Whitstable tory councillor Neil Baker, used the pages of the Herne Bay Gazette to criticise Herne Bay Labour for not stating clearly that we would campaign nationally for rent controls on private houses and flats. This we clearly state now along with our plan to build 2000 new council homes over 10 years; to launch an ethical lettings agency; ensure 30% of new homes are affordable; and speed up repairs through a dedicated team across the district.
In Herne Bay we have a high level of privately rented poor housing; much of this is in Heron Ward which covers roughly the centre area of the town. This ward was deemed to be highly deprived by the previous NHS Health & Social Care committee following surveys carried out. This has been confirmed by the Citizens Advice Bureau particularly because of the level of poor and disabled people.
This ward is represented on the District Council by three tory councillors; one of them is also a county councillor. Yet we hear nothing about this and during the present term of office they, along with the other five tory councillors in Herne Bay, have overseen the building of highly priced private houses across Herne Bay, and not one council house; agreed the closure of our City Council office and failed to support any campaign to keep the job centre here open. All policies that ignore the fact that there are nearly three thousand people on the district housing waiting list, and these closures, along with the proposed reduced hours of our library, affect the poorer people of Herne Bay considerably.
Whilst the conservatives are eager to criticise the local Labour Party for supporting our district manifesto containing a programme of fresh ideas to transform our town for the benefit of everyone; and we have explained our policies in a series of leaflets delivered across Herne Bay, we have seen very little information from the local tories on their plans, except for their support for the building of a new grammar school on the coast which will take £20 million of tax payers money, at a time when the majority of the schools our children attend are seeing the biggest cuts to education carried out by this conservative government, since the second world war. They fail to explain that education is within the province of the County Council and not the district one, which is the election we are presently campaigning for. They have failed to stand up for Herne Bay and gone along with all the vanity projects in Canterbury that have wasted millions of pounds of our council tax payers money, and clearly nothing on their horizon for Herne Bay will change.
Our full Labour District Manifesto is available for viewing on
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.
There’s a whole industry out there geared up to reducing the amount developers have to agree too, after planning given. If you put in on line, viability assessments under section 106 agreements, up shoots the law firms bidding for developer’s attention. Local Authorities strapped for cash, weighing up weather to challenge these very persuasive arguments based on developer’s profit margins. Yes, the forcefulness these firms put into the stripping communities of what little assets they get. So who what is the culprit here?
The developer with their need for 20% profit margin or is it a bit of gentrification set out to keep house prices high, then the local authorities for lack of stamina to face up to their duties for the communities they represent, the law firms just taking advantage of a situation under guises of doing best by client. Then there’s the landowner whom invariable does little to the infrastructure that creates high land value yet gets the most without sharing in their gains. This needs to change.
Councils, developers, landowners and the communities where they’re planning to build, need to come together with a forward thinking plan that all agree on at the outset, leaving none of the parties feeling aggrieved at outcomes, allowing the development of a community, not a building site just for profit.
Affordable homes does not just have to be the burden of the developer, this can be a shared responsibility with the community led housing approach; such as a community land trust being give the land that is set aside under section 106 agreements, that they may work with their chosen leaseholder partners both within the rented and affordable homeownership fields, the likes of mutual cooperative housing groups, not for profit housing associations, co-housing and affordable self build groups for first time buyers,. All of this builds communities not separating and doesn’t need to wait for a change in the local / national planning act, a forward thinking community applying this approach, can start the wealth building that communities require for the future diversity of living.