Tory attitude to housing is a scandal.

Taceham House in Thatcham, empty for ~6 years. With Owen Jeffery, Dep Leader, Thatcham Town Council, and David Rendel, Cllr for Thatcham Central.
Taceham House in Thatcham, empty for ~6 years.

Today the Conservative party announced plans to extend the right to buy to Housing Association properties. This proposal will lead to longer waiting lists for homes and fewer social houses.

In February 2015, 1,092 qualifying households were on the Common Housing Register for West Berkshire. 1,569 non-qualifying households were also on the list. I know, I checked with WBC.

That’s 2661 people/families waiting for suitable accommodation in West Berkshire, while the infamous 37 affordable flats in Parkway and social housing sites such as Taceham House, lie closed and unused. Taceham House has stood empty for 6 years.

According to Government figures, only 220 affordable homes were built in the  West Berks district between 2010 and 2012. That puts the council 48th out of 55 unitary councils in England. The lack of care shown by this administration in West Berkshire is a scandal.

Now the Tory administration supported by our own MP is proposing to extend the right to buy to Housing Association properties. This proposal will lead to longer waiting lists for homes and fewer social houses. It should not be allowed.

Local housing is controlled by the Council, but I believe the MP has an important role in standing up for residents’ needs. If I’m elected to Westminster I will not turn my back on local matters. I want to make sure young people in our area all get the best start in life. Over the past five years, our MP has been sleeping on the job.
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On 7 May we decide who should take care of West Berkshire in parliament and on our local Council.
 

Should we elect a Liberal Democrat MP who will fight for fairness or send a Conservative MP back to Westminster for more of the same?

 

DECENT HOMES FOR ALL: For more information about Lib Dem Housing Policies, please see the full report, below, Decent Homes for All:

http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/libdems/pages/2012/attachments/original/1390841965/104_-_Decent_Homes_for_All.pdf?1390841965

Walking and Nature – Preserving the Countryside

Combe_Gibbet_views_-_east - useage allowed

Walking is a great way of exploring nature and the outdoors and has clear benefits to health and the environment. If more people walk, rather than take the car, we can cut air pollution, have fewer problems with asthma and bronchitis, tackle obesity and reduce heart problems. As many of my correspondents have pointed out, recently, walking also has the potential to decrease feelings of social isolation and can have important economic benefits.

The Liberal Democrats are the only party that puts the environment at the heart of our thinking and we’ve done much in our time in Government to support walkers and walking.

We are taking steps to encourage people to walk and leave the car at home. We know that the vast majority of car journeys are over distances that could be easily walked, so Liberal Democrats in the Department of Health have secured £1m of funding this year for walking initiatives to help cut down on short car journeys.

The recent Infrastructure Act has created a new requirement for the Government to produce a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy. The Strategy will set out the Government’s objectives on walking and cycling, and what financial resources will be made available to achieve these goals. It is a welcome step forward.

There are a series of other measures that Liberal Democrats want to introduce if we form part of the next Government that will be of benefit to walkers. As part of the Coalition, we introduced the Local Sustainable Transport Fund in 2011. As well as supporting buses, railways, cycling and other green infrastructure projects, it has also helped fund walking initiatives. We want to see that continue and we are committed to continuing this fund in future years if we are returned to office.

We also want to introduce five new green laws, including: a Green Transport Act and a Nature Act. The Green Transport Act would establish a full network of charging points for electric cars and incentivise green travel choices. Most important of all it will update planning laws to ensure that the needs and requirements of walkers, cyclists and public transport are taken into account when new developments are designed.

Our proposed Nature Act will help us to protect our natural habitat and deliver a massive increase in accessible green space for everyone to enjoy. As well as completing the coastal path, we want to introduce a general right of access to the countryside in England, as has already been put in place by the Liberal Democrats in Scotland.

I hope everyone in West Berkshire will support these initiatives.

 

Green in Government

key_greenwindfarm

Under Ed Davey’s determined stewardship in the department of energy, somewhat to the consternation of conservatives such as Michael Fallon and George Osborne, there has been massive investment in renewables:

  • Electricity generation from renewable sources has doubled since 2010 and now supplies 15% of the UK’s electricity.
  • The average annual investment in renewables has more than doubled since 2010.    
  • In 2013 alone, £8bn investment in renewables.
  • Solar PV 2011 – 2013: £6.4 billion. Rather wonderfully, the cost of installation has halved since 2010.
  • Biomass and Bioenergy 2010 – 2013: £6.3bn investment.
  • carbon capture and storage research supported to the tune of £1bn – not bad for research funding.  

