Housing and more affordable homes for first-time buyers

It ought to be crystal clear to every politico in the urban paradise that occasionally is Southend-on-Sea, that this town is in desperate need of affordable housing. This manifests itself in a number of ways – youngsters still at home, families overcrowded, aspirant home-owners trapped in expensive rental agreements.

Homebuilding would also be a driver for employment for the local builders and craftsmen who assemble and furnish these new homes.

Recent announcements by Ed Miliband are welcome news; to remind readers, these have included giving local communities power to build where people want to live, enabling councils to plan properly for homebuilding, and giving access rights to first time buyers.

This Government has a frankly terrible record on home ownership and house-building, including the lowest levels of house-building in 90 years and home ownership levels at their lowest in 30 years. Those houses available are too expensive for young families, pushing back the age at which people can own their first property. Our children face a grim future unless the housing market is made to work for them.

I applaud the Labour commitment to build 200,000 homes a year by 2020. I also applaud the aspiration to see the number of first-time buyers doubled by 2025. I was in my twenties when I first owned my home – and I wish this for all in their twenties, in Southend and in the rest of the country.

Concerns that the new hospice build may be delayed

The proposed re-development of the former Ekco factory site has much to recommend it. It is a brown-field site and the proposals are for housing (including a good mix of social and affordable homes), some offices, and a new home for Fair Havens.

Southend West Labour Parliamentary Candidate, Julian Ware-Lane, is concerned that objections could lead to delays in building the homes and the new hospice. Fair Havens cannot progress
their project unless the landowner can get permission for the development as a whole.

Homes have to be built somewhere, and if not here then perhaps Southend West’s Conservatives, who are leading the objections, can suggest where.

The Ekco site is a brown-field site, and this is what we should be using, whenever possible, for new housing. Of course new homes mean more cars, and I can understand why those near the development might be concerned. But we have a housing shortage and this does seem an ideal site. I do understand the concerns of locals including those of the Thornford Action Group, but tackling the housing crisis sometimes means making some tough decisions.

Fair Havens originally wanted to build on the greenbelt in Leigh, but pressure brought by campaigners, including Julian Ware-Lane, meant that these plans were abandoned. Julian on a visit to the Chalkwell Avenue site suggested to Fair Havens that they look at the Ekco site, and he is delighted that this looks likely to be their new home. However, objections could introduce delay.

Fair Havens do sterling work in looking after people in the final chapter of their lives. My mother was one of their patients. The facility in Chalkwell Avenue is no longer big enough and a new home is desperately needed.

Building new council homes – the how

Nigel Holdcroft has written about the planned New council housing for the borough of Southend-on-Sea. As can be imagined, he is somewhat cynical.

This has prompted me to do a bit of digging, and lo – look what I found announce in January of this year - Government launches an independent review into how more social homes can be built.

(Need I remind Nigel of the particular colour of the Government?)

Anyway, it is worth quoting from this announcement:

An independent and wide-ranging review into how more social homes can be built has been launched by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, and the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, today (Thursday 30 January).

This review will assess if councils are making sufficient use of their existing powers and flexibilities to deliver new social housing. For instance, councils could use their property portfolio more effectively to finance housebuilding by selling expensive vacant properties and using the receipts to build new affordable homes.

The review will also consider how councils can work more closely with housing associations, housebuilders and businesses to build more new homes.

The chairs of the review will also ensure that it gives adequate consideration to new freedoms and flexibilities which could be given to councils to deliver new social housing.

The government has untied the hands of councils through unprecedented reforms to the system for council house finance. Local authorities can now keep their rental income, in return for taking more responsibility for their housing businesses. At last year’s Autumn Statement this freedom was extended by inviting councils to bid for a share of £300 million of extra borrowing to build 10,000 new affordable homes.

Whilst this may not answer all of Nigel’s concerns, it does show that there may be solutions out there.

Clustering

Those of us who value council housing (as a former council tenant I certainly do) are delighted with the momentous news that Southend-on-Sea Borough Council is (at last) likely to build some new council homes. Of course this has yet to be agreed by the Council chamber, but seeing this long cherished aspiration within touching distance of being achieved is a moment to celebrate. This is something that all within the Joint Administration will have good cause to cheer about, especially Labour who it is that has largely made this happen.

