Tackling the housing crisis

The housing crisis in Britain has become an emergency. For far too long Britain has built many fewer homes than we need. Unless we build enough to meet demand, year after year, we will find that housing costs rise further out of reach.

Just to catch up with what we need today, we have to build 300,000 homes a year nationally – almost double the current level. These new houses and flats must be sustainably planned to ensure that excessive pressure is not placed on existing infrastructure.

Elmbridge borough wants to meet the needs of its people in terms of housing. Yet at every turn it comes up against the elephant in the room – the British government – which undermines local government at every turn.

The Liberal Democrats would empower localities to look after the needs of their own population and their own priorities, rather than being dictated to by central government.

A Lib Dem approach in Elmbridge

What would a Liberal Democrat Elmbridge do to solve the housing crisis if the national government got off our back?

Without restrictions from central government, Elmbridge could:

Borrow funds to build social housing

Elmbridge has the ability to service the loans, especially as interest rates are still at an historically low level. We would be investing in bricks and mortar which is always considered a very safe investment.  Elmbridge can’t though, because the national government heavily restricts our ability to do this.

Get money back when social housing is sold and reinvest this in more social housing

The national government forces local authorities and housing associations to sell houses at a discount of up to £80,000 under its ‘right to buy’ social housing programme, without any compensation to us, the owners. And then, prevents councils from using the revenue they do receive from the sales to build more social housing.

Improve the experience of renting

Elmbridge could ban letting fees for tenants, cap up-front deposits at a reasonable level, and increase minimum standards of repair and services in rented homes. We would Introduce longer tenancies, with an inflation-linked annual rent increase built in, to give tenants more security. Elmbridge cannot do this now because councils are prevented from doing this by the national government.  Our national government makes it impossible for Elmbridge to implement all the improvements we could offer to people renting in the borough.

Stop developers reneging on development payments to local councils

When Elmbridge gives permission for a developer to build a block of flats or a new street, this is on  condition that a certain proportion of the build is affordable housing. Alternatively, the developer may offer to pay a sum of money instead. The national government has made a law that allows developers to renege on paying this money once the development is built. This makes a complete mockery of the planning system.

Scrap stamp duty

The national government policy on stamp duty – a punishing 5% on homes over £250,000 across Britain – deters people from moving when they need more space. Instead of  buying a larger property and releasing a smaller one to the market, residents add extensions and loft conversions – making smaller houses bigger and reducing the number of smaller homes for first-time buyers and couples starting a family.

Our view

The national government and the media often blame NIMBYs and local planning for the lack of housing in our country. This is far from the truth. It is primarily the national government’s taxation and spending policy that stops local governments like Elmbridge planning for building the homes needed for healthy communities.

Homes for the future

The housing crisis in Britain has become an emergency. For far too long Britain has built many fewer homes than we need; unless we build enough to meet demand, year after year, we will find that housing costs rise further out of reach.

The perverse position is that we already have enough bedrooms to house everyone.  Properties are left empty and others have more bedrooms than people.  The mix of housing is totally out of kilter.  We have to rebalance the supply of housing to reflect the needs of our people today and for the decades to come.

Just to catch up with what we need to today we have to build 300,000 homes a year – almost double the current level.  These new houses must be sustainably planned to ensure that excessive pressure is not placed on existing infrastructure.

On a national scale we would create at least ten new garden cities in providing tens of thousands of high-quality new zero carbon homes, with gardens and shared green space, jobs, schools and public transport.  Only when homes are built alongside transport, education and health facilities can communities develop robustly.

On a local scale the national government should stop undermining local government.   The Liberal Democrats would empower localities to look after the needs of their own population and their own priorities.

