Panorama Programme on the Asbestos Scandal

John Ware made a Panorama programme which reported on the allegations of gerrymandering by Westminster Council and the asbestos scandal on Elgin Estate.

"I knew nothing of Lady Porter in 1989 but she struck me as interesting. WECH invited Panorama to do some filming in the tower blocks. I remember coming out of the lift and being rooted to the spot with shock at the chunks of flaking asbestos. It was inconceivable that anyone could argue that it was safe. The crew was so horrified that they refused to stay and film and we had to come back another time. I don't remember a crew refusing to film on health and safety grounds and I've been in some pretty hazardous situations.”

"The Council was using the area as a dumping ground for people they wanted to keep out of the marginal wards. The general public have no idea of the scale of what went on. They know Lady Porter sold houses illegally, but not that virtually every other council service was subverted to win the 1990 elections."

The Independent Newspaper noted:-

"Tory councillors in Westminster are said to have housed 150 families in tower blocks with a known asbestos problem --- The current Tory leadership --- turn out to be [those] whose policies for housing the homeless were labeled as culpable and surchargeable by the District Auditor."

Tony Blair, then Leader of the Opposition, asked John Major to condemn "what any reasonable person would condemn". He declined to do so, saying that Westminster Council had not been found guilty in a court of law.

The Estate Evaluation Dispute

Despite all the Council's efforts to halt the process, WECH stood firm and maintained the momentum. On 7 April 1989 a coach load of residents delivered WECH's application to acquire the estates to the Council's Solicitor.

At first the Council argued that WECH should pay them almost £1 million for the properties. WECH maintained that, because of the poor condition of the estates, the price should be negative and the Council should pay it £63 million to rehabilitate the estate. A protracted dispute began which was referred to the District Valuer for resolution.
The central issue was how much it would cost WECH to repair the estates.

Geoff Fisher was the District Valuer employed by the Inland Revenue to assess the value of the estates and the amount of money which Westminster should pay to WECH for outstanding repairs. It was a massive job, inspecting dozens of flats and listening to hours of legal argument by QCs. In July 1991 he finally announced his decision.
WECH could have the properties free of charge and the Council would have to pay £17.5 million as a dowry to cover the cost of disrepair. The District Valuer said more than twice as much as this was required to fully rehabilitate the properties, but this was the maximum that could be awarded under the law as it stood. WECH and PCHA then negotiated with the Housing Corporation for an extra £3.5 million in exchange for housing 70 households nominated by the Council once the properties were modernised.

 

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Updated January 23, 2011