By Simon Warley / Homes for EveryoneHousing / / 0 Comments

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;

  1. An end to the right to buy which has merely led to large numbers of former council houses being acquired by private landlords.
  2. The imposition of local rent controls in the private rented sector, so that rents are linked to average local wages.
  3. The regulation of the private rented sector to ensure that minimum standards are complied with.
  4. 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.
By Simon Warley / JobsServices / / 0 Comments

Gazette readers will be aware that Canterbury Councillors backed a proposal by St Mildred’s Area Community Society (SMACS) to close the Dane John Gardens between 11.00pm and 4.00am. AsCouncillor for Westgateward,I fully support the trial closure. Residents of the Gardens and others in the vicinity are subjected to excessive noise and other disturbances, often throughout the night. The current situation is not fair on residents and council tax payers who live in that area. Hopefully the closure will protect residents against some of the worst behaviour in Canterbury at night.

However, closing the Gardens is not a solution to the wider problems caused by Canterbury’s so-called “night-time economy”. These problemsofteninclude criminal damage to private and commercial premises. The burden of dealing with thisis felt by hard-pressed public services, particularly the Police, ambulance and accident & emergency services. As well asalcohol fuelledcriminal andanti-social behaviour, the proliferation of late-night takeaways has increased the amount of litter and food waste on the streets of my ward and in parts of it there is now a serious problem with rats.

The Kentish Gazette reported on 3/1/2019 (page 10) that the Home Office has identified 222 “alcohol disorder hotspots” across the country and that Canterbury is one of these. Under existing legislation local authorities can make pubs, night-clubs and late-night takeaways pay a levy to fund the cost of extra policing. This is a voluntary scheme with no requirement that local Councils introduceit.Very few Councils have done so and Canterbury City Council has not.The Council should now consider introducing the levy especially as thenationalGovernment is consideringmakingitcompulsory.

The Police are struggling to police the “night-time economy” in Canterbury and a compulsory levy on late-night establishments would provide more money towards policing costs. However,the fundamentalproblemis that the 2003 Licensing Act was misguided and needs to be reformed. There should be much tougher regulation of which premises can obtain late-night licences and a significant reduction in the number of them. We also need more restrictionson the availability of alcohol, including minimum pricing, to discourage excessive binge drinking.

In Canterbury the Conservative administration should admit that it has allowed the current situation to develop without sufficient regulation and that it isblighting the lives of local residents and council tax payers. The “night-time economy” has been encouraged in the misguided belief that any business is good business. The current situation benefits only a very small number of business owners at the expense of thousands of local residents. In addition, the majority of jobs in the “night-time economy” are badly paid ones with poor future prospects. Canterbury City Council must adopt a much tougher and more restrictive approach tofuture applications forlate-night licences.It must not be afraid to revoke existing licences if there is evidence that the establishment is contributing towards criminal or anti-social behaviour.A