Sarah Newton is the Member of Parliament for Truro and Falmouth. Her article is the fifth in a seven part series of articles by Conservative MPs, each discussing the Coalition's policies to get more people into good homes.
Now is the time to be focusing on building new homes – especially for people earning modest incomes. A decent home at a fair price to rent or buy is a distant dream for too many people. Housebuilding plummeted under Labour, so it is not surprising that local authority waiting lists soared by 80%, to nearly 2 million people, between 1997 and 2010.
Every week, young families and elderly people come to my advice surgery for help in finding a decent place to call home. New powers in the Localism Act will enable communities to work with their local authorities to develop Neighbourhood Plans that meet the needs of each community including for new homes or making better use of existing buildings. No two villages, towns or cities are the same, and each community needs a ‘grass roots’ plan for its area.
As Chairman of the Steering Group of the Truro & Kenwyn Neighbourhood Plan, I am seeing first-hand how parish and Cornwall councillors are seizing the new opportunities of working together and with residents to shape the future of their place.
Like any other middle-aged mum, I am worried about how our children are going to afford somewhere decent to live, while at the same time thinking about the future housing needs of our elderly parents. The Housing Strategy starts to tackle these concerns. Scaling up the recent growth we have seen in housebuilding – under the Coalition, new starts in 2010-11 are up 29 per cent compared to 2008-09 – will also be an important source of new jobs, many of them for young people.
Conservative Councillors will know quite how badly Labour let families on low incomes down, with a net loss of 200,000 affordable homes since 1997. There will always be hard-working families, doing important work such as care assistants, who are priced out of the housing market and need decent social housing with a fair rent.
So in April, I am looking forward to the repatriation of council housing to local councils. This will end the current ridiculous situation whereby tenants’ rents are sent up to the Treasury, who then decide how much can be returned for the upkeep and building of new council homes. Yes, it does mean that some Councils will be taking on debt to finance this transfer, and of course all good Conservative Councillors will want to keep their AAA credit rating as much as the Chancellor does, but the terms of the deal are good.
Both the value of the homes and future income from rents will enable improvements to existing homes and the possibility of building more. I will be pushing hard for all the receipts from the sale of any council homes to be kept locally, so that new homes can be built to replace those sold.
Believing as I do that residents are best placed to find local solutions to problems in their communities, I am particularly pleased by Grant Shapps’ commitment to Community Land Trusts.
For years before the last General Election, he scoured the country for innovative and effective ways to deliver more homes. During his visits to Cornwall he visited local land trusts. There are now over 80 Community Land Trusts in England and Wales, the majority of which are clustered in the South West, North West and North East and in rural locations. There are over 200 Community Land Trust homes. The majority are low-cost home ownership and over half are in Cornwall.
It is not just about housing; some of the local Community Land Trusts are embarking upon exciting community projects which are also social businesses, such as the Community Farm at St Just in Penwith. The effect on the local economy of such a small scheme is significant. Community Land Trusts provide homes for families who otherwise would not be able to stay and work in their communities – keeping vital local services like schools, pubs and shops in business. There is no reason why they shouldn’t work just as well in urban areas.
A National Community Land Trust Network has been set up to support and promote the work of Community Land Trusts, so I suggest you visit www.communitylandtrusts.org.uk and find out more. The network is poised for rapid growth as Community Land Trusts benefit from provisions in the Localism Act for communities to take more control and exploit the availability of reasonably-priced public land. Better access to mortgages for first-time buyers will also help people buy a Community Land Trust property.