The Tory attitude to our housing problem

I was quite shocked at the breathtaking attitudes of Tory Housing Minister Brandon Lewis towards the biggest social issue of the day. In an interview with the Sunday Times he said “I’m not entirely convinced that publishing a strategy actually achieves what we want.” Apparently all the hundreds of thousands of new houses that we so desperately need are going to build themselves or was he thinking that the marvellous free market, which has never managed to build even half the houses we needs over the last decade, will somehow provide the solution.

What we really need is lots more affordable housing

What we really need is lots more affordable housing

He went on to say “if you get too much regulation in the sector, it drives down supply, and in the long run that’s bad for tenants.” I wonder which plane Brandon Lewis lives on as he clearly does not recognise the plight of millions of his fellow countrymen having to live with rent increases that have far outstripped inflation ove rthe last many years, of the hundreds of thousands of people who long to buy their own home but have no chance of doing so anywhere south of Birmingham.

Frankly if this is the man in charge of bulding the 250,000 new homes we need each year to satisfy new demands for housing then we are in a hopeless situation. I dread to think how many Tory MPs, like Brandon Lewis, are hoping that the housing market will continue to malfunction whilst pushing up the income they receive from homes that they themselves rent out privately.

I also wonder just how much money is paid in housing benefit to help those who cnnot afford the sky high rents. After all this is public money being paid over to private landlords which just continues the status quo of too many people having to live beyond their means in overpriced rental accommodation.

Scandal of Tory Government social rent proposals

From a recent LGA Lib Dem Group Press Release

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Tory Government proposals to reduce rents paid by tenants in social housing in England by 1 per cent a year will cost councils £2.6 billion by 2019/20, new analysis reveals.

The measure, as part of the Welfare and Work Bill, would see the rent reduction come into force from 2016 and last for four years. The cost to councils will rise from £234 million in year one, to £508 million in year two, £795 million in year three, and over £1 billion by 2019/20. By that point the annual funding gap will represent 60 per cent of local government’s total housing maintenance budget. Over the four years the total £2.6 billion will be equivalent to the cost of building almost 19,000 new homes.

Cllr Keith House, LGA Lib Dem Housing Spokesperson, said: “Liberal Democrats support moves to keep rents low but this move would hold back councils from helping government build more homes, boost growth and employment and reduce the welfare bill.

“Because around 70 per cent of council tenants receive Housing Benefit, any rent decrease will not impact them directly. Instead it will be reflected in the Department of Work and Pensions’ budget, while local councils will have to cope with the additional financial burden.”
Lib Dems are calling for the flexibility and powers for local councils to manage their own housing stock to meet the needs of local communities and employers over the long-term, as was intended by government in the 2012 housing reforms.

Keith House added:
“Many councils have already agreed long-term housing investment plans based on the future rent levels announced in March’s Budget. It is right that rents are kept as low as possible, but our analysis shows reducing rents in this way over the next four years will cost councils £2.6 billion by the end of the decade and lead to a further funding gap of £1 billion per year from 2020/21 onwards.

“There are millions of people on social housing waiting lists and councils want to get on with the job of building the new homes that people in their areas desperately need, which is the best way to reduce the Housing Benefit bill and boost growth. And Housing Associations will also be hit hard, estimating they would build 14,000 fewer affordable homes.

“It is therefore vital that these costs are considered by the Government as part of the wider debate of council funding to avoid the capacity of councils and housing associations to invest in this much-needed housing being put at risk. For instance councils should be able to keep all the receipts from the sales of their own housing stock.”

The Local Government Association has called on government to let councils take a lead role in housebuilding by lifting housing borrowing limits to allow councils to invest in new housing, giving councils the freedom to set Right to Buy discounts, and to retain 100 per cent of all council home sale receipts locally.