James Duddridge MP (Conservative, Rochford and Southend East) sees this as an opportunity to scoff at the new administration’s achievement. Matthew Dent justly castigates the hapless MP for his unwise words (James Duddridge is wrong to oppose new council housing for Southend) and I will add a couple of thoughts to supplement Matt’s wise words.

Firstly, if clustering is a bad idea for social housing, is it a good idea for other types of housing? I am all for mixed communities and I call upon Mr Duddridge to join my campaign to end the clustering of million pound homes on Thorpe Bay sea front. We could also tackle the blight of expensive homes clustered in the Marine Estate in West Leigh, as well as that cluster in Chalkwell Avenue.

The locations for the new council homes may not be ideal, but you have to work with what you have got. I hope that more council housing building will be announced at some point, and this will be dependent on the availability of money and land.

This clustering has arisen largely as a result of the previous (Conservative) administration’s failure to insist that developers stick to the requirements for social and affordable housing when planning new developments. I hope that the current administration will make sure that in future we do see need before greed.

The Conservative MP also shows that he cannot envisage anything without seeing a chance for a quick buck. I can see no other reason why he thinks social housing should be provided by the private sector. This is an opportunity for the Council to provide much needed homes whilst retaining ownership. The land is, at present, a public asset (and therefore owned by all of us) and I see no reason to give this away.

The Southend Echo apologises

Page 18 of today's newspaper

Page 18 of today’s newspaper

Where housing benefit really goes

A press release from GMB union last week stated: HUGE PAYMENTS FOR HOUSING BENEFIT IN EAST OF ENGLAND SHOWS LANDLORDS ARE THE REAL WINNERS FROM BRITAIN’S WELFARE SYSTEM. Amongst the statistics that accompanied this release were the following, directly relevant to everyone in south Essex:

• Regis Direct Plc – £725,000 from Southend, £24,000 from Rochford. Donated £7,900 to Conservatives in 2008.
• Thorney Bay Park Ltd – £1.45m from Castle Point. Donated £3,000 to conservatives in 2001.
• Horwood, PACE plc – £596,000 from Southend, £12,500 from Rochford
• Martin & Co – Letting Agents, £3.1m from 20 districts nationally. £484,000 from Southend and £19,000 from Rochford
• Hopson Property Management Ltd – £761,000 from Southend
• The Letting Shop – £136,000 from Colchester and £29,000 from Chelmsford
• Northwood – National lettings Agency getting over £2.3m nationally. £251,000 from Milton Keynes, £162,000 from Chelmsford

I oppose the housing benefit cap because, whatever the intentions, its actual consequence is to drive the poor out of expensive areas. The effects of this are being felt in Southend as Londoners seek to escape over-priced and unaffordable accommodation costs.

Tenants do not get housing benefit – it goes straight to landlords. Despite what some of the headlines may imply, no-one on welfare is being made rich by housing benefit. There are those who are coining it in – the landlords. I think there is a problem here, and the solution is not the cap. The solution lies ultimately in the need for affordable housing, which can only be met with a vigorous house-building program.

There are 16,439 private rented households in Southend-on-Sea. 10,282 (62.5%) are in receipt of housing benefits.

Councillor landlords

Every councillor has to complete a Register of Members’ Interest form. These are stored for inspection online at http://www.southend.gov.uk/downloads/download/794/the_register_of_members_interests.

These forms are completed so as to counter any allegations of bias in our proceedings. (Interests are also separately notified at each meeting for individual agenda items).

I have a particular interest in rental properties – Milton has the highest rental sector of any ward in the borough of Southend-on-Sea.

Anyway, in discussions about landlords, development, HMOs, etc., it is pertinent how the following question is answered: Any land in your authority’s area in which you have a beneficial interest.

The following councillors are multi-property owners:

Independent
Brian Ayling
Marimuthu Velmurugan

Liberal Democrat
Mary Betson (spouse)

Conservative
Maria Caunce
David Garston
Jonathan Garston
Stephen Habermel
Roger Hadley
Georgina Phillips (spouse)
Ian Robertson (spouse)
Lesley Salter

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