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Ken Livingstone petitions Lambeth Palace over housing sell-off

The Mayor of London has written to the Archbishop of Canterbury to ask the Church Commissioners to reconsider their decision on the sale of the Octavia Hill Estates.

In a letter to Dr Rowan Williams the Mayor says: "I am committed to increasing the supply of affordable housing in London and so I am concerned about the possibility of a change of ownership resulting in any loss of affordable housing. I am keen that sales of affordable housing – where absolutely necessary – should be made to an agency that will seek as far as possible to keep rents at affordable levels, with no loss of security of tenure."

Earlier this month the Church Commissioners announced that they had agreed in principle to sell the remaining Octavia Hill Estates – including 159 homes in Waterloo and 93 flats in Union Street – to GraingerGenInvest.

The sale has been vigourously opposed by tenants' groups, who fear the destruction of long-established communities as rents are increased to market level.

Mr Livingstone said that he appreciated that the Commissioners had to consider their responsibility to the wider church. He added: "However, I would argue that the church should, as the public sector does, consider the wider definition of best value to include community benefit. I am sure that your clergy would not wish to see their pay or pensions secured at the expense of your tenants."

'I would hope you could reconsider your decision to sell. Failing this, I would ask that you do your utmost to ensure that the portfolios are sold only to a registered social landlord with adequate safeguards around security of tenure and reasonable rent levels.'

The sell-off has been controversial within the church. Last week the controversy reached the General Synod.

The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Rev Dr Tom Butler, commenting on the sale, said: "We are disappointed that, despite the many representations that they had received from all levels of the church and society, the Church Commissioners did not feel that they were able to sell the properties to a social housing provider.

"The clergy in the parishes affected will continue to work with and support the local residents as they wait to see how this decision will affect them."

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