Forty bells at six doors

It is often said by me, and to me, that there are roads in Milton ward where there are many front doors that are characterised by being host to numerous door bells. Milton has the highest proportion of rental properties of any ward within the borough of Southend-on-Sea, and there are some roads where saturation point was reached many years ago.

This was brought home to me recently when out and about in one particular street. I counted six door-bells at one address, then six next door, then another six after that. By the sixth door I thought to go back and count just how many door bells I had just seen at the half a dozen houses I had visited. I counted forty, and that was no over-counting or exaggeration. (I may even have missed one or two).

Forty door bells at six houses – or to put it another way, six houses converted into forty dwellings. I have no idea whether these were flats or bedsits (I think the former), and I am convinced that this total could be beaten elsewhere in the ward, but it is a large number by anyone’s standard.

I have nothing against flats or bedsits – I have lived in both. I do object, though, to some areas being thought as safe to dump on, whereas other areas contain nought but intact houses. This is unfair. I think all areas should contain a mix of housing types, and I am trying my best to stem the tide of conversion, infill building, and overcrowding that is increasingly becoming a feature of Milton ward.

There has been a failure of planning in Milton ward, and whilst I cannot fix the past I am determined to stand up for the ward in a way that has clearly been missing in recent years.

Bricks and mortar

So, we are officially back in recession, double-dipping following what can only be described as poor decisions taken by the Coalition Government.

One of the sectors particularly hit is the building industry.

We have a housing crisis in this country. Waiting lists are long, and homes are unaffordable for many.

Would it be too much to ask for some action to create affordable housing in this country? This would help a struggling industry, alleviate the housing woes for many, and possibility help solve some of the resultant social problems that arise from homelessness, overcrowding, and joblessness.

Controlling rents

Any argument that rails against the excessive profiteering by some landlords is going meet with my approval. That some believe this can be achieved by capping benefits is delusional.

The argument runs (and is an argument espoused by Tony Cox) that the market will adjust because of the withdrawal of some cash. I welcome Conservatives who see the evil that is excessive profiteering; I just wish they would see that the real answer is rent control.

Rents are subject to the same laws of supply and demand as other commodities in a capitalist system. When demand exceeds supply, prices (rents) go up. We live in a time of housing shortage -rising rents are the natural market response to this.

The housing benefit cap applies largely to places like central London. Here demand is high and the cost of living consequently expensive. Anyone in rented accommodation is going to paying out hefty sums to landlord here, and if they are on a low wage or unemployed they will receive housing benefit. Government proposals will mean not that landlords will lower rents – why should they when there is a queue of people seeking housing? No, the result will be the displacement (and possible homelessness) of anyone whose benefit exceeds the cap.

This will cleanse some areas of the poor, and these poor will include key workers. These low-paid workers may have chosen central London to be close to their places of employment, and another consequence is not just their removal but the imposition of a commute.

To address issues around the welfare state, and cutting support services, at a time of rising unemployment is only imaginable by Conservatives. Whilst I accept that reform is needed (the benefits system is in constant flux as it is), to take drastic measures whilst seeing the possibilities of gainful employment become remoter is harsh. This is stick, and more stick.

Of course, rent controls will not be put in place by Cameron. After all, that smacks of fairness. Besides, how do you imagine rich landlords vote?

More tower-blocks for Southend? I can’t wait

I used to live in a tower-block. I moved into Grampian in Balmoral Road, Westcliff-on-Sea, in September 1983 and enjoyed the views from my fourteenth storey one-bedroom council flat.

I lived there for two years until just after the birth of my second child when it really did become too small. The clincher for persuading the council to move us was that the fourteenth floor was not serviced by a lift. The lifts only went to the thirteenth floor, which meant all sorts of carrying up a flight of stairs – children, push-chairs, shopping, etc.

The absence of lifts is one bug-bear for tower-block residents. Even when supplied to your floor they do breakdown, causing all sorts of misery for those not only living up high, but also those accompanied by children. The closeness of one’s neighbours and the lack of a private outdoor space (i.e. a garden) are further reasons that families and tower-blocks are an ill match.

It is not all woe. For some tower-blocks do provide an ideal home, and there are plus points for everyone. The views can be amazing, the TV reception was perfect, and if your neighbours are considerate then there is a sense of community.

However, a clue as to their desirability over other forms of housing is in who lives in them. Except for penthouses in the city or beside the seaside the rich are not found in them. The choice-generation, or those who can choose, chooses elsewhere.

I do not know Anna Waite. I do not have even a passing acquaintance. I do know that I consider most, if not all, of her plans for Southend to vary between barmy and outright dangerous. Her latest scheme is for more blocks of flats to solve the housing crisis (Anna Waite: We need more apartment blocks in Southend).

Anna and her Conservative cohorts have overseen years where empty properties have remained exactly that – empty. Many developments are clearly not for Southend residents (the yuppie flats on Chalkwell seafront are one example), plans for apartments on Westcliff beach were abandoned after many howls of protest.

She back-peddles somewhat in her blog. I was intrigued by her ” stem the loss of family homes into converted flats” comment – who oversaw this loss? Why, you Anna, and your Tory friends.

Tower-blocks are not the solution, although I wonder whether Ms Waite would be keen on having some in Barling? I doubt it somehow.

Save our green belt

There is nothing wrong in changing one’s mind or re-thinking previously held convictions. My politics have altered over the last thirty years. Some self re-examination reinforces one’s beliefs.

I do not criticise Castle Point’s MP, Dr Spink, for re-thinking his politics and deciding that life outside of the Conservative Party suits him more. Better a man of principle than of deceit, even self-deception.

What is comment-worthy is the number of labels that Dr Spink has claimed since 2008: Conservative, independent, UKIP, independent again, and now Independent Save Our Green Belt.

