Wyre Forest Labour has expressed fierce criticism of Tory plans to build over 6,000 homes over the next 20 years without adequate numbers of affordable homes, whether for social rent, or to buy. The Tory plan will gobble up valuable green belt land, yet if the primary focus was affordable social homes, then Brownfield sites could be the main focus.
Commenting on the Tory Local Plan, Labour Media Officer Stephen Brown said “The Tories might as well be handing out tents and sleeping bags right now to residents in the District who already can’t afford a roof over their heads, because that’s going to be the end result of this barmy proposal. People are crying out for an affordable home of their own, especially for secure long-term social rent tenancies, and all the Tories can do is make things even harder and rip up green belt land. There are 3500 on the housing waiting list right now, yet the Tory plan is for 6360 homes over 20 years with only 1590 (25%) being affordable. Do the maths. They even plan to build a whole village without enough affordable homes. So far as I’m aware, our population here is fairly static, there are older people in need of more appropriate housing that if available could free up housing for others down the line. As it is, the Tories will just be creating expensive green belt commuter homes for Birmingham to line the pockets of rich developers, with no economic benefit to the District’s economy. It’s a farce, less of a Local Plan and more of a Local Sham.”
Labour this year has already raised serious questions about Tory financial management of the District. The Tories are increasing council debt and blowing taxpayers money on ‘out of town’ offices costing millions of pounds, bringing scant financial return. It is Labour’s view that this money would be better spent building houses for our own community, and which would bring a larger guaranteed financial return. A ‘social housing first’ policy would also keep local taxpayers money circulating in the District. It would seem the Tories are oblivious to the state of our town and how much investment it actually needs. They don’t believe in Wyre Forest, or don’t care, that much is clear.
In a meeting attended by Labour’s Stephen Brown on 23rd October with housing experts, including Professor David Mullins of Birmingham University, and Carl Taylor of Accord Housing, an alternative vision for affordable housing, was presented. Communities in need of housing are put in control of the process. They set up a Trust, they can get professional advice all along the way, source a location, design houses to meet their own needs, draw in the funding from different partners, buy the land and build their own houses at an affordable price, be it for social rent or to buy. This is done in an economically and environmentally sustainable way, using local tradespeople.
Stephen Brown explained further by saying “The idea that the community is put in charge of this process and get the homes they want is really exciting. This idea is good for local business, good for the local tradespeople they use, good for local shops, good for local jobs, good for local wages, and good for local long term environmental and economic sustainability. It keeps money circulating in the local community. These kind of community initiatives are starting to happen elsewhere in the Midlands, and have better quality housing, are safer, have less crime, and are greener and cleaner. It’s a win win.”
Could this idea work in Wyre Forest? Currently, the Tory housing system is designed to prop up inflated house prices, all in the name of profit, and unfairly manipulates the cost of social rents at 80% of the private sector rate, so rents just keeps rising and are unaffordable for many. Things certainly need to change!
Stephen Brown added “Tory landlord MPs like Mark Garnier voted against a Bill in Parliament to make rented housing fit for human habitation. Indeed, Labour Councillor Jamie Shaw tried to address this matter at Council because we have 1400 privately rented homes in need of urgent repair in the District. Tory Councillors voted it down. So, between the local Tories and Mark Garnier’s actions in Parliament, it ensures the housing economy doesn’t serve our communities, maximises profits, pushes up prices, and spends as little on maintenance as possible. Grenfell is the warning no one should ever forget. What short memories the Tories have.”
Labour Secretary Ben Davies, who campaigned to save green belt land at the Spennells, said “I’m pleased that our efforts to save Spennells Green Belt seems successful, but I’m not happy that green belt land is still being targeted and the priority isn’t affordable homes. As a young person living and working in low wage Wyre Forest, I’m acutely aware of the need for affordable homes. What’s in this plan for young people let alone those with families struggling to make ends meet? My priority is therefore affordable rented social housing for the next generations, and working people. Let’s not also forget the elderly, or those with disabilities, who will require more specialist type housing. This proposed housing scheme is nothing more than a vanity project to appeal to affluent city commuters whilst meeting the minimum housing requirements. What should be being built is affordable social rent housing so that everyone can have a secure place to live in the heart of their community.”
Labour’s Call To Wyre Forest Residents:
Labour would like to find out if community-lead alternative housing schemes are something our communities want. Labour will be speaking to key people about it going forward in order to develop the idea. Labour also asks that local people contact us via our website or Facebook so that we can get their views and see if there’s enough interest to organise a public meeting to discuss this, and the ‘Local Plan’. That way, a potent opposition to the Tory plans could be developed. Affordable housing schemes should be a strategic focus of Government, but currently they aren’t. Under a Labour Government, housing would be a priority, with a national target of 1 million affordable homes for rent or to buy, with prices linked to local average incomes.
Labour’s Housing & Investment Alternative:
Stephen Brown concluded “Last month I met with Labour’s Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Peter Dowd MP. We discussed Labour’s £250billion National Transformation Fund plan that would provide communities with an opportunity to invest in urgently needed projects, like housing. Whilst we might be able to make small inroads now on the kind of housing projects mentioned, ultimately, Wyre Forest communities need to start thinking about staking their own claim for housing, and other much needed investment, to prepare for when a Labour Government becomes a reality. We can’t afford for Wyre Forest to be left behind anymore. Ordinary people have been abandoned by its Tory councillors and Tory MP for far too long.”