A Billion For Brighton and Hove

Photo credit: http://www.mybrightonandhove.org.uk/page_id__10508.aspx
Photo credit: http://www.mybrightonandhove.org.uk/page_id__10508.aspx

Today the council took major steps towards bringing in more than a billion pounds of investment into our city and our seafront. This investment will deliver jobs, homes and much-needed funding for local services, as well as maintaining Brighton and Hove’s place as one of the UK’s top visitor and conference destinations.

Our plans to extend Churchill Square to the sea and build a new ten thousand seat arena for concerts and conferences at Black Rock got underway in earnest this week, as part of a £540 million deal with Standard Life Investments. This will be the biggest investment in the city since the Brighton Centre was built in the 1970s, and marks our determination to compete with major cities like Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester for conference business and major music tours.

We also gave the go ahead for the “Sea Lanes” open air swimming pool complex on the former playground site on Madeira Drive, returning outdoor swimming for the first time since the much-missed pool at Black Rock closed. This £4.5m privately-funded scheme will feature a 50m eight-lane pool, sauna, exercise studio and shops. Along with the arena, £1.7 million investment in Volks Railway and the new £1.7 million zip wire attraction, this will form the basis for our major regeneration of Madeira Drive, with our £30 million plans for the Arches due to be revealed soon.

Other seafront investment, both privately and publicly funded, includes the £11 million Shelter Hall construction and road strengthening at the seafront end of West Street, 850 new homes as part of the £250 million development at the Marina, £47 million British Airways i360 attraction, and of course £200 million King Alfred leisure centre project. All this takes investment in our seafront over the next six years to well over a billion pounds.

Add to this the hundreds of billions being invested in other projects across the city, the £150 million Preston Barracks with Brighton University that will deliver 350 new homes, the new John Lewis store, £36 million plans at City College, the redevelopment masterplan at Sussex University, and the ten-year £486 million redevelopment of the Royal Sussex County Hospital, and it is clear Brighton and Hove will emerge as one of Britain’s major coastal cities. There will be significant infrastructure investment in our transport network and in a new centrally-located secondary school as well.

At the same time we must ensure that our valued heritage is protected, and this week we took the first steps towards placing our Royal Pavilion and our museums in a trust that will have greater freedoms to draw in the funds needed to protect and invest in our cultural assets.

These projects will deliver thousands of jobs, create new spaces for businesses, restaurants and retail, draw in millions of pounds in rent and business rates to fund council services, and boost our tourist and visitor economy. Many of these projects will between them provide thousands of new homes, adding to the money we earn in council tax to help pay for some of the local council services facing cuts of over £160 million from central Government.

We cannot stand by and see Brighton and Hove decline and decay. Our city has always changed to meet the challenges of the times, whilst retaining its culture and heritage. Even as we face a 30% cut in our funding, we must ensure we innovate, compete and prosper as a city, and that the benefits of that prosperity are shared by all.


Housing the city

A map of Brighton in around 1950 (Collins Bartholomew)
A map of Brighton in around 1950 (Collins Bartholomew)

Most of us in Brighton and Hove live in houses built on what were open fields and Downland a hundred years ago. Many of our estates and suburbs were added relatively recently, in the post war period. Go a little further back, and the swathes of Victorian terraces that make up so much of the city would vanish revealing farmland, smallholdings and orchards.

Only recently have we, quite literally, drawn a line, first with the A27 bypass and then with the National Park, placing a limit on further expansion north to add to the sea to the south and adjoining towns to the east and west.

We can’t limit who moves here, and even if we could, we can’t limit population growth. People are living longer and more people are living alone, meaning more and more homes are needed.

Demand is currently estimated to outstrip supply by more than twenty thousand. The Government’s planning inspector has said we as a city have not found sufficient sites to build on, and have asked the council to identify more places on the “urban fringe” that could be developed. However, even an approved plan is little protection against the Conservative government’s National Planning Policy Framework, dubbed the “developers charter”, which presumes in favour of development. Even if local campaigns to preserve open space are successful in persuading councils to deny approval, the Government Planning Inspectorate can just say “yes” and wave the development through, and then fine the council for trying to stop it.

Whilst the Tory government says “build anywhere”, the Tory Councillors say they will oppose anything and everything, from the comfort of their own homes with no regard for those aspiring to own homes themselves. This “banana” approach –  “build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything” – helps no-one in the long term.

Our two universities are expanding, and even the rapid building of new student accommodation, such as in the old London Road Co-op, can’t keep pace. Landlords are keen to snap up houses to rent to the ever-growing student market, reducing the number of family homes still further. Building new student accommodation won’t in itself meet new demand, and those units won’t count in meeting our housing targets.

housingThe private rented sector in the city is huge and growing, with landlords all too often buying up former social housing to rent out, in return for housing benefit money paid directly to them.

With property prices rising by almost six times the rate of inflation, few new houses being built by the Green council, and the Tory Bedroom Tax biting, is it any wonder that homelessness on the streets and in temporary housing is on the increase?

A Labour council would build. Our policy will be “brownfield first”, with 40% affordable homes in all new development. When last in power we added five hundred new homes a year. This is why we took the difficult decision to identify the privately owned urban fringe site of Toads Hole Valley for the building of 750 new homes.

We need to look at modernising our council stock, building new homes to make better use of the space available, without losing the open space that makes our estates good places to live. Where council houses sold under “Right To Buy” come on the market at auction the council should exercise its right of first refusal and buy them back as other authorities are doing.

Developers building seafront flats should provide affordable units on site. We want mixed communities, not social housing concentrated in a few overcrowded areas. We want a range of rental and ownership options on offer in new developments. We will use the powers available to us to pursue these principles robustly.

