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Lib Dem Housing Policy Claims Are ‘Dishonest’ Says Former Senior Member

Published on: 30 Jan, 2022
Updated on: 30 Jan, 2022

By Martin Giles

Guildford’s Liberal Democrats have moved onto the front foot to defend their housing policy following a promise in the 2019 borough council election campaign to build 3,000 social housing homes over ten years.

At the time, many felt that their promise was unrealistic and unachievable. It is not being repeated or quoted in a press release issued last week, other than as an “ambitious policy”.

The Lib Dem statement says: “Three years on, and despite almost two years of delays caused by Covid, Lib Dems are delivering on their promises with housing schemes being developed and a proposal in next year’s budget to spend £142 million on new homes at social and affordable rent or for shared ownership to meet the needs of those on the housing register.”

But the Lib Dems’ assertion is described as “one of the most dishonest statements ever released by the Liberal Democrats”, according to a former Lib Dem leading councillor, Jan Harwood. In November 2021 Cllr Harwood defected to the Conservatives partly, he says, because of the “spin” on their housing policy that he was forced to write.

In February, the proposed housing capital investment programme will be put to a full meeting of Guildford Borough Council, where the Lib Dems rule in partnership with Residents for Guildford & Villages (R4GV). The proposal includes £24.5 million to refurbish existing council homes as well as £142 million to build and buy new ones.

Cllr Julia McShane

Lib Dem deputy leader of the council and lead councillor for Community and Housing, Cllr Julia McShane (Westborough), said: “Back in 2019, we set ourselves an ambitious target because we knew that without ambition no real progress would ever be made on housing those most in need.

“Under our leadership, the council has rightly prioritised supporting our communities and the most vulnerable through the Covid pandemic, which inevitably caused delays in the development of housing schemes. Despite the pandemic and us having to share power in a joint administration, I’m proud to see us putting plans in motion to dramatically increase council housebuilding.

“Each year there is a large surplus in our housing revenue account from rental income but shamefully the previous Conservative administration allowed that surplus to build up in reserves and chose not to reinvest in new homes or to refurbish existing ones. Getting to put this right by starting a major programme of investment in social housing is one of the best parts of my Executive role…”

”We only have just over a year to the next borough elections when I want to see more Lib Dems elected to the council to be able to continue the work that we have started.”

Cllr Jan Harwood

Cllr Jan Harwood (Con, Merrow) was scathing in his response to the Lib Dem claims. He said: “This attempt by the Liberal Democrats to hoodwink the electorate with empty promises thinly disguised as aspirations is insulting to residents.

“The simple fact is the current rate of social housing delivery is below that delivered by previous Conservative-led councils and there is no sign of that trend changing.

“Blaming the pandemic for a lack of housing delivery is one of the most dishonest statements ever released by the Liberal Democrats.

“The truth is, there are many factors which make social housing delivery difficult in Guildford, many of which are not even this administration’s fault such as difficulties with the planning system.

“However, there is a zero per cent chance of delivering 3,000 social homes by 2029, a fact well understood by the current leadership when I was a part of it, regardless of the press release. I should know, I was forced to write some of this “spin”. It was one of the many reasons for my departure.

“The sorry fact is that neither Cllr McShane nor her Liberal Democrat predecessor has accomplished anything to reduce the housing waiting list. There have been no new projects initiated and no previously Conservative-led projects completed. With a year to go of a four-year term, there is nothing to show for it but further promises and finger-pointing for blame…”.

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty (Shalford), leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group, was also critical: “This is pure Lib Dem electioneering.  There was never any possibility of building 3,000 council homes here, certainly not within ten years.

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty

“Guildford has delayed their social housing plans at Guildford Park Road and Bright Hill – partly thanks to Lib Dem changes. Weyside Village is held up with design and other issues.

“To progress ideas, land acquisition, design, planning approvals and build takes time involving organisations other than GBC.

“The council lost council house sales Right to Buy receipts (not spent within the time limit), so had to return £2.7 million to the government.

“We aren’t building enough social housing nor prioritising social homes, and we are using that failure to grant too many permissions for commercial developments of executive homes including outside the local plan on green fields.

“I sit on a number of housing committees and am looking in detail at ways to bring forward social rental housing, a GGG priority.”

But Councillor McShane said the Lib Dems’ £142 million plan to build and buy more social homes is a fantastic opportunity to start really reducing the council waiting list.

She said: “I am equally proud of our £24.5 million plan to refurbish our existing council homes to meet the highest safety and environmental standards. To help meet our carbon reduction targets we are investing in improving our homes with air source heat pumps, improved insulation as well as replacing lighting with low energy alternatives on our estates and in communal areas.

“This will help our tenants reduce their fuel costs, improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions. We will also be working to install more than 600 new kitchens and bathrooms, improve fire alarms and fire doors, upgrade electrics, perform structural repairs and improve lighting.

”It is my priority to ensure our tenants are safe and happy in their homes and we recognise that we have a critical role in supporting our residents and our communities. We are maintaining our investment in supported and sheltered housing and increasing support to help our most vulnerable residents to maintain their tenancies.”

Howard Smith

Labour Party spokesman Howard Smith echoed the disapproval of other opposition spokespersons: “This latest PR from the Liberal Democrats has nothing to do with social housing, but everything to do with an unachievable pre-election promise they made to win votes. The only fact you need to know is they promised voters they would build 3,000 social homes and so far they have only built 36.

“We know they never had any intention to build 3,000 social homes and we know this because their former colleague Jan Harwood told the editor of The Guildford Dragon this in December (see: Jan Harwood’s Right of Reply).

“This is simply a second attempt to fool voters in Guildford by claiming something is going to happen when it is not. I would politely ask the deputy leader, Julia McShane, where she thinks her 3,000 homes are going.

“As for the £24 million set aside for repairs, it is unforgivable that only 600 of our 5,200 council homes are getting a long-overdue much needed new kitchen. The annual income is £35 million, and residents deserve better.”

The Residents for Guildford & Villages party was also asked to comment.



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Responses to Lib Dem Housing Policy Claims Are ‘Dishonest’ Says Former Senior Member

  1. S Callanan Reply

    January 30, 2022 at 2:32 pm

    The Lib Dem’s statement says that two years of delays to the social and affordable building and refurbishment programme were caused by Covid.

    But builders were and are busily at work on substantial new student accommodation in Walnut Tree Close, seemingly unaffected by the delays which are said to have plagued GBC’s projects. How can that be?

    There must be a simple answer. Surely Cllr McShane can tell everyone what it is?

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