Cllr Tim Pollard is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Croydon Council.
Last week Labour councillors once again demonstrated their indifference to the residents in the council’s own estates who are worried that the council has declared war on their community.
On the evening of the last council meeting a group of concerned residents marched on Croydon Town Hall and staged a friendly but determined protest outside it. These protesters, mostly apolitical but including a number of lifelong members of the Labour party, simply want the council to listen to the community before charging in to concrete over their green spaces, delete their parking and take all the light from their flats or houses.
The council organisation in question is Brick By Brick (BxB for short). This is an apparently ‘totally independent’ company, which in reality is a hundred percent owned by, and therefore controlled by, Croydon Council. It is planning to build developments up and down the borough, many as ‘infill’ on existing small council estates.
The problem is that it has miserably failed to take communities with it. Most residents accept that more development is needed, but they want the quality of life for all residents to be protected when development takes place, instead of the council just cramming as many flats as they can into each square inch of green space.
The mechanics of BxB have also caused a lot of outrage. To enable development the council has borrowed money, lent it to BxB, which has used it to buy land from the council. It will then develop the sites, some for (expensive) private sale, some as shared ownership, and a few for discounted rent. The majority will be for private sale and are not social or council housing.
And none of the properties are to be proper ‘council houses’, with all the benefits to its tenants that brings. Instead the developer will sell on the developed units to a council-owned charity which will rent them on.
Why, you might say, does the council need this tortuous process to build its ‘social’ housing? Why doesn’t it just build council houses?
The Labour party line is that it can’t, the government has capped what councils can borrow and Croydon is only a year or two’s development away from the cap. What they don’t mention is that the government has repeatedly said that if a council wants to build, provided it is in an area of high demand (which we are) that cap can be lifted. And they haven’t tried very hard to get that cap lifted, because it is, of course, not the real reason.
The evidence is clear. More council houses have been built nationally in the eight years of Conservative-led governments since 2010 than in the whole 13 years of Labour governments from 1997 to 2010. It’s not the Conservatives who don’t want to build council houses, it’s Labour.
The fact is that the person who was MP for Croydon Central until June 2017, Gavin Barwell, was the minister for housing – and the MP for Croydon South, Chris Philp, is the PPS for the Secretary of State responsible for housing! They’re pretty well connected to help Croydon Council build more council houses! We Conservatives have always stood ready to work with Labour to get the cap raised for Croydon (which the government has consistently said it is willing to do), but the truth is that Labour are not serious about doing that. The government has recently raised the borrowing cap by over £1 billion. Where are Labour Croydon in the queue to take advantage of this? Nowhere to be seen.
The reason? Right to buy.
If the council builds housing as council houses, after a period of time those properties can be bought by their tenants, if they wish to do so. And Labour absolutely hates right to buy. So much better to keep the tenants permanently dependent for their discounted rent on a generous, wise, and all-knowing council.
Is it an odd concept for the state to build a house only, in the future, for its resident to acquire the right to buy it? Perhaps. But certainly no odder than building shared-ownership properties, which the council is wading into via Brick By Brick. There, from the outset, tenants can progressively buy their way in to the property.
I believe that the best social housing is council housing. That, as a council, we should be pushing ahead with building more council houses. But wherever we do it, we need to take the community with us. We need to respect the rights of existing residents to a decent quality of life, whilst also enabling their children to be able to aspire to a home of their own.
It’s possible, if you build the right sort of developments in the right places. We don’t have to accept every planned development, whatever the cost in terms of quality of life. We need far more family homes in the mix and fewer pokey flats, which will mainly be bought by incoming commuters. And we absolutely must not build the slums of the future, in our rush to hit housing unit targets.
Croydon Labour says it wants to build homes, yet it has chosen a tortuous way to do it for ideological reasons. To avoid giving its tenants future rights it has chosen instead to build flats for sale which are way out of the reach of most people. In order to (apparently) build homes for the people it has chosen to become a rapacious property developer and trample of the rights of neighbours.
We think it has its priorities all wrong, and if you agree with us then you have the chance to make your voice heard in the local elections on 3rd May.