Howe Barracks’ vendors sold public short by up to £4.2 billion

Howe Barracks, Littlebourne Road, Canterbury

It was the revelation which infuriated thousands in the Canterbury district.

Two years ago it emerged that 147 former military family homes at Howe Barracks on the Littlebourne Road were to be sold off to a London borough – rather than becoming available to local people.

At the time more than 2,500 names languished on Canterbury City Council’s housing waiting list.

Council leader Simon Cook admitted the authority was disappointed at being outbid by the financially more powerful Redbridge Council in east London.

Former defence minister Michael Portillo

Howe Barracks’ owners were property firm Annington, who acquired the leases in 1996 as part of a 55,000-home deal overseen by the Ministry of Defence under Michael Portillo.

The MoD then paid to lease the homes back for servicemen and their families.

Now the National Audit Office (NAO) has calculated that had the homes remained in public ownership it would have benefited taxpayers to the tune of £4.2 billion.

Labour MP Meg Hillier, chairman of Parliament’s public accounts committee, described the 1996 sale as a “rotten deal for the taxpayer”.

The NAO report identifies the massive profit potential for Annington.

It states: “Assuming the current owners were able to sell the entire property portfolio, they would achieve a return on their equity investment of 56 percent.”

Annington is run by the Guersney-based private equity company Terra Firma, which also includes Welcome Hotels and Wyevale Garden Centres in its portfolio.

Cllr Simon Cook

Its sale of the Howe Barracks homes to Redbridge was met with universal condemnation in the Canterbury district.

And it prompted the Local Government Association (LGA) to launch an investigation into such arrangements.

In a letter to the LGA Cllr Cook and city council chief executive Colin Carmichael wrote: “Local residents do not understand why such a large amount of housing is not available for our own people to live in.

“We share their concern.”

Redbridge’s purchase of the Howe Barracks’ homes was completed in May 2016 and the first of its families began moving in the following month.


    • Suggesting CCC is inept for a decision taken by national government in 1996 is a bit of a stretch, dare I claim?

      What is clear, at least in my mind, is that when central government did the deal in 1996 they should have included some sort of first-refusal for local authorities, to be triggered when disposal took place…although that didn’t happen and it was left to the highest bidder, in a sealed bid environment, to secure the housing and if a London Borough has the intent they are always going to be most likely to come out on top.


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