Bognor Regis Herald: The obscene truth about the housing crisis in West Sussex

by Jan Cosgrove

With the recent decision by the Government Minister re granting planning permission for 400 local homes because Arun has failed to show a sufficient forward supply, it is clearer than ever to just what extent the scales have been tipped against those unable to buy or rent privately.

Cllr Ricky Bower

The awful truth is that our Arun politicos have ensured this state of affairs over a decade and more. Back in 2003, their own independent consultant told them of the need then to ensure nearly 6000 affordable homes were built by 2011, a recommendation infamously dismissed by the Cllr who would become the Cabinet Member for these issues, Cllr Ricky Bower, with the phrase that should have haunted him since: “There are empty homes in Wigan”.

That the ruling Tory Leadership then appointed him to this position knowing his antipathy to social house says to me that leadership has been complicit all along. The opposition to the Ford eco-Town also equally indicative of the nauseating refusal to make a significant dent in the problem. The scramble by developers, mutely aided by Arun trying to stuff homes into every nook and cranny is the inevitable consequence of that outright and culpable failure.

Yes, lobby groups (mainly opposing development in their locales, including Nimbys and BANANAs — build absolutely nothing anywhere near anywhere) spring up, and many have become appalled at the vulnerability of land in their areas, thanks to the abject failure of Arun. It is a wonder it took Cllr Mrs Brown so long to replace Cllr Bower.

Mind you, just next door in up-market Chichester District we see the total contrast between those who can and those who can’t afford. Take this one in Chichester Harbour, well over £1 million, indeed a ‘dream house’.

Yes, one is quite sure there were no Nimby objections, it’s worth a read to appreciate why it is not likely the new owners will see their lifespans shortening as a result of that total fraud, Austerity.

We need surely a new deal on housing and here are some thoughts:

  • there is a Right to Respect for your home in human rights law but no Right to a Home — for me, a decent home is the prerequisite to a decent, gainful, healthy life. A tough nut, but we need to shift away from the underlying assumption that somehow the ownership of a home is always “deserved” and thus those who are so deserving see those who haven’t that status as not as deserving, if at all
  • Local housing authorities should have much greater requirement in law to ensure adequate supply. For me, abject failure such as a Arun would bring the risk of the Government triggering take-over and appointment of ‘housing commissioners’
  • LHAs (Councils) currently can fix in any development a maximum % of affordable homes. This is sound and could be made more useful by coupling that the need so that if the need is very large, the % could, for a period, rise to 100% and fall as need is addressed, and indeed rise. A good council might get its % very low.

There is also now a growing realisation that somehow the inflated value of housing needs to be addressed. The trend of this inflation started as far back as 1962 at the hands of that arch-regulator, Reginald Maudling, tory Chancellor of the Exchequer. The problem is that any attempt to do this runs into the problem that those owning a home or indeed on a mortgage will stand to lose with any devaluation. How to achieve this aim:

  1. firstly, it has to be done in a phased manner over s period so that value declined gradually
  2. this also would help deal with the possible inflationary effects of the release into household budgets of wealth previously allocated to housing costs
  3. statutory coupling with private rents so those too fell
  4. maybe a government savings scheme to encourage people to put some of those funds into savings
  5. a compensatory fund to help those adversely affected by the decline of value, perhaps part-funded by taxing the interest of the savings scheme at 4 above. Such a fund would have a time-limited life.
  6. the fitness of the construction industry to deliver is another key issue but in anyone’s wages let us remember that housing costs are one of the most significant elements for many. This idea would impact on wage growth over a period also as people’s family/personal budgets eased in terms of available surplus.

The value of such a phased approach would be seen in the national economy as people found themselves able to buy, save and invest more. The super -inflationary element of housing cost in the economy cannot be over-estimated.

Of course, no need to expect our majority Councillors to welcome any such progress, because, you see, from the outset they simply didn’t care a great deal, certainly not to build the affordable homes their own consultant, paid with our money, told them would be needed. I was there as a minority Councillor in 2003 when they were all told, and I could see this coming a long way ahead after that woeful dereliction of responsibility.

Footnote: how long, in the wake of today’s report that life expectancy has stopped rising in this country for the FIRST TIME IN A CENTURY, will it be before someone points out that this perhaps doesn’t affect us all equally? The study suggests Austerity since 2010 may be a factor. No, you surprise me ….

Funnily enough, in that period above when I was a Labour Councillor for Pevensey Ward, I came across figures which suggested very clearly that people living in my Ward had a life expectancy some 15 years less than people in the Aldwick East Ward a road crossing apart (West Meads Drive). I got criticised when I revealed this to that year’s Labour Party Conference and coined the term “third world Bognor”. Fraudulent Austerity, a Con-fidence trick which has visited disaster for many in our fractured society.

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