Under the Conservative government, affordable housebuilding
has fallen to the lowest level in a generation. A lack of genuinely affordable
housing makes us all poor. It robs us of community, diversity and skills. Labour
will build the genuinely affordable homes to rent and buy that the district
Uttlesford’s quality of life has been supported by its rural nature, good schools and transport links to major centres of economic activity – Cambridge and London. However, a failure of economic planning and housing policy means that the high desirability of the area has pushed up housing costs to around 12 times the average wage paid in the district. As a result, the district has become gentrified, with families on low and even middle incomes being gradually forced out.
Communities are built on family bonds and life-long friendships, but these are broken when housing becomes unaffordable. Lack of genuinely affordable housing also means a lack of housing for key workers, including nurses, police officers, care workers, teachers, refuse collectors and all the other valuable members of our community who keep public services going.
In every year since 2010, there has been over 800 households on the council housing waiting list and in many years the level has exceeded 1,000. We need more social housing and Uttlesford Labour believes that as much as possible should be under the control of the district council, which is democratically accountable to the community and provides high quality housing.
Between 2010 and 2017, the number of council houses in Uttlesford fell by 66 to 2,810, while at the same time the number of private houses grew by 4,110 to 31,340. Total social housing, including private registered provider or housing association, rose by a total of just 17.
Although Uttlesford District Council has been building new council houses, the right-to-buy policy has continued to erode council stock. As a result, the proportion of council housing of total housing stock has declined to 7.8% in 2017, down from 9.0% in 2010. The 2017 figures for Uttlesford compare with 14.2% for Braintree and 25.4% for Harlow.
Total social housing stock as a proportion of all housing stock has declined from 14.8% in 2009 to 13.1% in 2017. The 2017 figures for UDC compare with 14.3% for Essex, 21.8% for Braintree, 30.7% for Harlow and 13.7% for Chelmsford. Uttlesford has a lower level than Essex as well as our neighbouring local authorities which have been able to grow social housing stock through housing associations and registered providers.
Additionally, the existing council housing stock does not match the demand of those on the housing waiting list. There is a lack of one-bedroom households, which are required by around two-thirds of households on the waiting list. Moreover, half of those requiring one-bedroom households are older people who require bungalows or warden-assisted accommodation. However, the council housing stock is around two-thirds houses with two or more bedrooms.
The council has sought to remedy the situation by
insisting that all developments of 15 houses or more must have 40% affordable
housing. However, in 2017 social housing as a proportion of total housing
growth was just 13.7% with many developments falling below the threshold for
affordable housing provision. Moreover, affordable housing rents are often far
higher than the level local wages can realistically cover.
Uttlesford Labour proposes the following policies:
- Garden communities: The new communities proposed for Uttlesford should champion the cooperative socialist garden city values of Ebenezer Howard and contain at least 40% genuinely affordable housing with a well-balanced range of housing. We want the council to drive forward town planning with a broad range of house designs; a distinct community identity that is reflected in innovative architecture; community facilities; adequate infrastructure rolled out to support each phase of development; plenty of amenity land; integrated transport, and; a stress on low carbon emissions, low energy use and low water consumption.
- Well-connected communities: Ensure that the new garden communities are: well connected to public transport; have pedestrian and cycling routes that are separate from road traffic; encompass unique design features to avoid a sterile, cloned suburban feel, and; embrace high standards of environmental sustainability, including use of renewable electricity and water conservation measures.
- Affordable should mean affordable: Both in the new garden communities and in other developments, we will support the local plan’s commitment to 40% affordable – including social rented – accommodation; such housing should be genuinely affordable by indexing prices to average local wages.
- UDC should be the main social housing provider: Council housing should make up the majority of the 40% affordable target in the new garden communities, potentially involving the council as a partner in the developments and taking advantage of the planned elimination of the cap on borrowing by the Housing Revenue Account.
- A local housing development company: We would look to emulate scores of other councils and set up a housing development company as part of the council’s investment strategy. The company would have the power to buy land, build and manage properties on behalf of the local council. It would enable a range of tenures and ownership opportunities
- Promoting responsible landlords: We will create a voluntary landlords’ register so that private renters can choose to rent their homes from responsible landlords, as carried out by several councils.
- Reducing private rent costs: Set up a landlords’ co-operative so that landlords can avoid the high charges from private lettings agencies and tenants can get a fairer deal. Uttlesford District Council should also establish a not-for-profit lettings agency.
- Empowering tenants: Establish a private tenants’ association to give private renters a voice and the ability to collectively organise for better conditions.
- Advancing planning transparency: Viability assessments for all housing developments should be publicly available to ensure transparency in the planning process, as carried out in many other councils.
- Championing self-build: We will provide advice and loans to enable individuals and community self-build groups to acquire land and develop innovative forms of housing, whether through their own project management or via contractors and kit homes.
- Help our heroes: We will emulate Labour-controlled Plymouth City Council’s award-winning “Nelson Project” to help army veterans to self-build their homes and overcome the financial challenges many former soldiers face. We would work with Carver Barracks, veterans’ charities and self-build organisations to enable former military personnel to get a home as well as provide social housing.