Don’t pooh pooh this

Cat As a local councillor I get a number of residents complaining about inconsiderate dog owners who allow their dogs to pooh wherever and never stop to clear up the mess. But until today I had never heard of a problem with cat pooh. Now, one resident has contacted me about cat pooh in his garden. It struck a chord with me as we have recently returned from a week away to find cat pooh in our garden. And this was not the first time we have been left fuming about cat pooh, about which there seems very little that we innocent victims can do other than clean up somebody else’s mess and get on with our lives. However, I did some googling and came across this site with lots of useful information for those having to deal with cat pooh:

http://winkypedia.net/2011/03/11/how-to-stop-cats-from-fouling-in-your-garden/

Cat pooh clearly makes a lot of people irate judging form the number of comments on the above website but it is worth a visit if you are one of them.

House Building

It was good to see that there was a marked increase in new homes completed in the first quarter of 2015, up around 25% over the same quarter last year but still the overall figure for the last year is just 125,000 houses when we really need more than double that number even to keep pace with growing demand, never mind reducing the backlog.

The really bad news is that only 20% of new homes in the last quarter were housing association builds and only 270 new council houses were built in that period.

These figures are dire and are condemning millions of people to live in unaffordable private rented accommodation for many years to come and it is the government that picks up much of the costs in meeting claims for Housing Benefit.

We desperately need more affordable housing all across London anmd the South of England. Councils need to be able to borow more money to build homes that people can afford to rent.

People Power in Mayfair

One of the nice things about being a councillor is being able to help people and for me the really special times are when you help people to take action for themselves. A great example of this has been the protest by residents of Mayfair about the bizarre actions of traffic wardens to ticket residents for parking on their own drives.
Mayfair parking
I was first approached by a resident after one of his neighbours visitors was ticketed. I queried this with the council but officers took the view that the land in question was public highway and even thought the ban was aimed at cars parking on grass verges or blocking public footpaths and the Mayfair residents did neither of these things, just parked on the long driveways in front of their houses, traffic wardens took no notice of protests and gave out tickets to cars parked on the driveways. This seemed a bit of nonsense so I queried it with Tony Page, the Lead Councillor for Transport, but he also declined to do anything. So we took the story to the press and, after asking for a meeting between Cllr Page and the residents, we were invited to put our case to a meeting of the Traffic Management Committee.

Mayfair residents then organised themselves, called a meeting, appointed a spokesperson, gathered over 50 signatures from other residents of Mayfair. Dave Penn was the man who presented the case and was given some rousing applause by the 8 or 9 other residents who attended the meeting to support him. I have been able to work with residents all along the way but for me the key thing was to see people doing things for themselves and standing up to the council. It has been great to see and to be involved with. So well done to Wayne, Dave, Pat and Ray and all the others who have given their support.

The result of pressure press and a strong presentation of their case has been a promise to respond to the issue at the next Transport Management meeting.

Affordable Housing in Reading

I almost got a shock whilst reading the papers for this week’s Planning Committee. On two major developments the council appears to have negotiated 30% affordable housing. Not withstanding the fact that these were probably negotiated while the council was supposedly working to a 50% target for affordable homes on new developments, this is a very healthy improvement from the 20% and less that I have seen consistently approved by the Planning Committee over the last 18 months I have had the pleasure of being a member of the committee.

On both occasions (Station Hill and Kenavon Drive) Cllr Page pointedly mentioned the affordable housing levels in his comments, a clear sign that he has woken up to my calls for action to get more affordable housing from new developments in Reading. He knows that his record is poor on this matter and I have constantly hammered away at affordable housing at every opportunity in committee.

However, the council recently dropped its affordable housing target from 50% down to 30%. So if we can get 30% when against a target of 50% I worry that future agreements will be a lot less than the target of 30%. If that proves to be the case then I will, of course, have a lot more to say to Cllr Page.

The government has allowed some of the income from council house sales to be used for new affordable housing and with the economy now moving up the gears we should see more developments coming to Planning Committee. We need to ensure that they include higher levels of affordable homes than in in the last 18 months.

Potholes, potholes and more potholes

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This is clearly a subject that concerns a lot of folk in Tilehurst according to our recent residents’ surveys. We also get a number of pothole reports coming to our monthly surgeries. Since the council has put in considerbly more effort to fix potholes over the last few months I thought I would share with you some figures that were presented to the recent Traffic Management committee in November.

