This week I went to London to lobby government ministers for more powers to tackle the housing crisis in the city and our region. We need the power to bring forward new sites, draw in new funding, and co-ordinate work to build more affordable homes for rent or to buy.
Four thousand people move here from the capital each year, while the student rental market eats more properties each month. With the lack of supply these factors mean house price inflation of more than 12 per cent a year.
Current council policy asks for 40 per cent of major new developments to be “affordable”, meaning on offer at 80 per cent of market rents. With rents so high, even that is unaffordable to those we seek to help, and 40 per cent of units are rarely if ever achieved.
That’s why we are looking to build 2,000 homes for rent at 60 per cent of market rent through our proposed joint venture with Hyde. We are building dozens of new council homes in Whitehawk as part of our pledge to build at least 500 council homes by 2019.
Some argue for rent controls; we are committed to a fairer rental market, with transparent fees and rights for tenants so that the few unscrupulous landlords and letting agents who give the sector a bad name can be made to clean up their acts and not undercut the decent majority.
We will look at any and all opportunities to build, and seek to offer homes of all types and tenures in the city to those who need them.
Our economy depends on staff being able to afford to live here. Our council needs the additional income new council tax-generating properties will bring.
The government is pushing the city and our regional neighbours to build. In his Autumn Statement the Chancellor said he wants 200,000 “starter homes” built by 2020, at 80 per cent of market rates and capped at £250,000. This is welcome, though that price will still be well out of reach for many on lower incomes. The government required us to look at every option in drawing up our City Plan which must deliver over 11,000 new homes in the next 15 years.
Of course when developers bring forward plans to build, as they have done recently in the east of the city, the opposition from Conservative councillors and MPs is vociferous. Any plans to build out into the urban fringe, up in high-rise developments or on brownfield sites are opposed.
Unless we are to become a “London-by-the-sea” with properties only within reach of the wealthy, and new build reserved for overseas investors, the Conservative Government must give us the powers to intervene in the market, and Conservative politicians must accept the case for more homes to be built.
Bold solutions, difficult decisions and innovative partnerships are needed if we are to do what is needed to tackle our city’s housing crisis.