Such action would include:

  • The national government fully funding the right to buy social housing programme.  In other words, if the national government maintains the right to buy for tenants, the discount between the market price and the price offered to the tenant is paid for by the national government.  This sum could then be used to build more social housing.
  • Ending the national government’s restriction of local government borrowing for housing.  This would greatly increase the supply of social housing to meet local needs.
  • Requiring local plans to take into account at least 15 years of future housing need for the indigenous population – focusing on long-term development and community needs.
  • Improving renting by banning lettings fees for tenants, capping up-front deposits, and increasing minimum standards in rented homes.
  • Promoting longer tenancies of three years or more with an inflation-linked annual rent increase built in, to give tenants security and limit rent hikes.
  • Strengthening local government powers to enforce higher quality standards in private rented properties.
  • Improving protections against rogue landlords through mandatory licensing and allow access for tenants to the database of rogue landlords and letting agents.
  • Giving tenants first refusal to buy their rented home, if their landlord decides to sell during their tenancy, at the market rate.

In the longer term the provision of extra homes would be assisted by: gradually removing the capital gains tax exemption on domestic property; reforming and gradually eliminating stamp duty; and, introducing a land value tax.  These actions alone will begin to nudge people into considering their house as a home and not as their main investment opportunity.  Not only would this allow people to move more frequently to new homes that suit their needs but would help the economy by rebalancing our savings into investing into industry and commerce.

The national government and the media often blame nimbies and local planning for the lack of housing in our country but it is the national government’s taxation and spending policy that stops local governments like Elmbridge planning for building the homes needed for healthy communities.

Surrey County Council Property Plan

Opposition councillors on Surrey County Council have brought to light that Surrey County Council is secretly negotiating a proposal to enter into a joint venture property development arrangement with a private sector partner.

Plans kept secret

Opposition county councillors have found that Surrey County Council is in the process of planning with a private sector partner to provide housing and development across dozens of sites in a secret deal that could be worth over £1bn.

SCC is already and secretly in the process of tendering a contract for a “Joint Property Joint Venture Partner”. This is described as “a unique opportunity to offer development delivery and service expertise across a raft of property development projects”. The project would see Surrey County Council, along with a large number of public sector partners, releasing land and vacant sites currently owned by the County Council and others into the Joint Vehicle.

The value of the project is estimated to be between £250m and £1.5bn, over a 15 year period with 32 sites currently identified but with potentially 100 more under consideration.

The procurement document states that “The Council aims to secure delivery expertise, and bring capacity and pace to a development programme that ensures optimal performance and returns from investment activities”.

So far, not so bad?

Done properly, this is could be very positive for Surrey, especially as the County holds property that has been empty for over a decade. The concern of opposition councillors on Surrey is that thay have no idea as to the details of how much a potential private sector partner would be looking to make in profit and what the margins or rate of return are for the county council. There is no information as to what kind of housing will be provided, tenure and whether it meets the needs of local residents.

Lib Dem Leader, Cllr Watson, has said “These plans deserve the highest level of scrutiny and public engagement, which is the exact opposite of the Conservative administration’s approach so far to its management of its own assets and the culture of secrecy which is prevalent at County Hall.”

Cllr Watson calling for the release of the full list of potential development sites so that councillors and residents can play their part in scrutinising these highly complex and secretive proposals.”

Other concerns raised by opposition councillors include: no mention so far of affordabilility of housing to be provided or the long term sustainability of developments undertaken by the Joint Venture.

Councillor Jonathan Essex, noted that there have been similar joint venture development vehicles in Haringey and Southwark, which have come under intense criticism after public scrutiny has revealed the flaws within the small print of these highly complex contractual arrangements.

He is calling for the County Council to engage with its own residents and present the full financial picture so that well-informed scrutiny can take place regarding this hugely important matter.

Cllr Watson and Cllr Essex have today written to the Leader of Surrey County Council, urging to share more information on these proposals with all county councillors.

Maintaining your assets

The borough maintains 97 car parks across Elmbridge.  They ranging from our town centres through to our commons.

In becoming portfolio holder for transport in May 2016 Cllr Andrew Davis asked for a current valuation and maintenance programme for all the car parks.  Unfortunately, apart from Drewitt’s Court this had not been undertaken for many years.  Perhaps the previous Conservative administration thought the car parks could mend themselves.

