Homes to live in – Why healthy communities need a wide rage of housing types

During the years that I spent trying to grapple with the Sefton Borough Local Plan I came to understand housing provision much better and I realised that the Local Plan process (in Sefton as elsewhere) is far more about deciding which land is designated for housing then it is about actual housing need.

Yes I saw and read many worthy documents about land use, housing need etc. but I quickly came to the conclusion that actual housing need is always going to be a secondary issue to the needs and wants of land owners, developers and builders. In my view the Local Plan process simply brings some kind of order to the clamor from land owners and developers who want to have their land set aside for housing so that it climbs in value.

By the way this posting is not a stab at Sefton Council, whose Local Plan I fought every inch of the way, as it’s not intended to be a party political piece at all.

My major point is this. Having lived in the Maghull/Lydiate community for 50 years (33 of those years as a local councillor – Town, Parish and Borough) I like to think I have some understanding of it, it’s history and to be precise, bearing in mind the thrust of posting, its housing situation and needs.

If you look at the joint communities of Lydiate and Maghull they have grown massively since the 1930’s and are virtually unrecognisable now from the rural agricultural communities they once were. The housing built in this period has overwhelmingly been of 3 bedroomed semi-detached style/type. Yes a few bungalows have been sprinkled here and there and in more recent times blocks of the McCarthy & Stone type flats for retired people have sprung up. The other significant changes have been the huge reduction in the amount of social housing (caused by 1980’s Right to Buy legislation) and also the significant rise in privately rented accommodation.

Let’s look a social housing first. It served a purpose in the past and because of Right to Buy it now struggles to serve the same purpose because there is much less of it around. The fact that local authorities have been unable to replace social housing (council housing), as it was lost via Right to Buy, has meant that there is a shortage of it. The lack of social housing means that those on low wages who can’t afford to take on a mortgage or even the sky high rents in the private rented sector are in effect left outside the housing market. My view is that most if not all communities that wish to be more than commuter belt or ‘bed and breakfast’* in nature need a decent supply of social housing.

Here in Sefton Borough what was once council housing has all gone either via Right to Buy or due to the fact that government of the day back in the early 2000’s pushed Sefton Council to hand over it’s remaining housing stock to a social landlord – One Vision Housing was created to enable that transfer to happen. I have not looked at the Maghull/Lydiate housing stats for a while now but on one road in Lydiate which used to have 20+ council houses only 3 are still social housing under One Vision Housing. That’s a staggering reduction in social housing and it illustrates my point very clearly.

And what about private rented housing which has made a massive return in most communities from a time where it had all but died out. That’s until the 1980’s when it started to become very common once again. Trouble is it swung back but with rent levels so high renting privately can often be more expensive these days than buying a house on a mortgage!

So this is where we are but when you add into this mix two very significant factors i.e. we are living much longer and that many young people can’t now take on a mortgage (as their parents did) due to the high cost of housing it starts to make our local housing market quite unbalanced. This is especially the case when what is being built is almost always 3, 4 and 5 bedroomed houses**.

Let’s look at us old folks first. Some of us, maybe a significant number of us, may well want to downsize to a smaller property which would likely be all on one level for mobility reasons. But I mentioned earlier that Maghull & Lydiate only has a sprinkling of bungalows and the construction of them is rare these days as there’s more money, for land owners and developers’ in building 3 bedroomed houses and bigger. This of course means that being in short supply the price of bungalows is high, probably too high. That in turn means the opportunity to downsize is reduced so singles and couples who would downsize don’t do so and their predominately 3 bedroomed houses do not come onto the market for families to buy.

OK, keep all that in mind and then say to yourself what should a future housing plan for Maghull and Lydiate look like? Well it would surely be a balance between building single level accommodation for the elderly to downsize into, small houses (1 and 2 bedroomed) for young people trying to start on the housing ladder and the reprovision of some of the lost social housing supply. Frankly the building of large numbers of 3, 4 and 5 bedroomed properties would not be the highest priority because we are not really short of such housing.

