Liberal Democrats commit to ending rough sleeping in Newbury

housing (2)

The Liberal Democrats have become the first major party of this election to commit to ending the “national scandal” of rough sleeping across Britain, including in Newbury and West Berkshire.

Latest official figures for West Berkshire show that 14 people were sleeping rough in Newbury in the Autumn of 2016, almost double the number of people in 2013. Local groups who work with homeless people, such as Loose Ends and West Berkshire Homeless, put the current number much higher at 25 people.

It is a scandal that so many people are sleeping on the streets in 21st century Britain.

Here in Newbury, we all know that as well as the people who have been ‘counted’, many more sofa surf or are in insecure accommodation for only the occasional night, and we know we have single homeless people and couples who are sleeping rough. That is why I welcome this commitment by the Liberal Democrats to end homelessness in the UK.

The series of measures to end rough sleeping, laid out by the Liberal Democrat national party, include introducing a Housing First provider in each local authority that would put long-term homeless people straight into independent homes rather than emergency shelters.

The news comes as a coalition of homelessness charities, including Centrepoint, Crisis, Homeless Link, Shelter and St Mungo’s, have called on political parties to commit to end rough sleeping in Britain.

By increasing practical support for homelessness prevention and properly funding emergency accommodation, we can end rough sleeping in Newbury and West Berkshire and across the country.

We will ensure that each local authority has at least one provider of Housing First services, to allow long-term homeless people to live independently in their own homes.

The evidence suggests that supporting people with a long-term, stable place to stay is far more successful in tackling homelessness than constantly moving them through the chain of different temporary accommodations.

Under this government, homelessness has soared and young people are being been stripped of housing benefit, threatening to make matters even worse.

This election is a chance to change the direction of this country and stand up for a can-do Britain that is open, tolerant and united.

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

Britain is a Better Place

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 Sharing a drink with Albert Tillen, at The Red House in Newbury 

 

This seems like the ideal time to share my favourite list – Liberal Democrat policies included in our 2010 Manifesto, which have been delivered by our team in Government.

The list includes some of the most socially democratic policies this country has seen for a generation – achievements which, for all the obvious reasons, do not get the press they deserve.

Please share this list with your family and friends. Let them know that while the Tories and Labour have been bickering away in PMQs, our team has been calmly getting on with the job. Britain is a better place for having Lib Dems in government:

  • Investing nearly £1 billion to crack down on tax avoidance, raising an extra £9 billion per year by 2015
  • Providing £400 million to give respite breaks to carers who work over 50 hours a week
  • Delivered on the key Lib Dem pledge of a £2.5bn Pupil Premium to bring extra funding to disadvantaged students. Its rate has now been increased further and is £1,300 per eligible pupil in primary schools and £935 per eligible pupil in secondary schools in 2014-15
  • Increase Capital Gains Tax to 28% for higher rate taxpayers whilst keeping it at 18% for basic rate taxpayers
  • Delivering an £800 tax cut to 25.4 million people by raising the income tax threshold to £10,500 in 2015, with 3.2 million low paid people being taken out of having to pay income tax at all
  • Creating a new, simple single state pension – a Citizen’s Pension – set above the basic means test level
  • Restored the link between pensions and earnings, which had been scrapped by Margaret Thatcher
  • Reinvigorating Britain’s Apprenticeship programme
  • Phased out the compulsory retirement age
  • Investing around £400 million to make psychological therapies available for those who need them, including for the first time children and adolescents (England)
  • Increased funding for dementia research by 150%, reaching £66.3 million by 2014-15 (England & Wales)
  • Ensured the Government maintained the commitment to end child poverty by 2020
  • Banned private sector wheel-clamping to put an end to rogue clampers (England & Wales)
  • Scrapped the expensive and impractical ID cards programme
  • Mapped out the Government’s path to renewable energy to 2050, including massive investment in low carbon electricity
  • Banned new coal-fired power stations that don’t have Carbon Capture and Storage technology
  • Ensured the overseas aid budget was protected from cuts – and hit the international 0.7% of GDP target from 2013
  • Planted 1 million trees in England, the first government tree planting programme since the 1970s
  • Doubled Britain’s production of renewable energy
  • Created a Green Investment Bank, triggering an extra £15 billion of investment in green infrastructure by 2014-15
  • Introduced the Green Deal, letting people pay for energy efficient home improvements with the savings on their energy bills
  • Scrapped burdensome Home Information Packs and improved energy performance certificates to make them more user-friendly (England & Wales)
  • Improved our libel laws, including making it harder for companies to silence their critics and improving freedom for academics to publish their research (England & Wales)
  • Strengthened freedom of speech by removing the offence for using ‘insulting’ language from Section 5 of the Public Order Act
  • Secured a judicial inquiry into Britain’s role in torture and rendition
  • End the routine detention of children for immigration purposes
  • Removed innocent people’s DNA from the police database (England & Wales)
  • Vetoed the Snooper’s Charter plans to monitor everyone’s online activity
  • Ensured there is no replacement of the costly Trident nuclear weapons system this Parliament
  • Ended the rule forcing people to buy a pension annuity at 75
  • Taking 3.2 million low earners out of income tax altogether through the key Lib Dem policy of raising the basic income tax threshold
  • Established the Equitable Life Payment Scheme and begun payments to people who lost their money, ending years of stalling under Labour
  • Agreed to the Vickers Report recommendation to separate retail and investment banking
  • Introduced a banking levy so the banks pay a their fair share of tax

 

If you would like to join my campaign to represent Newbury and West Berkshire, please do contact me on judith.bunting@wbld.org.uk.  

 

 

 

Let’s have fairer Council Tax for all Home Owners

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The biased nature of the Council Tax System has long been a frustration to me.  I do not like any system that operates with one rule for you and another for us. 

The current range of council tax bands does not spread the burden of council tax fairly across society.

Council Tax paid by home owners whose properties are worth below ~£1m understand and accept the principal of banding. The same principal should be extended to properties valued all the way up to £100m and above.

The Lib Dem’s High Value Property Levy does this. It establishes graduated council tax bands for properties £2m and above. At last, the same set of rules for all home owners.

A bit of detail

The highest current council tax band is defined by its lower limit, i.e. property valued at £320,000 in 1991. This converts to ~£960,000 in today’s house prices (*see below for source).

While owners of properties valued below this level pay council tax in increasing increments across eight council tax bands, all properties valued above ~£960,000 are charged council tax at the same rate. Bands at the bottom of the council tax scale are extremely narrow. The lowest band spans only a valuation difference of £12,000.

As it is reasonable for people living in properties valued at £300,000 and £30,000 to pay different levels of council tax, so it is reasonable that council tax levied on property valued at £100m should be more than on property valued at £1m.

The Lyons Inquiry of 2007 recommended revaluation of properties and the redrafting of council tax bands to both reduce payments at the lower end, and increase payments for higher valued properties, yet no action was taken by the Labour government.

If elected to Westminster I would support the extension of Council Tax bands and this spreading of the burden. I would also call for government to get on with revaluing properties across the UK as soon as possible.

* Source: Nationwide Building Society data by broker Knight Frank, as reported in the Independent, Oct 2012: ind.pn/TM27XC

 

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