Monday 8 July 2024

Tonight's Brent Council motion on housing fails to commit to council housing

 Labour Chancellor Rachel Reeves today announced the reinstatement of mandatory housing targets on local authorities and changes in planning laws in favour of development, including a review of  land designated as green belt as well as  use brownfield and grey belt sites.

She indicated that local communities will only have a limited say (my emphasis):

It will still be in the first instance up to local communities and local authorities to decide where housing is built, but we will bring back those mandatory housing will be up to local communities where housing is built but it has to be built.

Clearly in areas like Brent, where available land is at a premium, there is likely to be pressure on some of our green spaces. Readers will remember plans to build on the Garden Centre land at the Welsh Harp at Birchen Grove, and the glass house land in Cool Oak Lane. The plans were defeated by a local campaign.

There was no mention in accounts of Reeves' statement that I have read, about the building of council homes. Similarly, a motion put by Brent Planning Committee member Cllr Liz Dixon to tonight's Council Meeting, written before the result of the General Election was known, but reflecting the Labour Manifesto, mentions 'affordable housing' without defining it, and does not mention council housing.

This reflects Cllr Shama Tatler's emphasis on building a range of home types, many of which would not be affordable for local people. Whether taking on the Building New Council Homes remit from Cllr Promise Knight, who is on maternity leave, will change her stance remains to be seen. Certainly her belief in the market: that more homes of any type will increase supply and lower prices, is challenged by some of her fellow councillors, who point to the distortions in the market caused by land banking and foreign investors' acquisition of new homes.

Tonight's meeting will also note the answers to questions to the Cabinet which includes Cllr Butt's advice to to evicted Brent tenants to move out of Brent to areas where rent is lower.

This is Cllr Dixon's Motion:

Declaration of a Housing Emergency


This Council notes:


* London is the epicentre of the country’s housing crisis, with a quarter of Londoners living in poverty after paying for their homes.

* In one of the wealthiest cities in the world, more than one child in every classroom is homeless and living in temporary accommodation, while rough sleeping is up 50% over this decade.

* Councils in London are spending £90m per month on temporary accommodation for homeless people - up almost 40% on last year.

*The dream of homeownership is out of reach for young people. The government have failed to act despite the housing crisis acting as one of the country’s biggest barriers to growth.

*The government has spent billions of pounds on housing benefit every year, which goes into the pockets of private landlords without creating any new assets.

*Without intervention, the number of new affordable homes built will fall sharply in  coming years thanks to high interest rates and runaway construction cost inflation.


This Council further notes:


*The Housing Needs Service in Brent has seen a 12% increase in homelessness approaches in 2023/-24 (7,300) compared to 2022/-23 (6,529). The total number of homeless families living in B&B and Annexe accommodation has risen to 485.

*Many Councils are being forced to book rooms in commercial hotels to meet statutory duties. In Brent this has driven a £13.4m overspend. These issues are not unique to Brent and have impacted the whole of the country – but especially London.

* There are 5,688 households in A-C banding on the waiting list. At Band C, the average waiting time for a 2-bed home is 8 years, with a 4-bed home rising to 24 years.

*GLA grant funding per unit of affordable housing is approx. £195k, with typical build costs per average unit in the region of £450k. Brent Council has planning permission ready or has submitted applications for 423 more affordable units, but many face a significant funding gap, and will not be viable without an increase in available subsidy.


This Council welcomes:


Pledges made during the current election campaign:


*To update the National Policy Planning Framework, including restoring mandatory housing targets.

*To get Britain building again, creating jobs across England with 1.5 million new homes over the next parliament.

*To work with local authorities to reform Local Plans and strengthen the planning presumption in favour of sustainable development, supported by additional planning officers.


This Council resolves to:


(1) Work with other local authorities in London that have declared a housing emergency to calling on the incoming government to unlock the funding needed to deliver the affordable homes Brent desperately needs.


(2) Write to the Secretary of State to recommend the following steps:


*The suspension of the right-to-buy discount.

*A new Housing Revenue Account funding settlement to increase the supply of housing, improve standards and support retrofitting.

*Financial support to immediately purchase more homes from private landlords.

*To review the Local Housing Allowance available for Temporary Accommodation.


Cllr Liz Dixon

Dollis Hill Ward

It is important to note the reference to viability as the remaining elements of the South Kilburn regeneration looks increasingly in doubt and the St Raphaels plans have been much reduced.

Leasehold reform, Shared Ownership issues, a rent cap, builders' responsiblity to fund fire safety work, including cladding remediation are issues still to be addressed in the ear;y days of this government.


Anonymous said...

Unsurprisingly, the government and the council not committing to social housing. As usual vague platitudes of "affordable" housing. Seems like this will be an exercise in enriching the developers rather than resolving the housing crisis! We now have a labour government. The council's plans should be bolder. Why aren't they pushing for abolishing right to buy?

Martin Francis said...

Yes, the 'suspension' of right to buy perhaps reflect uncertainty about whether the Labour Government will commit to ending as the Greens have.

Anonymous said...

More of the same

Philip Grant said...

That is a very long-winded motion, but it does seem to tie in with some of the points that the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rachel Reeves, made on housing in her speech yesterday.

She did mention affordable housing, and that some of the 1.5m homes which the Government hopes to see built over the next five years will be for social rent.

But I got the impression that Ms Reeves wants private developers to build those homes, and that some of them will have to be "affordable housing", which the developers will then sell to Regisyeted Providers of Social Housing, such as Housing Associations or Councils. That is similar to much of what happens at the moment.

And the speech made clear that the majority of the new homes are probably going to be for people who have 'the dream of home ownership'.

That is the phrase also used by Brent's Lead Member for Regeneration, Cllr. Shama Tatler, in her "party political" Cabinet Member Foreword to a Report about the Council's own housing scheme at Cecil Avenue, a couple of months ago.

Instead of moving quickly to build homes for rent to local families in housing need when they received full planning permission for this development on a vacant Council-owned site in February 2021, Brent's Cabinet decided in August 2021 (although this may have been decided unofficially by the Leader and Lead Member as early as December 2019) to seek a "developer partner".

This meant that it was March 2023 before the Council signed a contract with Wates, and only earlier this year that construction began on the site. When the homes are finally finished (scheduled for mid to late 2026), 150 of the 237 homes will be for private sale by Wates.

Now, what was that motion about? Oh yes, Brent Council declaring a housing emergency!