So there are the bigger issues as I see them. The Local Plan process puts the important housing issues to the back of planning process as it looks to carve up often very high quality land, which presently grows our food ***, for housing that will not even meet local need. And this despite agricultural land being sacrificed under concrete and tarmac. My feeling is that the previous name for these type of plans – Unitary Development Plans – had a similar end result effect as we have not arrived in the housing mess we are presently in because of a Local Plan that has only just been approved. Those previous plans must have had a similar lack of vision for future housing need. The new Local Plan for Sefton simply ensures that what is presently an imbalanced housing market and provision gets worse in the future and I bet this is being replicated in community after community across the land.

This lengthy and somewhat detailed posting has been an attempt to pull together a number of threads that I have previously blogged about. All political parties that have been in government since the 2WW hold responsibility for this housing mess.

* The term ‘bed and breakfast’ was I think first brought into use in this context during the big 1990’s housing boom years when I recall that in the then Sudell ward of Maghull around one third of the electoral register was changing in a year as houses were continually bought and sold. The term meant that the population was significantly transient and people living in communities seeing such huge housing movement were there effectively for the bed and breakfast only and had little ‘buy in’ to the community itself.

** The fact that we are living in generally smaller family units theses days also leads you to conclude that there is another reason for the need to construct more 1 and 2 bedroomed properties.

*** There’s a worrying lack of connection between housing and environmental policy in the UK. Indeed, the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) has only recently confirmed what it and many of us have been saying for some time i.e. that there is enough brownfield land (previously developed land) to cater for house building needs and that construction on Green Belt and high grade agricultural land is not actually required. Trouble is that pass has already been sold by Councils across England who have released land in Green Belt for development. Having said that of course the Local Plan process itself is at fault here in that each local authority has to have its sown plan. That means that council areas which have large expanses of brownfield land may not allocate it all for housing and those with very little turn their eyes towards Green Belt and high grade agricultural land.

Wrong Houses being being built in the wrong places? CPRE has hit a very important nail on the head here

www.cpre.org.uk/media-centre/latest-news-releases/item/4675-the-wrong-homes-in-the-wrong-places?utm_medium=email&utm_source=engagingnetworks&utm_campaign=campaigns-update-oct-2017-nonmembers&utm_content=Campaigns+Update+2017+Oct+-+non+members

The Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) has the story on its web site – see link above

I have long thought that here in Sefton Borough we are not addressing local housing needs despite Sefton Council allocating acre after acre of the highest grades of agricultural land for more new housing.

My focus has not only been on protecting high grade agricultural land from development (because it grows the food that we eat!) but also, where we do build houses, they really do need to meet local need. Like many folk I see building more 3 and 4 bedroom houses as being a part of the problem not a solution to the UK housing shortage.

No the real housing need is affordable housing, social housing for rent and housing suitable for our aging population i.e. more single level accessible housing.

The CPRE stance in many way mirrors my own concerns although they seem to have missed out housing for the elderly, which must be a national housing matter not just one related to Sefton Borough. Build housing that the elderly want to move into and it will free up family housing; it’s not rocket science!

I’ve had my issues with CPRE in the past in that I thought they were too laid back with regard to house building on prime agricultural land and Green Belt in Sefton. I also questioned their political leanings when they attended a meeting in Crosby that was not properly party politically balanced. But I think they are on the right track here with regard to their Wrong homes, Wrong Place campaign.

Trouble is governments of all colours have been making a mess of housing policy for generations now.

And only very recently a Conservative Social Care minister jumped back into the so called ‘dementia tax’ solution so favoured by the Tories at the last election and which all but sunk them in June 2017.

It seems the Tories are still arguing that homes are not assets for parents to pass on to their children. That’ll go down well with the voters – NOT!

My point here is that the Tories are still on the wrong path as they remain blind to the need for single level housing that is truly accessible. They don’t seem to understand that older people would move house if there was somewhere they could move to as they get older, at a reasonable cost. As there is not enough such housing many don’t or can’t move out of 3 and 4 bedroom houses because they can’t afford to.

Thanks to Roy Connell for his contribution to this posting

Brexit – It’s falling apart but then it was always going to as the case for it was based on lies and misinformation

www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/24/case-britains-ties-europe-severed-falling-apart-brexiteers-migration-norway-option

www.independent.co.uk/voices/brexit-housing-crisis-uk-just-lost-its-biggest-funder-a7909886.html

The two links above are informative. The first lays down clearly the madness of Brexit and the ridiculous hole that 52% of the electorate jumped into based on the lies and misrepresentations of the rich and powerful.

