Category Archives: Housing

Open Letter: Bloor Development diversion at Woods Lane -a solution

Bloor Homes – the start of the Woods Lane works

Sent to: Therese Coffey MP, Suffolk Coastal District Council Planning Chair and Officer, Suffolk County Council Member for Highways, Woodbridge Town Council, Choose Woodbridge, EADT

I’m writing to express my surprise and alarm at the series of unfortunate events relating to the Bloor Homes development at the western (A12) end of Woods Lane, Melton. This has led to Bloor’s requirement to close a section of Woods Lane for a prolongued period of time. I would also like to offer a solution.

The (unacceptable) proposal is to reroute the heavy traffic that travels along Woods Lane between the A12 and Wilford  – north via Melton and south via Woodbridge for the duration of the works. These are estimated to be a matter of months.

Woodbridge-Melton, as well as being a bustling retail centre, houses eight infant/primary/secondary schools with a large catchment area, plus a significant number of nursing and sheltered homes whose care staff cannot afford to live locally and have to commute. The local firestation is staffed by retained firefighters  who need immediate access. My list goes on….

Although this diversion will impact heavily on Woodbridge residents, this development is not within my division. I was therefore not made aware of the proposed lengthy road closures with their inevitable impact on the local economy and local residents until a couple of weeks ago – the same time as it was made public.

It is almost as if this unacceptable decision to divert was to be a fait accompli.

I challenge this.

We seem to be living in a world without joined-up thinking and where the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing. Suffolk Coastal District Council is responsible for planning. The district council has been fully aware of the Bloor development for a long time. It cannot be news to a single person in the planning department that drainage etc will need to be put in place for a development of that size – or that, located as it is – in a greenfield site on the other side of a busy road from a busy town, that the chances are that there will be problems in linking up utilities.

The location makes it clear that there would inevitably be major issues – yet the district council now seems unduly surprised when these issues arise and obscurely feels that somehow the County Council Highways department (who have a statutory responsibility to facilitate this development) should be held responsible.

We need to ask the SCDC planning Committee, did the planning department have a different strategy for getting the Bloor drains put in? And what was it?

Bloor is a private company. Its primary aim is to make money for its shareholders. Why has Suffolk Coastal’s District Council planning department not looked at the propriety of Bloor disadvantaging our entire community in its endeavour to make the greatest possible private profit? It is not our problem, that of the residents of Woodbridge and Melton. It is Bloor’s. The company should shoulder the lion’s share of the solution

Surely it should have been possible  – should still be possible – for SCDC to require Bloor to make a temporary roadway through their development land to take the Woods Lane traffic,  while utilities are placed under Woods Lane?

An additional point. Woodbridge has recently agreed a 20mph zone and additional calming for the entire town. One of the principle rationales was the impact of heavy traffic on our medieval town and to discourage rat-running on the B1438 which separates the town from the riverside. This diversion only underlines why the scheme is needed. The scheme however needs funding.  I would therefore urge SCDC and SCC Highways to work together, using development money earnarked for community benefit, to benefit that community most harmed by these works – ie Woodbridge itself

Sincerely

Caroline Page
County Councillor for Woodbridge

 

Update: I have heard it argued  over the last weeks that because the Secretary of State overturned SCDC’s decision regarding the Bloor development, SCDC can somehow wash their hands of this development. We can only succeed in  persuading  everyone of the value of my argument if all local bodies join forces 

Housing Day : what Suffolk needs

Today is #HousingDay.

Do you know people desperate for to find or afford somewhere to live?   In this county – with new built estates rising everywhere – I know plenty.

The answer? Simple. We need to stop pandaring to the free market -which is creating ever more homes and second homes for the affluent – and start planning and building the housing that everyday people need.

Purpose-built council housing. For those starting out,  for young families, the disabled, the low waged (public sector workers for example) , those that need to downsize.

Abolish that strangest of all supposed human rights  – the ‘right to buy.’ Replace it with “the right to have a truly affordable roof over your head.” (And don’t let those weasel words ‘affordable housing‘ con you. It means 80% of market rates. In an area where houses cost £1m to buy, thousands per month to rent ‘affordable housing’ is, what? We need social housing because that alone is truly affordable).

And we must stop mouthing all this ‘let the market decide’ malarkey. The market consists of builders who – given the choice – want to build high end executive homes because they make the best profit. What do we need? Homes for the young, the young families, the disabled, the low waged, the elderly. Homes for everyone who makes up our society – or we lose it.

Not necessarily homes to own. One of the reasons ‘social housing’ sometimes gets such a bad press is that there is now so little of it keft that it may be more likely to be let to people with the most significant problems or needs – and thus give it an unfair reputation.

Yet why shouldn’t many more people live this way? It happens elsewhere without difficulty. It used to be the way of life here.

Home ownership was an anomaly of the second half of the twentieth century

When I was young, lots of low-waged people were able to live in the centre of towns and cities. In solid Victorian terraced council houses now sold off under right to buy, worth a million or so, and maybe not even lived in full time by those that now own them. Even at rental income, way outside the pockets of your average working family.

And the people who our towns and cities need and rely on (teachers, nurses, carers, firefighters, young workers etc) sofa-surf, commute incredible distances or plain give up.

An end to laissez faire, say I. Let’s constrain the free market and go back to the politics of common sense – and have a solid practical unflashy homes policy built on the needs of the people rather than what companies and organizations want to build!

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.