Category Archives: Housing

Devolution voted in by SCC (though not by me)

At the SCC Devolution debate last week , councillors broke party lines to speak and vote their mind.  I was one of the 20 county councillors who – after much thought -opposed  the offered Devolution deal (despite my personal support for the concept of Devolution). This was in line with my party’s stance: we approve of giving local authorities more control over spending, but this proposal leaves much  of the crucial decision-making with the government.

My concerns were: the clear democratic deficit  this devolution deal will offer – an overarching authority will have one member from every council; the thorny question of an elected Mayor (and all the extra bureaucracy that would go with that post); the relative smallness of the sums offered to Suffolk;  the fact that  the Government  will still  oversee everything it wishes to oversee, but just without the responsibility, thus making the county the ‘fall guy’ for its more unpopular decisions  – and possibly most of all – the government’s target for Norfolk and Suffolk to build an additional 240,000 houses in Suffolk and Norfolk by 2031.  This is the equivalent of creating in Suffolk 4 extra towns the size of Ipswich, or increasing every town and village by 35%. This magnitude of growth is not needed to satisfy local demand, but is intended for people moving out of London.

Suffolk badly needs housing, but not to this extent. We specifically need starter homes, disability-specific housing and accommodation for older people wanting to downsize – all for a population already living in Suffolk. (And whose needs are not catered for). Our towns, roads and commuter rail are  already congested. How will our county cope with growth of this magnitude? Why is it needed?

Such largescale  development would  only be viable if there were also appropriate local jobs on offer and a well designed transport infrastructure to match (unless the intention is to house Suffolk residents in new build and sell off the picturesque housing to second home owners).

Despite such reservations voiced by many, devolution was voted in by a resounding majority (40 for, 20 against, 3 abstentions, and a couple of hurried departures just before the vote…).

A public consultation including a MORI telephone poll and an online survey has opened and will remain open over the summer only. You can find it here .  As ever, I suggest you should respond if you want your views to be counted.

(Whilst of course, we wait to see if Devolution still has legs.  It was very much Cameron and Osborne’s baby. Will it survive a new leadership, especially a post-Brexit one where so much governmental time will have to be taken up negotiating the nation’s way out of the mess we got ourselves in to? )

Right to Buy – myth and reality

Fascinating  isn’t it, that after all these years  – and the loss of  nearly 1.5million social housing units* – so many people across the political spectrum seem to be so strongly in favour of ‘right to buy’.  Yet we only have to look to  Europe to notice that the most economically successful country (Germany) has one of the lowest home ownership rates, while the two countries with the highest are Ireland and Italy (Nationmaster)

So what are the reasons people support Right to Buy?  (apart from the cynical suggestion of gerrymandering, that is)

A couple of days ago I was arguing hard with people of many political affiliations about David Cameron’s proposed boost to Right to Buy.  And more and more clearly it seemed that the  arguments I heard were at the best, misguided, at the worst self-serving.

The bottom line is that people seem to confuse the right to having a good reliable roof over your head (a basic human right) with the ‘right’ to get onto the property ladder.

First and foremost I don’t see why anyone should feel they have the right to buy anything and that the state should therefore fund them  -particularly at the expense of the living conditions of those with less money. Nor can I work out why people assert the superiority of home ownership with all its responsibilities over the  comparative liberty of rental. My grandmother rented her house in Sheffield for something like 70 years and gloried in the fact that anything that went wrong was the landlord’s problem.

So  here are some of the arguments I encountered, with responses:

Right to buy can help poorer people onto the property ladder. Why should anyone feel they have a ‘right’ to be on the property ladder? If they choose to buy a house rather than rent one , why should the state subsidise them?

Right to buy means that  tenants and owners live side by side – stopping people being prejudiced against  people due to where they live. “ Yet only last week I heard someone who had bought ex-council stock complaining bitterly about having to live next door to ’social housing tenants’!

Right to buy creates a classless society by a method that works (unlike wealth redistribution by taxation)” Classless? surely it’s a way of the state funding another gap between haves and have nots

“A huge amount of temporary social housing is already in the private sector, hired by council from private landlords, many of whom are greedy.” I cannot see how even the most pro- Right to buyer can mention this –  surely Right to buy will put even MORE vulnerable people into their hands!

Right to buy gives people more aspiration to work and be in a position to buy… as opposed to renting on benefits forever” This is plainly ridiculous. In these stringent economic times, aspiration will get you ahead and should not require supporting.

Right to buyPeople in social housing who can afford to buy are mid-earners, so can’t buy unless the purchase price is discounted.” So why should the state fund them? It doesn’t fund the car or the television that I can’t actually afford.

“Some social tenants can afford to buy but enjoy the luxury of social housing. Instead of opposing  Right to buy one should be looking at people in social housing who can afford to buy and getting them out.” If you perceive some tenants as ‘bedblockers’ its an act of madness to lose even more housing from the food chain. And how does this argument sit with the previous argument (postulated by the same person)?

“If councils replace the homes that they sell off under Right to buy– it means more social housing will become available faster.” How long will it take them to replace it?  And it will not  necessarily be built  in the same area where they were sold from. In rural areas this means the poor live further and further from centres where there is work and yet rural transport has got worse and worse and more and more expensive. This is furher ghettoising social housing

Each Right to buy sale  will  fund the building a new affordable unit.  This would be the next best option to removing well-off social tenants.” No, the very best option is not to sell off your social homes AND build enough to replace the millions lost under the last Conservative and Labour governments for the benefit of the future.

Thw bottom line is  Right to buy sales have in the past and will in many areas inflate the cost of local housing – and force the less well-off, the young, those dedicated to public service out of areas  like the one I represent! Affordable housing is already problematic in this district.

Woodbridge – if you want the luxury of having retained firemen, home helps, carers, teaching assistants, paramedics, and all those wonderful people we value – but not enough to pay them what it costs to live in Woodbridge –  oppose the resumption of Right to Buy, or everyone will lose..

*‎1 million uk social housing units were lost between 1979 and 1997,under the Conservatives and a further 420,000 social housing units were lost between 1997 and 2010, under Labour.