Since 29 July the council has fixed 540 out of 885 potholes reported, which is 61%. This includes all those on major (A and B class) roads. Having fixed the major roads they are are working down the list of priorities and should complete the vast bulk before Xmas and the inevitable bout of colder weather that will, no doubt, open up another load of potholes.

Do spare a thought for the gangs who spend their time out on the roads fixing potholes, its a job that never ends.

Why we need blanket 20mph zones across Reading

I am often accused by the Labour Administration in Reading of wanting to impose 20 mph zones on the whole population where they want to achieve something similar area by area. Well let’s get the democracy question sorted first. Yes I want to see 20 mph zones across all residential areas of Reading but only after we have made the case to residents and got their support. I believe that the case for reclaiming our streets with blanket 20 mph zones is overwhelming both in terms of reducing traffic casualties and of encouraging more people to walk and cycle.

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Labour’s slowly slowly approach has meant that only the one area, in Newtown (where they hope to take the seat off the Greens next May), is currently being targeted for a 20 mph zone. Other councils have taken a much more proactive stance and gone ahead to consult with residents over whole towns and cities. These include Portsmouth, Brighton, Islington, Warrington, Liverpool, Wirral, Lancashire, Oxford, York, Cambridge, Waltham Forest, Newcastle, Hackney, Bristol, Middlesborough, Bath, Camden and Darlington.

For years Tony Page and his Labour colleagues have prevaricated on the issue of 20 mph zones whilst all these other places have grasped the nettle. We need action now over the whole of Reading and we need to make the case to Reading’s population about the need to reduce car speeds in residential areas. Actually I am sure that most Reading residents will take little convincing as whenever I have asked people about it there is almost total agreement.

So stop shilly-shallying and let’s have 20 mph zones across Reading

Road closure in Tilehurst over half-term week

There will be a major road closure in Tilehurst next week. The council will be closing the roads at the junction of Corwen Road and Walnut Way to work on drainage issues and to improve the footway crossings. The junction will be closed entirely to undertake the works.

Residents and businesses will need to access The Triangle, Walnut Way, Tyle Road, and Tree Close from St Michaels Road and the ‘No Entry’ restriction on the junction of Walnut Way and St. Michael’s Road will be suspended to allow this.

The road closure will be for five days from 28th October between 09.30 – 16.00 (School Half-Term). Letters are being sent out to affected residents.

Reading Buses have been notified, and will be diverting their affected services.

The New Thames Bridge

Now that the Planning Committee has made its decision to go ahead with the current ‘shared use’ design I can finally make my own views public.

Let me say from the outset that all parties agree on the need for a new bridge over the Thames to serve pedestrians and cyclists and we are all comfortable with the chosen position near the end of Fry’s Island.

Last night I criticised the Labour and Tory view that cyclists and pedestrians could share the new bridge without any separation. My only support came from Melanie Eastwood, the Green councillor and from a band of Reading cyclists who also objected to the current design.

Leaving aside the fact that the bridge design was partly based on a cycle and pedestrian count carried out last July on Reading and Caversham bridges which clearly caused some consternation as it differed widely from Reading Cycle Campaign’s own figures. The council did another count very recently and came up with figures that were double the originals and much closer to RCC’s.
My view is that pedestrians do not feel safe walking in amongst cycles, not all pedestrians are fully mobile and the mixed use would deter them from using the bridge. This will be made much worse as at the southern end of the bridge, cyclists have to make a 900 turn as they come off the bridge on to the ramp. This will cause conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians and the officer’s response that cyclists would all slow down for pedestrians is simply not very re-assuring to people wanting to walk over the bridge with push chairs, toddlers, etc.

The bridge needs to be a little wider and to have a narrow raised kerb to separate the cycles from the walkers. Otherwise we need cyclists to dismount as they are forced to do when using the new subway underneath Reading station.

When it came to the vote the Tories sided with the Labour Administration and only Melanie and myself opposed the planning application.