New manifesto plans include legal targets for clean air and water, an end to dirty coal power stations and an ambitious decarbonisation target for the electricity sector.

We will introduce Five Green Laws to protect nature and fight climate change.

If you want to read more, take a look at: 

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/331071/DECC_Energy_Investment_Report.pdf

http://www.libdems.org.uk/electricity_generated_by_renewables_has_doubled_since_2010

Decent Homes for All

A major concern of Lib Dems here in West Berkshire and nationally is that too often, planners, developers and architects concentrate on the physical fabric of what is built rather than the social context in which housing needs to be placed.

This can create ghettoised areas in our towns, where young are separated from old; rich are separated from poor; and in which a post code lottery discriminates against people in terms of both the education and jobs markets.

HOUSING ISSUES IN WEST BERKS:

There are over 300  people ‘sofa surfing’ in West Berks District, while sites which could take hundreds of smaller homes, ideal for single people or couples, lie closed and unused. 

Meanwhile, developers have been granted permission to build huge estates on the green-field site at  Sandleford, to the south of Newbury. Any sensible person looking at those plans and the local context can see we have insufficient schooling, doctors surgeries, shops houses and roads to serve the number of families that will be coming into the area.

At the same time, we have excellent brownfield sites, perfectly placed for development that stand unused. Some are former industrial areas close to existing housing and accompanying infrastructure (not talking about the Stirling site, here, that’s a well-known, particular case). Some are old housing units, that just need bulldozing to make space for new development – such as Taceham House (pictured), in Thatcham, which has been empty, now, for about 6 years. Local builders need the work, young families need homes. What’s the problem? Why do we have social housing blocks standing unused?

Others brownfield sites are blocks right near the town centre, where, until recently, government offices were housed, such as Elizabeth and Avonbank blocks in West Street. These two were sold to developers in February this year. I look forward to seeing what proposals are put forward (http://www.newburytoday.co.uk/2014/mystery-developer-pays-1-87m-for-west-street-sites). One has to wonder why the Council did not develop the buildings themselves or at least retain a part share instead of selling off our family silver, once again, to developers – but that’s not what this post is about.

BEYOND WEST BERKSHIRE:

In the past, ghettoisation was forced by ‘slum’ clearance in which large areas of densely packed ‘courts’ and ‘terraces’ were placed by new build, often concrete, solutions. In some cases these solutions, built on once low-value land, have become hugely valuable. Today, areas with low land values are often the only places in which reasonable quantities of social or other low-priced housing can be afforded. Areas with high land values attract private development of property types which are most attractive to developers. Or existing landlords simply increase rents dramatically and clear social housing tenants from their homes.

Untrammelled  market forces, create ghettos. Better to retain mixed communities and accept the responsibility that comes with being a social housing landlord. The consequent ghettoisation creates a wide range of social and economic problems. Families have been and are forced apart; social mobility is reduced; the concentration of people with problems in some areas creates problem areas in which stigmatised individuals suffer from poor physical and mental health and poor education and employment prospects within stigmatised communities.

Local authorities should provide clear and transparent details of how they calculate housing needs and local people must be fully involved in making choices as to how those needs will be met. For the good of the community they serve, Councils must pay attention to local infrastructure and services, and to creating mixed communities.

The policies I support, strengthen local decision making by rebalancing the relationship between communities, local government, the Planning Inspectorate and the Secretary of State. Using brownfield, rather than greenfield sites, makes far the best use of existing facilities, such as shops, roads, and water works. Andrew Haggar, Thames Water wastewater engineer for West Berkshire, told me recently that brownfield sites often come with existing water pipes and drainage, and when this is re-opened and brought back into play, it can improve local drainage for all.

DECENT HOMES FOR ALL: For more information about Lib Dem Housing Policies, please see the full report, below, Decent Homes for All: http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/libdems/pages/2012/attachments/original/1390841965/104_-_Decent_Homes_for_All.pdf?1390841965