Councillor for Northgate ward, and leader of the Labour Group, Alan Baldock, has written to the Kentish Gazette urging the Council to be bolder when it comes to developing housing in the district.
Last week, Canterbury’s Chief Executive stated in the Kentish Gazette, that the thousands of new homes needed are a “big ask”. Labour believes that Canterbury residents are worth such a “big ask,” as it isn’t really too much to hope, in this day and age, that everyone is provided with affordable, dignified accommodation. Now is the opportunity to radically rethink how and where we build those homes and communities and to link them with an integrated system of transport. It may be a “big ask” indeed, but let’s be a bit radical and make a start, let’s establish a working integrated transport hub in advance of significant future development, and redefine “affordable” so that truly affordable homes are built in the next Local Plan.
Let’s use the practical experiences of local families and businesses to help, set up an independently run event to get both radical and new ideas on an integrated transport system for this District. Joined up public transport is vital to meet climate change targets and to simultaneously cope with a huge increase in population, after all we share the problem and the solution. The suggested couple of extra bus stops, and the excuse for a misplaced multi-story car park at Canterbury West Station, do not constitute, in my opinion, the integrated transport hub our District deserves: it needs to be radical and inclusive.
Homes to rent or buy from the private sector are unaffordable to huge numbers of families working in this District, an area blighted by the high cost of housing and low wages. The term “affordable housing,” referred to triumphantly in a planning application, is defined as being about 80% of the market rate to buy or rent. Social Rent (Council house rent) on the other hand is much more affordable for those on low pay or unsecure employment. Unfortunately, there is a chronic short supply of Social Housing due to years of Local Authority underfunding and the effects of “right to buy’. It is definitely not the same as “affordable”. This month, Labour Councillors will be asking Canterbury City Council to redefine “affordable” in its Local Plan and Policies. It is possible to base a new definition on median house prices and disposable income resulting in a more meaningful definition of “affordable” that would bring a degree of sanity to the market over time and make “affordable” a home reality.
Labour councillors on Canterbury City Council (CCC) have today called on the Conservative administration to carry out an urgent review of East Kent Housing, the arm’s length management company overseeing council housing in the district.
Canterbury’s official opposition group has been angered by a serious dereliction of duty and the discovery that over 500 properties have been found without gas safety certificates. EKH has been jointly owned by the four district councils since 2011, it acts as a management agent for property owned by the council.
Cllr Alan Baldock, Labour’s leader at CCC said: “ For the last four years we have been banging on about the need for greater scrutiny and accountability at East Kent Housing. The current administration has reduced the number of councillors on their board and consistently marginalised the voice of tenants and elected representatives. In the wake of Grenfell this revelation should worry us all.”.
Cllr Chris Cornell, who sites on the Council’s Community Committee said “The very least local residents should be able to expect of East Kent Homes is that their property is safe. We appreciate the swift action taken to remedy the immediate danger but the culture and management of an organisation who acted with such abandon now has to be questioned. East Kent Housing need to prove to us that they can be trusted again, they need to open themselves to rigorous independent scrutiny at once.”
Whilst recent articles have called for the removal of Colin Carmichael, Chief Executive Officer of Canterbury City Council, in wake of the scandal, local Labour councillors are calling for pragmatism. As Councillor Baldock says, “whilst we welcome the immediate dismissal of Mr Anderson, formerly property director at EKH, we need to understand if there are other systemic failures and fix them immediately. We believe there is a growing call to examine how we could bring East Kent Housing in house and improve its accountability”.
Labour is calling on Canterbury City Council to look objectively at how we can proceed, but if not satisfied will be working with Labour councillors across the four districts to bring a vote of no confidence in EKH.Local people deserve better than East Kent Housing.
The outcome of the Council elections next Thursday will determine the future of housing in this district.
The Conservatives have presided over 12 years of housing failure, leading to falling home-ownership, unaffordable private rents and a big increase in homelessness. Developers have often been allowed to avoid the legal requirement that 30% of new private homes must be affordable, meaning home-ownership for those under 45 has dropped sharply. The failure to build new council homes means that there are now approximately 2,500 families on the district’s housing needs register. That’s 2,500 families without a home. It has also caused a huge increase in the housing benefit bill, as low-income families cannot afford the cost of private rent. The current policy is damaging to residents who cannot afford a home and to the public finances.
No one visiting Canterbury of an evening can have failed to notice the significant numbers of people sleeping rough in doorways and down side streets. This is not acceptable and the new council must intervene.
Pursuing the same old policies will not address these problems and bold new ones are needed. A Labour-run Council would build, or acquire, 2,000 new council homes over the next 10 years. That is the only way that the housing needs of the less well-off will be met. It would also insist on private developers complying with their “affordable homes” commitments and support an all-year-round hostel for homeless people.
The Conservatives are ideologically opposed to social housing and remain committed to 1980s dogma about a “property-owning democracy” and “market forces.” These policies simply haven’t worked for many people and haven’t been much help to the 2,500 families in the district with nowhere to live.
The choice for voters on Thursday is pretty simple. Do we want everyone in the district to have a home or not?
Simon Warley, Labour Councillor for Westgate ward.