I do not question his sincerity, although his steadfastness may not stand scrutiny.

I have yet to see his new party’s manifesto, and await with interest their views on the fiscal stimulus. However, it is clear that preserving the green belt is central to the new party’s core beliefs.

Funnily enough, preserving the green belt as a campaigning issue is not unique to this new entity. I and my party in Castle Point have been campaigning on this very subject for decades and our record is second to none. It was my campaigning that first alerted Daws Heath residents to the threat to their green fields and trees.

Clearly the local Conservative Party do not value the green belt. They hide behind Government housing quotas, claiming it is the Government that is forcing them to trash parts of our green heritage. This is not true – the Government sets a quota, but does not dictate how and where that quota is met.

I defend the target for house-building. When I have parents and young adults telling me that houses are too expensive and in short supply I know that house-building, to address the national two million shortfall, is the only answer. I am also acutely aware that all who work in occupations directly or indirectly linked to house-building will not welcome a would-be Conservative Government that will undermine their job prospects.

I am the only candidate standing who is both prepared to defend the green belt and defend local jobs and fight for the home-owning aspirations of our young.

The Core Strategy – a brave move, if a little off-target

Local housing plans for Castle Point are somewhat contentious. There is a need for more housing in the UK, but more often than not most people want that housing ‘elsewhere’. People in Castle Point are no different. I can sympathise with this view; who wants to be crowded in, surrounded by concrete? – Especially if you made a conscious move into the area because you valued the green spaces. Yet, houses have to be built somewhere.

The ruling Conservative administration has produced a Core Strategy that attempts to meet Government targets, even if they have selected some particularly unpopular areas for the housing. That they were under instructions from their Westminster colleagues to reject Government targets makes their decision brave.

Little or no new housing would be built in Castle Point, or many other places, if the Conservatives were to gain the keys to Government. Some would hurrah at this – I would not. Many with near-adult and adult children will want them near to hand when eventually they leave the nest – almost impossible in the current climate where houses are in short supply and expensive.

Although I am dismayed at the choice of places to build on, I defend the targets. My argument with Castle Point Borough Council is not over the number of housing units, only their type and location. Green belt should be preserved, and affordable starter homes should be built, with a good ratio of social housing.

Not building homes would lead to widespread homelessness and overcrowding. No-one can seriously want this. What is needed in Castle Point are plans that meet the growing need with sensitivity and a desire to protect as much of the valuable and much-loved open green spaces as possible. This, and a commitment that infrastructure will lead rather than lag is what I am after.

John Healey plans to overhaul council housing finance system

Not exactly current news, but not ancient either. I missed this when first announced, but I think it significant: Housing revenue account finally to be abolished

This is reportage on an announcement made last month by Housing Minister John Healey. He unveiled plans to dismantle the current council housing finance system and replace it with a transparent system that makes councils better able to respond to the needs of local tenants and residents.

This is part of a consultation process with proposals that include these three key discussion points:

• Dismantling the current Housing Revenue subsidy system and replacing it with a fairer, more transparent system that will give councils greater independence and freedom to manage their housing resources.
• Increasing local responsibility and accountability for councils, giving them the opportunity to think and act more strategically in the longer term when managing their assets and meeting the housing needs of local people.
• Allowing local councils to keep all the rental income from tenants as well as any proceeds from Right to Buy sales that can be reinvested locally.

All this on top of the previous month’s Housing Pledge by the Prime Minister – an extra £1.5 billion to boost the number of new homes for people to rent or buy to 110,000 in the next two years: this is a fourfold increase in plans for new council homes.

Castle Point has just over 1500 council homes – not enough to service demand, resulting in a long waiting list. The above could see, if implemented, that waiting list dramatically trimmed. I hope so.

Myopia

Stephen Glover’s article in the Daily Mail shows that it is he who is myopic.

I will not deny that there is great concern over immigration in Castle Point and beyond, but I believe that Mr Glover ignores some obvious truths.

Firstly, like it or not we now live in a global village. Nothing can turn back time or reverse progress. We all take advantage of better travel opportunities and many of us enjoy working as well as holidaying on foreign soil.

I heard that the UK is second to Mexico in the numbers of its citizens living outside of its borders. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander – we cannot expect the world to welcome us with open arms if we do not extend that welcome to those who come here.

Besides, in a pure numbers games we stand to gain from the system as it is now; a universal ‘send them back’ policy would see a huge jump in these islands’ population.

Secondly, when it comes to housing Mr Glover seems to blame the homeless. The issue is not who is where in any particular queue; it is that there is not enough housing to satisfy demand. Rather than looking for ways to deny people housing why not support a program of house-building?

As to the issue of migrant labour under-cutting local wages, then I agree that is appalling. But who are the guilty here? Surely not the workers – a migrant will want as much money as anyone else, it is just that he (or she) can work for less. No, the guilty are the unscrupulous employers whose desire for a quick buck means that they are quite happy to employ anyone who will maximise their profit margins, even at the expense of their neighbours’ jobs.

This is where the anti-union policies of the 1980s have backfired. Who is fighting the corner of those building workers faced with massive wage cuts or penury? Where are the shop-stewards for the factory workers demanding the correct rate of pay? Unionising migrant labour and re-empowering trades unions is the solution here.

I do not want a return to barmy militant union leaders hell-bent on the downfall of capitalism. I do want proper workplace representation that means my job is not under threat because there is someone in another land prepared to undercut me. I am happy for competition in a level playing field and accept that smarter workplace practises must be accepted.

My cure for the immigration problem? – more house-building and stronger unions.

The housing market shows signs of recovery

The state of the housing market is one of the indicators as to the health of the British economy. Some good news is being reported on the BBC (Interest in property ‘up again’) – too early for any claims about green shoots, but welcome nonetheless.