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Brighton and Hove Liberal Democrats

BHCC housing policy: a 2018 report

January 6, 2019 10:47 PM
By Caroline Hynds

A year on from our Lib Dem housing campaign hitting the headlines, it seems a good time to take stock of Brighton & Hove City Council's track record on housing policy through 2018. What's gone well, what's gone badly, and what's the solution?

Laura Mullin George Taylor and Carrie Hynds campaign for affordable homes

What's gone well

The year seemed to get off to a promising start, with the Tourism, Development and Culture Committee voting on 11 January 2018 to move to open-book policy. This means that if developers say that meeting affordable housing requirements make a scheme financially unviable, they have to now show their working.

There were 35 new council homes completed under the New Homes for Neighbourhoods programme. Using council-owned land to ensure genuinely affordable rents is clearly the right approach.

What's gone badly

The New Homes for Neighbourhoods programme is exactly the right idea but is behind schedule and the numbers are small. The council's own City Plan states that we need to build 660 extra homes per year, and it's where the rest come from that's the problem.

Our Lib Dem housing campaign team had previously objected to the fact that Crest Nicholson were paying a £1.2 million commuted sum to avoid including affordable homes in their Davigdor Road scheme. In August 2018 there was salt rubbed in the wound as councillors voted to allow Crest Nicholson to halve this contribution to £670,000, the price of just two of the flats in the 47-flat block. What makes it worse is that this particular site used to include 26 temporary accommodation units. This means that badly-needed housing fulfilling a direct community need has been replaced with an ownership-only luxury block. These council decisions have deepened the housing crisis in our city.

A Freedom of Information request submitted by Lib Dem housing campaigner Rob Heale over the summer revealed that as of 6th August 2018 there were 15,111 on the housing waiting list, of which 4,042 have been waiting over seven years. One household has been waiting in sheltered accommodation for 27 years.

In November 2018 it was reported that the botched King Alfred scheme will either provide no affordable homes or not happen at all. Three years on from the tender being awarded to Crest Nicholson, no deal has yet been signed, and the King Alfred Project Board has not met since 2016. The council have set a deadline of 31st January 2019 for a deal to be signed but have not said what will happen if this deadline is missed.

What's the solution?

The Liberal Democrats are committed to making sure that good-quality affordable housing is delivered in our city. We propose a four-point plan to offer HOPE to thousands:

HOMES: we need truly affordable housing

Brighton & Hove City Council have repeatedly failed to enforce the 40% affordable housing requirement in each new scheme of 15+ units. The council extracting money in exchange for missed targets does nothing to provide the homes we so desperately need, and the definition of "affordable" has been stretched to absurdity. We need to make sure every newly approved scheme helps solve the housing crisis rather than worsening it. The New Homes for Neighbourhoods programme should be expanded beyond infill sites, to build homes for rent on council-owned land on a larger scale and tackle the housing waiting list. Our suggestion is to make better use of the land currently occupied by Hollingbury golf course.

OPENNESS: open, democratic, transparent planning

In order to build the homes we need, residents need to feel included and passionate about the changes, and this can't happen if decisions are made behind closed doors. The secretive process used by Labour, Conservative and Green councillors for the King Alfred development was a disgrace. With no sign of the promised public consultation, it is time to scrap the scheme and start again with a clear, transparent process.

PARTNERSHIPS: working with the right partners to secure the best deal

The council must be open-minded to working with other partners. Its current list of "preferred" partners is too short and includes firms which now have a track record of going back on their agreements. Working with other partners in the city must be explored, particularly in situations where the developer would contribute the build if the council contributes the land, so that there are no demands on the general fund or risk to frontline council services. Companies are finding innovative ways to build which must be explored. If Lewes can do it, why not Brighton & Hove?

ECO-HOUSING: environmentally friendly and economical to run

Ecological housing is good for the environment and good for the people who live in them. It can apply to new-build housing and the refurbishment of existing buildings. The use of insulation, double glazing and efficient heating systems helps to reduce energy bills for households into the future, whilst use of sustainable and recycled building materials, where practical, can help the environment. Building new housing or converting older buildings near public transport and community facilities reduces the need to make as many car journeys, whilst for new developments, public transport links are an absolute must.

Lobbying central government

This report has looked back at the council's 2018 performance and demonstrated where Liberal Democrat councillors would do better, but we must also broaden our scope to truly make a difference. National policy needs to change if we are to truly resolve the housing crisis.

Let's have our city lead the way in calling for all councils to have the power to:

We believe that Brighton & Hove City Council should take an active role in lobbying the Westminster government for better housing policy. Why not write to your current councillors and see if they agree? Let's make real change happen in 2019.