Bjorn Simpole is a Vice-Chair of Tunbridge Wells Constituency Labour Party and was the Labour candidate for St John’s ward in the Borough Council elections in May. He works as a Policy Advisor for a Local Authority in London.
During the recent local elections a constant question that arose on the doorstep was ‘Where are my children going to live’? In the last year Tunbridge Wells Borough Council only built 72 new ‘affordable’ units. But what is affordable? Certainly not 80% of market rent, which is how this Council measures it. With average rents for a three bedroom family property in Tunbridge Wells at £1312 per month in 2017 that means that affordable is defined as £1050. That is nonsense.
The Leader of the Council Cllr David Jukes says developers want to build housing in Tunbridge Wells. They may do, but too many properties being built are luxury houses or expensive retirement flats. The Council’s focus should be on providing genuinely affordable options to meet the housing needs of borough residents on low and middle incomes who cannot afford market prices to rent or buy
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council transferred its housing stock to Town & Country Housing Group over 20 years ago. This approach was designed to ensure that the expertise to maintain existing stock and provide low cost social housing was delivered through a dedicated body with the appropriate skills, knowledge and expertise. It is increasingly clear that this approach is failing and the Council should look to other areas of the country where Councils are using imagination and innovation to provide new social housing. There are currently 927 households waiting for affordable rented housing in the Borough. These hard-working individuals and families deserve better than being stuck on shorthold tenancies in the private rented sector with no security and a constant threat of being made homeless.
What kind of new homes are built, and who for, now matters as much as the numbers of new homes provided. Britain’s housing system is broken. Across the country homelessness is up by 50% since 2010, rough sleeping has doubled, and 120,000 children are without a home to call their own. The Labour Party’s recent Housing for the Many Green paper set out an ambitious plan to build 1 million genuinely affordable homes to buy and rent over 10 years. This will provide new homes for families on low to average incomes who are priced out of owning a house in Tunbridge Wells. A Labour government will back councils and housing associations with new funding, powers and flexibilities to build again at scale. Labour would also suspend the ‘Right to Buy’ until such homes are replaced.
We need to think about the next generation. Families and individuals on low and average earnings need homes of their own. With local property prices now up to 12 times average salaries, it is simply not good enough to ignore this issue and continue to support policies that deliver a tiny proportion of genuinely affordable housing.
The Council is able to make confident claims about the success of the financially risky civic complex and theatre in five years. Yet it can’t say how many affordable houses it will deliver in two years. So much for their priorities! This Council is failing everyone by ignoring the housing crisis.