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Letter: The Tories Talked About Housing, the New Council is Actually Working on Homes

Published on: 7 Feb, 2021
Updated on: 7 Feb, 2021

From: George Potter

Lib Dem councillor for Burpham

In response to: A Confusing Letter, Economical With the Truth, Calls For an Apology

Mr Brooker has a remarkably selective passion for accuracy and, sadly, the intensity of this passion is apparently lacking in his ability to count.

First, if any apology should be made it should be by Mr Davis, who came up with an inaccurate account of Liberal Democrat policy purely to attack us for failing to live up to promises he invented for us.

Cllrs Caroline Reeves and Jan Harwood responded to Mr Davis’ letter in full, so I don’t understand what they are meant to be apologising for.

Perhaps they are meant to be apologising for replying to enquiries from residents? I had thought the refusal to listen or engage was merely incompetence and arrogance on the part of the previous Conservative administration, a stance from which Mr Brooker is outraged to see a new administration departing?

Second, while Mr Brooker is indeed correct that the Liberal Democrat manifesto commitments included holding developers to the 40% affordable housing target and also setting a target of providing 3,000 new homes for social and affordable rent within the next 10 years, his mathematics seem rather off.

Remarkably, for a former lead member for housing, Mr Brooker misunderstands the distinction between affordable housing and homes for affordable and social rent.

An affordable house in planning terms is any house made available (for sale or otherwise) at up to 80% of market value.

By contrast, social housing, which includes all council houses, are properties available for either “social” rents (60% of market value) or “affordable” rents (80% of market value).

Council houses are available for social rent. Housing association properties, also considered “social housing”, are available for affordable rent.

This can all seem confusing but what it boils down to is: social housing means housing affordable for those on low incomes to rent, and affordable housing is a catch-all term that includes social housing but which mostly describes properties sold at a 20% discount on standard retail prices.

This being the case, new developments obtaining planning permission under this administration should include 40% affordable housing, but the only properties within this affordable housing which should count towards the original 3,000 target are the ones for either social or affordable rent. Properties for sale should not count.

Or, in terms which, hopefully, Mr Brooker will understand, the tests he should be looking at are:

1) What percentage of housing built since 2019 is affordable housing? and

2) How many new social houses are being provided for social and affordable rents, and will these add up to 3,000 by 2030?

Now, as common sense should tell Mr Brooker, new houses don’t just appear overnight and the land acquisition, planning permission and building do take some time.

Therefore, the question is not whether 10% of the social houses have been built 10% of the way into the time period, but what percentage of the target will be met once 100% of the time period has elapsed.

The answer is, at present, completely unknowable for councillors and the public alike, because the planning to achieve that target is still being finished, having been delayed by the disruption caused by the pandemic.

But what we do know is that North Downs Housing, under Cllr Tony Rooth (former Conservative, who is now R4GV) when he was council leader has, by his own description, languished under the Conservatives.

Only now is this being given the funding and staffing resource needed to massively ramp up the number of homes being made available for affordable rents.

We do not yet know how many houses they will deliver but we do know, from the letter by Cllrs Reeves and Harwood, that there will soon be news about social housebuilding on the Bright Hill and Guildford Park Road sites.

Uncharacteristically, Mr Brooker is accurate in pointing out these sites were talked about by the Conservative council, but he neglects to mention that talk went absolutely nowhere.

Guildford Park Road was meant to have been finished by 2018, yet by the 2019 election not a single foundation stone had been laid.

As for Bright Hill, I remember delivering Lib Dem leaflets in 2011 which included a call for social housing to be built there, and the site itself had already been in council hands for several years.

So yes, Mr Brooker and his colleagues did indeed talk about many of these projects when they were in charge. The problem was they did very little other than talk.

They talked about North Downs Housing, they talked about Bright Hill and Guildford Park Road, they talked a good game on an awful lot. But talk alone is cheap.

For actual action and a willingness to put one’s money where one’s mouth is, we’ve had to wait for the Liberal Democrats/R4GV coalition where there is finally, across the board, determination to deliver more than just hot air.

When I listen to Cllrs Caroline Reeves, Jan Harwood, Joss Bigmore and Tim Anderson, I hear people determined to have something concrete to show for their time in office, not just empty words.

I sincerely hope they succeed, and I for one am very glad this new administration seems less interested in flashy announcements that go nowhere, and far more interested in quietly and competently getting on with the job.

Perhaps Mr Brooker and his Tory colleagues should be taking notes.

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test One Response to Letter: The Tories Talked About Housing, the New Council is Actually Working on Homes

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    February 7, 2021 at 2:35 pm

    Still no mention of drinking water availability for any of these accommodation units.

    There is no point arguing housing number if non can be occupied because of a perennial water shortage.

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