Sidmouth resident Mike Temple has the lead letter in today’s Guardian on social housing. Our council is MUCH more interested in moving into its very expensive new offices (£10 million and counting) than building, or encouraging the building of, social and truly affordable housing. As shown when it agreed to sell its Knowle site to PegasusLife for super-luxury housing for only rich, elderly people, with PegasusLife attempting to exploit a loophole via a planning appeal to avoid any on-site or off-site affordable properties.
“The fire at Grenfell Tower has highlighted a number of issues relating to government housing policy in recent years, not only the failure to apply proper safety measures but also its whole approach to social housing.
The 2012 national planning policy framework, often described as a “developers’ charter”, has given precedence to expensive private development while discouraging social housing. The result is that through land-banking, slow build-out rates and using the housing market as an investment, house prices have risen way beyond the reach of most average-wage earners. At the same time, an increasing proportion of the incomes of the lower paid is spent on rented accommodation, which is often of poor quality.
Among the 72 Conservative MP landlords who voted against the 2016 housing bill to make “rented properties fit for human habitation” were the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, housing minister Brandon Lewis (who has also said installing fire-sprinklers could discourage house-building), fire minister Nick Hurd, and David Cameron.
Official Statistics on social housing show that since 2010 the number of government-funded houses for social rent has plummeted by 97%.
Gavin Barwell, until recently housing minister and author of a white paper that offered proposals to ease development while doing little to promote social housing, has – like the government he serves – failed to act on the recommendations in the report on the fire at Lakanal House in 2009. Like previous Conservative minsters he preferred light-touch regulation so that warnings have been ignored at national and local government level.
The result is a system that has failed to protect our citizens – cost-cutting and reckless decisions were made with little fear of anyone being held responsible.