Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Accomodating Housing in Elmbridge

On Friday, I braved the elements to meet with Elmbridge Housing Trust, to learn more about pressures on housing across the borough. I met with Managing Director, Scott Baxendale, and heard about the range of services the Trust provides. As well as dealing with housing, it is the eyes and ears for other economic and social issues at neighbourhood level.

I have made clear that in the debate between development and protecting the greenbelt, my priority is to strengthen local democracy so that elected councils have proper powers to preserve the greenbelt for future generations. I want to remove planning responsibilities from the regional quango – the Regional Development Agency – that imposed the arbitrary, top-down, target of 5,620 new properties in Elmbridge. Elected councillors – properly accountable to local communities – should have greater control. But, I also recognise the pressures on housing including affordable homes in the borough – and the long term factors driving those pressures. If they are not addressed, we risk creating communities in which our children and those providing key services will be less able to afford to live.

To address the shortage of affordable homes, we need to recognise the underlying causes. They include three policy failures under this government: open-door immigration creating population pressure across London and the South East driving up demand for housing; the failure of the regulatory system to check the housing price bubble, pushing young families off the housing ladder; and a blunt, top-down, system of housing targets, without the resources needed to provide the infrastructure to support them.

So we need leadership at the national level to get out of the current rut. I met with David Cameron last week, and discussed various local issues in Elmbridge (see below). On Sunday, speaking on the Andrew Marr show, he highlighted the impact of immigration on housing and confirmed Conservative plans for an annual limit, saying: ‘We would like to see net immigration in the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands’. To prevent a repeat of the recent house price bubble, George Osborne has pledged to give the Bank of England back its responsibility for oversight of asset prices. And a Conservative government would overhaul the planning system – replacing regional and central government micro-management with stronger local democracy.

These reforms are vital for the long term. But what will ease housing pressures in Elmbridge now? I am campaigning for four Conservative initiatives that will make a difference locally. First, abolition of stamp duty up to £250k for first time buyers, to help young families get onto the housing ladder. Second, giving local authorities a greater share of the revenue from the sale of new housing – to incentivise provision of new homes where appropriate. Third, ending restrictions on people starting a business in social housing - to help entrepreneurial social tenants help themselves. Finally, I will be looking into the funding formula from central government for social housing in Elmbridge, given reported discrepancies compared with equally affluent areas such as Richmond.

There are no quick fixes. We need deep reform. But, with leadership at a national level, and stronger local democracy, we can get the right balance. On a personal note, Erika and I were delighted to have an offer accepted on a property in Claygate – we look forward to making our home in the constituency in February!


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