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.