VOTE 2014: Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, has set up his local councillors in Croydon for what could be some frank discussions with major developers in the borough, including Westfield, Barratt Homes and John Laing, after he announced that his party will seek to have 30 per cent of “affordable housing” included in new developments if they win at the Town Hall elections on May 22.
Croydon has thousands of families on its housing waiting list, and its Tory-run council has been forced to go out and borrow £30 million in the last 18 months to buy up empty homes to help with the homelessness crisis in the borough.
But meanwhile Croydon Conservatives have refused to insist that Whitgift Centre developers Westfield or housebuilders Barratt include more than a handful of affordable homes in their multi-billion-pound schemes in the centre of town or at Cane Hill.
Westfield happen to be regular and generous donors to the Conservative Party, and the managing board of the owners of the Whitgift Centre include a local Tory MP and the deputy leader of the Tories on Croydon Council. The publicly owned landed at Cane Hill, outside Coulsdon, is reckoned to be worth at least £250 million, and was handed over to Barratt’s by Boris Johnson, the Tory Mayor of London.
Planning permission has already been granted to the Hammersfield and Cane Hill schemes, and unless the decision of Croydon’s Tory council is reversed by the Tory local government minister, Eric Pickles, it is unlikely that a Labour council would make any retrospective changes to the plans that have been approved. But Miliband appears to have signaled strong intentions regarding the provision of social housing in future developments.
Speaking at an event to launch Labour’s local election campaign held at the community centre on Central Parade, New Addington, yesterday morning, Miliband described the fewer than 90 affordable homes to be provided above the £1 billion supermall in the centre of Croydon as “way too inadequate”, even saying it was “pathetic”, and adding that Labour’s 30 per cent target is “not unreasonable”.
Gavin Barwell, MP for Central Croydon, has repeatedly claimed that for the developers to provide anything more than 15 per cent of the homes as “affordable” would risk making the scheme unprofitable for the developers. Barwell sits on the board for the leaseholders, the Whitgift Foundation, who appointed Westfield to build the new shopping centre.
Croydon Council’s own “strategic policies” set a target of 50 per cent of affordable housing in any development, which would suggest that around 300 of the 600 apartments to be built as part of the Hammersfield scheme should be offered for rent or for sale at “affordable prices”. This policy was dismissed by the Tory-run council last year “not achievable” for Westfield.
Independent reports suggested strongly a high demand for affordable homes on the Cane Hill site; Barratt’s planned 700-home new village will comprise predominantly three-, four- and five-bedroom high-end “executive” houses.
Such is the potential for large profit from new homes in Croydon that the council last month even gave the green-light to build five tower blocks of flats including on parts of a public park, in a scheme developed by CCURV, the council’s own joint venture with John Laing.
Miliband’s urging for the local authority to provide more “affordable” housing may not bring too much comfort to hard-working families on low incomes.
When monthly rents for modest two-bedroom flats can be as much as £1,200, then providing housing at “up to 80 per cent of gross market rents” in the area – as determined by ConDem government policy – means that a Croydon family could be looking at spending nearly £12,000 a year on rent.
There is a strong suspicion around many of the planned developments in the borough that the homes are being targeted at overseas buy-to-let “investors”. Indeed, the notorious IYLO block in the middle of a roundabout in the north of the borough is now being marketed as the “Island” exclusively to buyers from the Far East, who are promised that there would be no social housing in the block at all.
Alison Butler, Croydon Labour’s housing spokeswoman, says that these developments are “expanding the unaffordable private rented sector and stopping local people from getting on the housing ladder”.
Her party leader is keenly aware that the buy-to-let market in London and the south-east is a major driving force behind rampant house price inflation in the region, making it ever more difficult for those on average earnings to afford to live in the capital.
Miliband has promised a crackdown on what he calls “ghost homes”, being hoarded by wealthy overseas investors, and leaving an estimated 60,000 properties standing empty in London. “We’ve got to stop this phenomenon of empty properties being bought by overseas investors and nothing done about it,” Miliband said.