Where “brownfield” sites, former business, office or industrial are no longer needed to provide employment, they should be used to provide new homes.

We need to act to ensure private rented sector tenants get a fair deal from landlords, with decent standards and fair, affordable rents. We welcome polices proposed by Ed Miliband to return housing benefit to councils, giving them the money to build not line the pockets of landlords. Our Parliamentary candidate for Brighton Pavilion Purna Sen has launched a consultation on “Generation Rent” and I’ve said a Labour council will act on what tenants tell Purna if we are elected next May. Labour council candidates including Chris Henry (Hangleton) and Tracey Hill (Hollingdean) have done excellent work with tenants in the Clean_Up_Renting2Movement for Change “Home Sweet Home” campaign to improve the private rented sector in the city.

Contradicting policies and conflicting demands make this a difficult issue to tackle, and better national and regional solutions are needed. However a decent, secure home should be within reach of everyone. The limits of what we can realistically provide within the geographical and financial constraints we have can’t be ignored, but we must resolve to do what we can, working with communities and neighbourhoods so that new development is seen as natural growth not urban blight grafted on to established, settled streets.

Whether it is private rented, social housing, existing or new build, we want to hear your views on housing – email ourcity@brightonhovelabour.com


2013 – a Brighton and Hove Labour year in review

Freeze_That_Bill_Bandstand_pic_19.10.132013 has been a year of huge progress and achievement for Labour in Brighton and Hove, and our members, staff and activists can be rightly proud of what we have accomplished over the past twelve months.

Building on the great start made in 2012 by bringing together the three constituency parties, winning over 50% the vote in the East Brighton by-election, and topping the poll in the PCC elections, the past year saw a step change in campaigning, organisation, support and results as we passed the half way mark to the local and national elections in May 2015.

With the appointment of three members of staff plus a new assistant to the Labour Group, and a strong city party executive in place, we now have the support and organisational strength needed to mount effective campaigns across the city, the three constituencies and in the council chamber.

That support, and the team built in the previous twelve months helped deliver our biggest achievement of 2013, winning our first ever seat back from the Greens in Hanover and Elm Grove. Our excellent candidate Emma Daniel achieved an 11% swing to Labour from the Greens in one of their safest wards, a swing five times that needed to win the parliamentary seat if repeated in 2015.

The early summer saw the selection of our three parliamentary candidates: Peter Kyle in Hove and Portslade, Purna Sen in Pavilion and Nancy Platts in Kemptown. All will make excellent MPs, and whilst we should not for a moment be complacent about the campaigns ahead, every opinion poll in 2013 forecast wins in all three seats for Labour.

Our ten European election candidates led by Anneliese Dodds, John Howarth and Emily Westley were chosen by members to take on the Tories, Greens and UKIP next May, and the Brighton and Hove vote will be crucial in getting them elected.

Labour in Brighton and Hove has gone from strength to strength in attracting new and younger members. September saw the revival of Labour societies at both universities, recruiting over three hundred members between them, and November saw the launch of Brighton and Hove Young Labour who have boosted campaigning across the city and launched a young voter survey. Alongside Movement for Change they are making a huge and positive contribution to the way we campaign.

Labour’s online presence has improved tenfold during the year, with a new website, an active Twitter feed and a Facebook page which has drawn well over ten thousand views over the past few months. 2013 has been an unprecedented year for local fundraisers and social events, including Stand Up For Labour with Eddie Izzard, John Bishop and Jo Brand, as well as a great event in November.

A successful Labour Women’s Forum launch took place in the spring, and throughout the year Labour has supported LGBT events including Brighton Pride, World Aids Day, Trans Pride and Trans Remembrance.

As well as hosting the successful Labour Party Conference in Brighton in September, there were visits by Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna, Shadow Energy Secretary Caroline Flint and fellow Shadow Cabinet member Mary Creagh. Ed Miliband has been a regular visitor to Brighton and Hove during the year.

The autumn saw the release of a poll by BBC South East and ComRes of local voting intention in Brighton and Hove. It showed that Green support has fallen by a third since 2011, and put Labour ahead on 38%, the Tories in second on 25%, and the Greens in third on 21%. This puts the Labour and Co-operative Group in a strong position to take control of the city council in less than 500 days. Candidate selection has begun and there are many strong potential new councillors putting themselves forward, though more will be needed to fill all 54 places.

Labour on the city council have campaigned on a wide range of issues during the year, from Bedroom Tax and the energy price freeze, to blacklisting and Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. Focussing on cost of living issues, Labour councillors changed council policy on payday lenders, and voted through funds to employ a full-time welfare rights advice worker, though the post has yet to be filled some nine months on. It was Labour which championed Small Business Saturday and which has sought to take a sensible line on 20mph limits.

I was immensely proud to take over as Leader of the Labour and Co-operative Group in May, and it is a real pleasure to be working alongside so many committed and dedicated members, activists, staff, organisers, councillors and candidates as we head toward the local and General elections on May 7th 2015, not forgetting the European elections this coming May.

We are in a stronger position than at any time since 1997, but we cannot let up in our campaign to elect Labour councillors, Labour MPs and a Labour Government in 16 months time. We must deliver for Brighton and Hove residents who need a better council, who need help meeting the growing cost of living crisis, who need action on jobs, homes and schools.

In the coming months we will go out into our communities and talk to residents about the positive policies we will put forward as those elections approach. The challenges we will face are immense, and the choices difficult, but it is increasingly clear only Labour can meet those challenges in Brighton and Hove.

If you want to join us in our campaigns, sign up here: http://brightonhovelabour.com/support-us-2/