Much as I like Cllr Mike Dixey, his recent interview with Jack Dyson of The Gazette contains a number of claims which cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged. Not least among these is the idea that voting for the Liberal Democrats is a viable way of removing the ruling Conservative Party from the Council.
Not only is this idea based on one by-election for a County Council seat outside the City – a by-election with a ludicrously low turnout – but it completely ignores the lessons of the June 2017 elections, when both former Lib Dem and Green voters switched to Labour to unseat Conservatives in both the Parliamentary seat and in Westgate ward.
A coalition of voters rather than of parties, is what is needed if the District is to have a Council which begins to undo the damage caused by 20 years of Conservative mismanagement. The next City Council will be faced with enormous borrowing incurred by the Conservatives in reckless investments in the rapidly declining retail property – over £150 million to buy Whitefriars alone, a gamble which already looks like backfiring – and on the hated Station Road West car park, plus more money wasted on buying up student housing instead of building desperately needed Council housing.
While Councillor Dixey’s analysis of the problems may be correct, his proposed solution is not. Labour is committed to dealing with the terrible legacy of the Conservatives which, in part at least, Cllr Dixey’s party in Westminster helped to create by supporting austerity. Labour will build more homes more quickly than the Lib Dems’ lukewarm (and vague) proposal. We will stop the multi-storey car park if at all possible, improve transport and cycle routes, end the disaster that is the Serco contract, support local businesses and promote a real living wage as part of a campaign to end zero-hours contracts.
If people genuinely want change, there is only going to be one way to get it in May, which is to vote directly for the only Party which can unseat the Conservatives. And unfortunately for Mike Dixey, that’s not the Liberal Democrats.
I am writing to you personally as your Labour Councillor for Westgate Ward – elected in June 2017 – to let you know how to get in touch, and to give you an idea of the issues that I’ve been dealing with on the Council. And what kind of problems I can help with.
The Tory run City Council is in a mess. It is bringing forward dangerous and costly plans which I have strongly opposed:
• The multi-storey car park madness in Station Road West, which will cost City taxpayers £9.25 million but which will produce LESS income from car parking over the years. Labour voted against it, as it’s just about the lowest priority for the City. It will increase pollution and cost a fortune – and there are far more important priorities for spending money.
• The link road from the A2 to Rheims Way is wrongheaded. It shoves a major road through the Wincheap Trading Estate and channels yet more traffic under the railway bridge to the Castle roundabout. In my view it shouldn’t be built unless there’s a new tunnel under the railway and a fresh junction with Rheims Way constructed. Extra traffic on the A28 coming to the Castle roundabout will ram solid an already difficult roundabout and create even further delays for local residents getting out of Castle Street. Labour is against this hare – brained scheme.
• Labour is against this redevelopment of the St Mary Bredin school site because the land is part of our ancient heritage and it needs preserving. And the last thing we need is more badly planned student accommodation.
It is clear that the Council’s priorities are wrong. They are doing very little about social housing and there are over 2,000 families on the waiting list. We should prioritise their future and give hope to young people. The Tory Council have nothing to say on this. There is a deafening silence.
You can also see the failure of Tory Council Policies everywhere you look in Canterbury. Graffiti scrawled across our buildings. Litter strewn across the streets. Bins overflowing in parks. Council funded binmen wrecking recycling with a “don’t give a damn” attitude – you may have seen the film on South East TV news. It’s not good enough, and it has to stop.
My objective is to clean up the City, get the right priorities funded, and house those who can’t afford a roof over their heads. The Tory City Council haven’t a clue. They are making you pay more for worse services. And the Tory Government policy of slashing police numbers is linked with soaring violent crime, increased murders, and rising knife crime. And if that’s not enough, they are attacking the NHS by cutting £486 million a year in Kent alone.
The housing crisis in this country is also a health crisis.
Last week in Parliament M.P.s debated the health costs of poor housing. Given recent reports in the Gazette about poor housing conditions in Canterbury this was particularly relevant to this district.
Research by the Building Research Establishment in March 2015 estimated that poor housing costs the NHS at least £1.4 billion a year. The University of Birmingham’s housing and communities research group state that 1 in 5 homes in the UK do not meet the decent home standard. Bad housing causes and exacerbates health problems. Being forced to live in cold, damp conditions, significantly increases the risk of experiencing cardio-vascular, respiratory and rheumatoid conditions and is very harmful to people with arthritis.
Poor housing is an ever-increasing national problem and must be addressed urgently. In July 2018 Canterbury City Council published a report entitled “Housing and Homelessness”. It highlighted that there are more than 2500 families on the Authority’s housing needs register-that’s more than 2500 families who don’t have a suitable place to live, many of whom are living in cramped and unsuitable “temporary” accommodation. The term “temporary” is misleading as many families are forced to live in such accommodation for long periods of time because there are no suitable council properties available and because they cannot afford to rent in the private sector.
The problem is affordability and lack of council housing. The report stated that the cost of housing to buy or rent privately in the Canterbury district is 13 times higher than average local wages. This forces many people to live in cramped, unsuitable conditions because that is all they can afford. The Council, like many others in this country, has built very few council homes in the last decade. Residents are forced into the expensive private rented sector which is largely unregulated and where tenants have few rights and very low security of tenure. Many tenants are frightened to complain of poor conditions for fear they will be evicted at short notice. The cost of rents forces many people to spend less money on both food and heating, causing damage to their health.
In the 1945-51 Labour Government Aneurin Bevan was Minister for Housing and Health. That Government recognised the link between good housing and good health. At the same time as it founded the NHS, that Government introduced a programme of slum clearances and council house building. Bevan insisted on council housing of good, minimum standards where everyone could live in spacious, dry homes.
This country needs such a programme again today. The private house-building sector cannot solve the housing crisis and unless bold new policies are implemented, all the problems of poor housing that I have referred to will persist.
The following policies need to be implemented;
- An end to the right to buy which has merely led to large numbers of former council houses being acquired by private landlords.
- The imposition of local rent controls in the private rented sector, so that rents are linked to average local wages.
- The regulation of the private rented sector to ensure that minimum standards are complied with.
- A sustained and widespread programme of council house building over the next two decades. Local Councils must be both empowered and instructed to build these homes with specific targets for each local authority.