Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 15th June 2015

Shelter is a basic human need, yet across the UK we’re hundreds of thousands of properties short from ensuring everyone has decent living conditions.

Too little is being done to get the houses built, too little is being done to address rip-off rents and too little is being done to reduce costs for first-time buyers.

That’s not to say that the Government isn’t trying. They’ve weakened councils planning controls, causing unsuitable developments and lining developers’ pockets without significantly boosting housebuilding. They’ve widened the Right-to-Buy, but without land to rebuild lost stock the long-term impact will be higher house prices. They’ve even tried to help first-time buyers, but without a large income the vast majority of young people can’t hope to take advantage of such schemes.

Fundamentally, the Government’s biggest failure is seeing public sector, and councils in particular, as an obstacle and not an ally in solving the housing crisis.

When we took control of the council last year the Conservatives had failed a Local Plan—which sets out how local land can be used for the next fifteen years—leaving Crawley vulnerable to hostile development and without a roadmap for solving our housing crisis.

Labour got its plan through the council on the first try, with increased protections for local greenspace, a requirement that new developments have to contain at least 40% affordable housing and encouraging further low cost housing units where viability allows. The plan looks set to make it past the Planning Inspector on the first try, a rare achievement, and with it we can get to work on meeting local needs.

We will use the council’s land, capital and planning powers to build 1,000 affordable homes over the next four years and by changing the allocations policy to contain a five-year residency requirement we have already ensured that local residents and their children will be the ones to benefit from new housing.

Much more needs to be done, and some support from the Government could help a lot, but Crawley’s Labour council is determined to get on with the job of solving the town’s housing crisis.

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