A condition survey was undertaken in 2016 to identify the state of the borough’s car parks and the financial commitments for repairs over the next five years. The full cost to bring the car park up to standard is £13m.

The borough’s obligations relating to Drewitts Court in order to comply with the terms of the existing leases, require that a structural evaluation of the ramp be undertaken immediately and that the repairs be carried out as quickly as possible. It is likely that the full cost will be £1,500,000.

To catch up with the amount of maintenance required for the other car parks the borough plans to spend up to £6m over the next three years.

However, with the high need for social housing, the pressure to build over car parks is high. Not all car parks are suitable but those that are should not given comprehensive repairs until their housing status is known.

Naturally, the order of work and indeed what work will be done will be undertaken with full consultation with local councillors.  A full management programme will be produced for each car park for while they are being reconstructed.  Dewetts Court will take much longer so will have a special plan.  It is likely to begin in January so us not to clash with the Christmas season.

Social Housing

House building goes on apace in Elmbridge but most new homes are large and out of the reach of most people – even residents of Elmbridge. What we lack is suitable smaller affordable one or two bedroom homes, homes for rent and social housing.

The new Liberal Democrat/Residents administration has begun to put that right.  It sounds like a talking shop but the first stage is the setting up of the new Affordable and Social Housing Working Group reporting directly to cabinet.  Members are drawn from all parties. Its brief is to enhance the shaping of policy around social and affordable housing delivery whilst assisting the borough in meeting its strategic aims in this area.

A wide range of work is proceeding at the moment but non can be made public yet.  But when it can you will be the first to know.

Affordable Housing for Elmbridge

monopoly_housesElmbridge’s new Liberal Democrat led administration is developing plans to increase the number of affordable and social homes across the borough.  There is much planning to do before significant results can be seen.  However, the borough hopes to bring forward a scheme for 38 new affordable homes, subject to the agreement of the borough’s council on Wednesday, 7 December.

Osborne centralises England again

Increased rentWhilst setting the national budget Chancellor Osborne announced that boroughs will have to charge higher rents to people on higher incomes.  Why does he think that he has a remit to decide what the level of social rents should be in Elmbridge?  Surely it is up to us, the people of Elmbridge, what we charge. What do you think?

Worse still the national government has the arrogance to demand that the social housing providers in Elmbridge must hand over to Westminster any extra revenue gained from the increase in rents.  If we did want to increase the rents in Elmbridge then the extra revenue is ours to keep to invest in more social housing (or anything else that we fancy).

Just imagine how Chancellor Osborne would protest if Brussels made such a rule on housing and demanded money from him!

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

More housing control from Westminster

Housing benefitsNational governments often claim that they support local democracy; however, the evidence is often otherwise.

Take housing benefit – part of the £12bn in welfare savings is to be made by the national government instructing boroughs to reduce their rents.  This will save the national government £1.4bn in housing benefit by reducing rents paid to social landlords.  The Institute of Fiscal Studies estimates that this will mean a loss of £2.5bn to boroughs which could be made available for new housing.  Overall government loses out but the centre gains and localities lose.

This measure will have the net effect of reducing the provision of housing.  If we want more housing where it is needed than we need to look closely at:

  • Ensuring that all places have a duty to house their own in their area. A village would have to build houses to enable anyone born in the village to live there – a town likewise.
  • Replacing business rates and council tax with land tax. This would end the tax on improvements and focus the tax on the value of the land instead.
  • Removing stamp duty on house purchases and fund this change by reducing the capital gains exemption for domestic properties. This would allow people to move house more frequently and encourage people to spread their investments to the betterment of the economy.

If locals had to provide homes for their own the number of houses would increase without having to change the planning laws and/or the national government poking its nose into areas where it is not wanted or needed.

Vicki Macleod for Weybridge North

Vicki Macleod

Vicki Macleod lives in Weybridge and cares deeply about our community and local quality of life. Vicki has a strong understanding of issues faced by education, health services, social care and businesses — and she has a great record of getting things done.  Many people locally will know her as a contributor to the activities of the Weybridge Centre, or as a school governor.  She was Chair of the Friends of Weybridge Centre charity for five years, and is a governor of Heathside School.