“The connection between the great wealth London creates and everyday family finances has been broken.”
Miliband wants to double Council Tax for owners who allow their flats to stand empty for more than a year. He also proposes that developers should be forced to offer to sell their properties to Londoners first, before marketing them abroad.
Miliband said there was “a danger” that London ordinary families could be priced out of the capital. “I think it is increasingly becoming that way,” he said. Rents across London have risen nearly 10 per cent in the past year, while house sales prices in Croydon have been described by local estate agents as “spiralling out of control”, with the average house price in the borough at £345,000, up from £294,000 a year ago.
Miliband promised Labour would construct 300,000 new homes in the next parliament. “When I think about the prospect of becoming prime minister next year, housing is one of the absolute top priorities because it is a crisis,” he said in an interview with the Evening Standard, the city’s right-leaning newspaper which backed the Labour leader’s call for more social housing and high-desnity, mid-rise homes to be built.
Miliband said Tory councils in London were “shrugging their shoulders at the scandal of empty homes”. Croydon Council was again fined by the Local Government Ombudsman last month for the latest breaches of the law for keeping homeless families in emergency bed and breakfast accommodation for more than the maximum six-week period.
“The Tories want to say to people everything is fixed, everything is fine, and every time they say that it just refocuses in people’s minds they have no idea about the challenges families are facing; they just don’t get it,” Miliband told the New Addington meeting.
Miliband used the occasion to underline his party’s pledge to make Croydon Council a living wage employer, and for a scheme to register private landlords and to force them to offer three-year tenancies.
But this was very much preaching to the converted; just as with the recent visit of celebrity Labour endorser Eddie Izzard, the audience was made up almost entirely of Labour Party members and activists. Labour sources insist that a good many attending were from New Addington.
Attendance had to be pre-booked, which disappointed Tory councillor Tony Pearson and his election “minder” Jason Cummings. When they arrived for the “all-ticket event” to discover that they had not been invited. Indeed, it was organised on a similar basis to a recent visit to Croydon by the Tories’ Boris Johnson.
All was carefully controlled and regulated. Hardly the stuff of rallying the people, and getting the message out on the streets. Dare say no one will remember once the votes are cast on May 22.
Inside Croydon’s recent coverage of the local elections:
- NEW ADDINGTON’s Royston Vasey “are you local” campaign
- CROHAM: Scouring campaign for something which might inspire
- These are the councillors who voted to build on a public park
- Questions mount over political influence at council
- What Barwell fails to tell you and the myths of Council Tax
- Council allowances and local politicians’ secret consensus
- The list of candidates for the May 22 local elections
Coming to Croydon
- David Lean Cinema: Wadjda, May 8
- Coulsdon Euro election hustings, May 8
- David Lean Cinema: Blue Velvet, May 10
- Croydon Ecology Centre seeds and seedlings sale, May 11
- South Norwood local election hustings, May 12
- Thornton Heath local election hustings, May 14
- Norwood Society Talk: West Norwood – a place of change, May 15
- David Lean Cinema: The Invisible Woman, May 15
- Broad Green local election hustings, May 15
- Coulsdon West local election hustings, May 16
- Croydon RFC charity memorial day, May 17
- Coulsdon East local election hustings, May 19 (confirmed)
- St Giles’ primary school open morning, May 21
- David Lean Cinema: The Rocket, May 22
- Greek Myths: stories and mask-making, May 27
- Howard Marks: Scholar, Smuggler, Prisoner, Scribe, May 29
- David Lean Cinema: Dallas Buyers Club, May 29
- Tales from Ancient Greece, Upper Norwood Library, May 29
- Upper Norwood Library Book Club, May 31
- Stitch Pitch quilting workshop, Upper Norwood Library, June 2
- Croydon Tech City “summit”, June 6
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, June 15
- Norwood Society Talk: The Concrete Church, June 19
- Classic Car Show at Purley Rotary Fields, June 22
- Crystal Palace Overground Festival, June 26-29
- South Norwood Allotments open day, June 28
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, Aug 10
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
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