Tackling Declining Council Housing Should Be At The Heart Of The Local Plan

Now that the Local Plan is moving to the next stage following a council vote to go to public consultation, Saffron Walden Labour Party has called on Uttlesford District Council to put social housing at the centre of its housing strategy.

Uttlesford has seen a net loss of more than 60 council properties since 2010 as right-to-buy has eroded the council’s housing stock. In 2017, despite 21 new social houses being built, 16 council homes were sold and 12 were demolished – a net loss of seven council houses. The proportion of the housing stock in council ownership has fallen from 9.0 per cent in 2009 to 7.8 per cent in 2017.

Social housing is increasingly provided by ‘private registered providers’ who often sell what is supposed to be social rented housing on the market at a huge profit. An example is Hill House in Saffron Walden’s High Street, which consisted of low-rent housing association flats but is being turned into luxury apartments.

Daniel Brett, Saffron Walden Labour Party housing spokesman, said: “Labour believes that well-planned new towns with sufficient local employment opportunities are crucial to building genuinely affordable housing. Uttlesford must resolve its own broken housing market, address years of failed council policy on employment and do its bit to address the national housing crisis. The new garden communities are the best option and can help reduce the unplanned urban sprawl along arterial roads that cut through villages such as Newport, Takeley and Little Canfield.

“Local income growth is falling behind both inflation and local housing costs due to Uttlesford District Council’s failed economic development strategy. In 2017, the median wage paid in Uttlesford was £29,493, which represented a massive decline of nearly £1,100 since 2013 after accounting for inflation. Add into that local house prices with average housing prices roughly 12 times average local wages. Uttlesford needs a strategy to help deliver higher wages, more local employment and lower house prices to improve standards of living.

“Our community’s young people are being pushed out of the district due to soaring housing costs and low wages while those in retirement on fixed income pensions are also struggling. Local statistics show that 60 per cent on the council waiting list require one-bedroom accommodation with more than half of these eligible for housing for the over-60s. Yet, just a fifth of council stock is one bedroom. This imbalance needs to be addressed.”

Saffron Walden Labour Party is calling for the following measures:

  • The Tenants Forum – an elected body representing local tenants and leaseholders at the council’s Housing Board – should be at the heart of discussions in the next stage of the local plan.
  • The local authority should develop affordable housing that reflects local wages and universal credit and not indexed to market prices.
  • The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) definition of garden cities should be included as policy, which means a commitment to most new houses as affordable (60-70 per cent), half of which should be socially rented.
  • All social rented accommodation delivered in these garden communities should be owned by the local authority.
  • Ambitious Development Planning Documents (DPD) for distinctive garden settlements including high quality housing with low carbon, low water consumption, as well as plenty of amenity land and cycleways that directly connect with public transport.
  • Our member of parliament should be active in campaigning for changes to planning laws that ensure: viability assessments do not undermine affordable housing targets; the council can expand its housing stock without attrition from right-to-buy; and that other agencies have the funds to deliver the healthcare, education, roads and public transport that new communities need to be sustainable and successful.

Government Reforms Must Free Uttlesford To Invest In More Council Housing

Government plans to reform the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) will not resolve the yawning deficit in genuinely affordable housing in Uttlesford, said Saffron Walden Labour Party this week.

Theresa May has pledged to end the abuse of the viability assessment by developers, which has enabled them to negotiate down their affordable housing commitments. This would not be an issue if Uttlesford was not reliant on the goodwill of developers to leverage housing commitments for local need.

Uttlesford needs the power to build more council houses, instead of forever being at the mercy of profiteering developers. Tinkering around the edges of the planning system is far from the change needed to provide sufficient homes for local need.

Daniel Brett, Saffron Walden Labour housing spokesman, said: “Due to massive rises in local housing costs, there are just under 1,000 households on the Uttlesford council housing waiting list. Despite some limited council house building in recent years, the council housing stock still fails to meet the quantity and pattern of demand.

“With the average housing price at 10 times the average salary in Uttlesford, the area is rapidly pushing out local families from the community. ‘Affordable’ housing at 80 per cent of market rates, which is the standard definition, is still out of the reach of many local households. The council can’t meet current demand for social housing, let alone future requirements.

“If the government really wants to address the housing crisis, it should end right-to-buy and relax restrictions on council borrowing for investing in council housing.

“Instead of relying on Section 106 agreements with developers, Uttlesford must be free to borrow the money to build a new generation of council houses that are truly affordable, as recommended by the Treasury Select Committee.

“The benefit of local authority building is to have a long-term plan that would enable Uttlesford to control assets and recoup costs, rather than being always at the mercy of developers who prioritise profits.”

In February, there were 993 households on Uttlesford’s waiting list. Of these, just over 60 per cent require one-bed accommodation with over half of these eligible for accommodation designated for people over 60 whether that be a bungalow or sheltered housing. However, the social housing stock does not match demand with over three-quarters being two- and three-bedroom houses, according to local authority housing data published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government.