Vicki’s background: work in education

Vicki is very familiar with the issues in education and care for vulnerable young people. She is a qualified teacher, lecturer and coach. She taught in a comprehensive and in a residential school for disadvantaged and disruptive pupils. She also worked for 5 years with all special schools in Surrey and secondary schools across Surrey, providing advice and support on vocational education. Vicki is a former chairman of the SE Region Special Educational Needs Network. She became a governor of Heathside School in 2010.

Business skills and organisational accountability

Vicki Macleod is firmly in touch with the needs of businesses, through running a small business, and through helping leaders and managers improve their management and skills. At the University of Brighton she set up the MA in Learning in Organisations, and at Middlesex University designed and ran the MA in Education – Leadership and Management. In recent years she has coached leaders and managers in organisations of all sizes. Vicki brings expertise in organisational accountability and leadership. She is a director of Performance By Design Ltd.

Vicki MacleodHealth and social care

Vicki has a strong awareness of healthcare issues in Surrey, through working professionally with GP practices on improving their practice management, and through family links. Her brother and sister-in-law have been GPs in Surrey for over 25 years. She has first hand experience of services for the elderly and carers, through providing care to her late mother in her declining years, and continuing support to her father who lives in Weybridge. She has been very involved in the activities of the Weybridge Centre for the Community, and was Chair of the Friends of Weybridge Centre for five years.

Action on issues

Vicki believes in the value of communities taking action to bring about improvements in the quality of the environment – locally and globally, and in encouraging individuals to behave responsibly. She has been an active member of the Portmore Park and District Resident’s Association, supporting campaigns to influence Surrey County Council on issues affecting the local community, including the Walton Bridge scheme. She has a strong interest in local issues, and an excellent understanding of how things can be achieved locally (in part through being married to someone who served as an Elmbridge Councillor!).

Building for the future

Vicki Macleod is passionate about helping people achieve the best they can.  She moved to Weybridge in 1991 after taking up the role of curriculum leader for special schools with the Surrey Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI). Experience tells her it is possible to raise aspirations and achievement of children, young people and adults with appropriate support, guidance and opportunities.

Vicki is committed to acting in the interests of future generations, believing in stewardship of the environment, provision of stimulating and engaging education, encouragement of a healthy local economy, and careful planning of services to meet the needs of a growing ageing population.

You can rely on Vicki to work on behalf of the people of Weybridge.

Things to fix:

  • Safer streets, speed limits more visible, and better enforcement
  • Improved parking for Weybridge, off-street coordinated with on-street
  • More activities for young people
  • Better community facilities, to help give Weybridge a more vibrant heart
  • More focused help for older people, disabled people, vulnerable children and their carers
  • Safeguard parental choice over local schools
  • Protect the local environment, safeguard the Green Belt
  • Improve local roads and pavements
  • Improve public transport
  • Value for money, good quality services!

At a county level, Vicki is committed to help achieve the Lib Dem goal of making Surrey County Council competent and responsive.

To see what Lib Dems in Surrey can achieve, see the Surrey Lib Dem Record of Action and Success

Grants available to the voluntary sector

Disabled peopleCommunity organisations have until 30 January to submit applications for Elmbridge’s latest round of voluntary sector funding.

Annual grants of up to £3,000 are on offer for use by voluntary, community and faith sector organisations from April 2015. Funding can be provided for equipment, project and running costs and in particular to support vulnerable groups.

Successful organisations have previously received grant funding to promote independent living amongst older people and carers, support people with physical or mental health issues, provide foodbanks and welfare advice, prevent homelessness and social exclusion, and offer access to healthy activity and food, family support, environmental improvement, ethical saving, plus counselling and mediation.

All applications must be received by midday Friday 30 January 2015. Applicants who are successful will be notified by April 2015.  Click here for the borough’s site.