CROYDON COMMENTARY: The council’s “MasterPlan” for housing is a political joke, says DAVID CALLAM
You may remember that the former Tory MP for Croydon South, Sir Richard Ottaway, told the BBC’s Sunday Politics that he had a solution to the problem: people should move as far from London as necessary to find a home they can afford.
Fortunately, Sir Richard no longer has a Croydon connection, but his Conservative Party successor has no better idea of how to solve the problem, and neither do the Labour Party.
Successive governments have failed miserably to provide enough homes for people with average incomes to buy. The politicians have hidden behind weasel words like “affordable housing”, which actually means unaffordable unless you have accumulated a deposit of tens of thousands of pounds, or are independently wealthy enough to buy in cash.
But if you can’t afford to buy, you can always rent instead… can’t you? Well, not necessarily. Again the two major political parties have presided over a complete breakdown in this market, too. The solution for Chipping Sodbury is totally inadequate when applied in Croydon or anywhere else where the number of people is greater than the number of livestock.
Landlords are allowed to run riot, letting properties for very short periods and charging a king’s ransom and raising their rents well above general inflation for that dubious privilege. They’re also allowed to discriminate against people in receipt of social security benefits and to keep properties in a state of disrepair, sometimes dangerously so, without incurring any meaningful sanction.
Alison Butler is Croydon Council’s Labour chair of housing. She recently presented the MasterPlan to a council cabinet meeting: that is to say she read a list of previously published promises from a Powerpoint presentation. There was lots of waffle about hard-working Croydon people, but nothing as specific as a social housing building target.
The most damning comment came from her long-serving Tory predecessor, Dudley Mead, who welcomed the initiative because much of it, he said, is similar to his own party’s housing policy. That is to say, it ignores all the difficult issues.
And who is responsibly for this travesty? Well, actually, we are.
We’ve let these pathetic politicians get away with their wafer-thin excuses. We’ve allowed them to trade figures about who has built the greatest number of social homes, figures massaged to show the party that quotes them in the most favourable light; figures calculated conveniently to ignore the fact that the performance of both major parties has been grossly ad persistently inadequate to meet the real needs of those who wish to live in the borough.
It should be possible for people to move into Croydon signing a five-year contract that fixes the rent at a reasonable level (subject to inflation) as set by an independent property professional (a Rent Officer, perhaps?), giving complete peace of mind to landlord and tenant alike.
Instead our incompetent politicians, national and local, continue to preside over an increasingly unregulated market with declining standards that result in ill-health – mental as well as physical – injury or death. When that happens, those same politicians will gasp: “Well, who would have thought it?” And we will gullibly accept their hand-wringing and crocodile tears.
If you would prefer to send a clear message to the major parties who have failed so badly, now is your chance. Break the habit of a lifetime. Abandon the safe option at the General Election. Vote for someone who is making social housing a priority. You will be amazed how quickly the major parties abandon their so-called principles and come to see things your way.
All the fuss being made by Tory and Labour alike about the Scottish Nationalists stems from the fact that the SNP is likely to upset the cosy status quo north of the border. We may yet see Messrs Cameron and Miliband promising the Scots the top brick off the chimney in an attempt to win them around, just as they did before last year’s referendum.
And if they do, that will be a small victory for the people over an out-of-touch political establishment. The former US President, Theodore Roosevelt, is credited with the observation: “Once you have them by the balls, it’s amazing how quickly their hearts and minds will follow.”
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