The second highlights a funding stream cut off by the process of Brexit, in this case social housing investment.

You really could not make up the situation that UK finds itself in because of the EU Referendum vote to become isolated and irrelevant. I never thought my country would seek to harm itself like it is doing. So sad for future generations.

With thanks to Roy Connell for the leads to this posting

Why I am backing Carl Cashman to be Merseyside Metro Mayor

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Yesterday I attended a hustings meeting at Dovedale Baptist Church Hall in Liverpool to hear prospective Lib Dem Mersey Metro Mayor candidate Carl Cashman speak. Carl is an impressive young man who seems to have that ‘X’ factor that many other politicians simply don’t.

So what are Carl’s assets? Well youth is one, being in his 20’s brings us a candidate unburdened by the baggage that many older politicians carry with them. He has a fresh perspective and one that folks seem to like.

Carl has not had a privileged upbringing; he was brought up a a Merseyside Council estate.

He is big on green issues and has been a thorn in Labour’s side as they keep trying to build on Green Belt and green spaces. This is a huge issue across Merseyside.

He’s already a Borough Councillor on Knowsley Council regularly taking on the appalling record of Labour in running that Council. This is the Council that was staring down into the abyss of potentially having no schools where young people could take A Levels recently!

He wants more social housing built. The Merseyside housing crisis is at it’s worst in terms of the supply of such properties.

He wants to find a way of improving the income of those living on the Minimum Wage. A Merseyside initiative to try to address our low wage culture – Why not give it a go?

The people of Prescot and Knowsley have taken this young man to their heart and I hope he gets selected as the Lib Dem Metro Mayor candidate so that more electors can find out why Carl Cashman is going places.

Oh and by the way, yes I know that the vast majority of us don’t want another politician running our lives but this new post (Merseyside Metro Mayor/Liverpool City Region Mayor) is being imposed on us in 2017 whether we want it or not.

It’s a result of the Tory Government and Merseyside Labour doing a second or even third rate deal which supposedly devolves significant powers to Merseyside from Whitehall. The powers are far too limited though and Westminster will still be calling the vast majority of the shots, surprise, surprise!

Carl wants to renegotiate that shabby deal so that we have real power over our own affairs locally. And he does not want power for himself but to push that power down to local communities wherever its possible to do so.

Carl is not a man to be told what to do by Westminster, neither is he a slave to a party political machine. Watch this young man go places.

Merseyside has 8,528 empty houses but don’t worry Sefton Council will allow even more houses to be built on high grade agricultural land!

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/8500-homes-empty-across-merseyside-10519948

Campaigners, outside Maghull Town Hall trying to save Sefton Borough's high grade agricultural land from development.

Campaigners, outside Maghull Town Hall trying to save Sefton Borough’s high grade agricultural land from development.

The Liverpool Echo has the story on its web site – see link above

This Echo article really brings home what the local housing crisis is all about and why building thousands of 3 and 4 bedroom houses for sale on Sefton’s Green Belt and high grade agricultural land is certainly not the answer.

What’s more Merseysiders only need a 42% pay rise to enable them to get on the housing ladder to buy the new houses that we are going to sacrifice our Green Belt and decimate some of the best agricultural land in England for.

The big gap in the Merseyside housing market is for social housing and affordable rent housing generally but hey let’s just keep building houses that Merseysiders can’t afford to buy or rent because it looks like we are addressing the housing problem when we not doing any such thing!

Cameron’s Government is destroying all the good in the UK

I increasingly despair about the present Tory Government. Just look at all the massive down sides of Cameron gaining an overall majority:-

* Social housing to be sold off when there is a huge shortage of affordable rented housing.
* Cutting back on sustainable green initiatives and putting future generations at risk from even greater climate change problems.
* Attacking trade unions who brought about many social advances that we all (including Tories) now take for granted.
* Trying to reduce your and my rights and in doing so making the state less accountable to us all.
* Hitting the most vulnerable in society with massive welfare cuts whilst the official Labour opposition stood back and abstained!.
* Taking food from children in our schools who otherwise may not get a decent meal at home.
* All but ignoring the appalling refugee crisis across Europe

This is an appallingly selfish Tory Government.