In My View… by Alastair Tinto, Vice-Chair, South East Cornwall Labour Party
In May Persimmon Homes, the developers who are building 450 homes at Trevethan Meadows in Liskeard, reported that they could not find an affordable housing partner. That is an indictment of this government’s housing policies!
In 1979 Cornwall had 31,000 council houses. Because of the right to buy policy that began under Margaret Thatcher in 1980 a third have been sold. However, this government will not let councils use the money from council house sales to build new ones and it will not allow them to borrow.
Moreover, nearly half the council houses that have been sold are now owned by private landlords. Meanwhile, the cost of buying a home has skyrocketed. In Cornwall average house prices are twelve times average earnings. Many first-time buyers need help from their family. What about those that are not so lucky? Last year less than a quarter of the households who applied to the council were given a house. Many people have little option but to get a home from a private landlord at a rent which is much higher than they would pay for a council house.
You would have thought that the answer would be for the government to build more council houses. However, this government’s way of providing affordable homes is for planning authorities, like Cornwall Council, to require developers, Persimmon, for example, to provide some affordable houses on estates that they build. In many cases “affordable” is not really affordable at all. A percentage might be offered at a 20% discount of the market price. Obviously, this helps some people but it does nothing for those who cannot afford a mortgage even at this cheaper rate.
Developers can also be required by the Council when they apply for planning permission to provide some proper social housing on their estates. Instead of councils owning these houses, the government prefers housing associations. These are the partners that Persimmon cannot find for Trevethan Meadows. And why is that? It is because the government subsidy for social rented homes has been shelved. It’s a Catch22.
A Labour government would suspend the right to buy policy to ensure that a council’s stock of housing is not depleted any further and they would allow councils once again to build houses. That will be a much better way of providing affordable housing for those who need it than this system of trying to provide social housing on the back of private housing developments.
First published in The Cornish Times, 13/07/2018