said: “The group is aware of the time limits involved but is not prepared to disclose its hand at this stage.

“I am asked to inform the council that there will now be a legal challenge to the tenant ballot.”

Information given ahead of the ballot earlier this year assured residents that scrapping Sheffield Homes could reduce costs and deliver an improved service.

Coun Harry Harpham, cabinet member for housing, said the paper could have misled tenants if published in answer to questions from Mr Brighton.

He said: “It was a document that was a picture in time. It had a number of scenarios that conflicted with each other. If it had been released at the time it could have influenced the ballot and we didn’t want that to happen.”

Later he also said the council chose to have a tenant ballot and that a consultation exercise was “the biggest this council has ever seen.”

Some opposition councillors claimed publishing the report would have likely made no difference to the ballot result.

Lib Dem Graves Park Coun Ian Auckland said: “I accept and welcome the control of housing to go back to the council.

“If you have nothing to hide and nothing to fear then our motion calls for an independent investigation.”

Party colleague Coun Bob McCann said: “It was up to the tenants themselves and I think it could be a disgrace that this council has got itself in such a situation.”

Labour councillors claimed the opposition was ‘playing politics’ and said the ballot result was clear. Coun Jack Scott called the motion ‘politically opportunistic’.

Labour Coun Isobel Bowler, who was a cabinet adviser to Coun Harpham at the time, said: “Our decision was made in good faith on the basis we thought it would be misleading to put out the document.”