This week’s council meeting featured a tub-thumping performance in the council chamber over Croydon’s housing policies. KEN LEE reports
Monday night’s meeting of the full council witnessed something not seen in a very long time: Alison Butler delivering a speech of passion and intensity in which she accused the Conservative government of waging “war on social and council housing”.
Croydon Labour’s deputy leader, goaded into defending her party’s record on council houses since 2014, delivered a withering response to the Tories, demolishing, brick by brick, if you like, the flagship policy of Thatcherism: Right to Buy.
Most housing analysts now agree that it is Right to Buy, introduced under Thatcher’s first government in 1980 and maintained ever since, which is in large part responsible for the shortage of new homes for social rent being built over the past three decades, and the corresponding soaring private rents and house prices.
It is because of Right to Buy that many local authorities, particularly Labour ones, have had to come up with increasingly contorted devices to get around the rules and demands imposed upon them by central government around their management of housing.
In Croydon, that vehicle is Brick by Brick, a private company, owned by the council, which is using public money and council-owned land to build… more than 600 homes for private sale or rent, plus a couple of hundred “affordable”, social homes.
They would, Butler told the meeting, be “Local homes for local people.”
But responding to a question from Conservative councillor Lynne Hale about Labour’s failure to deliver any new council houses since 2014, Butler first stated that the current administration had managed to complete some new homes which, she said, “had been stuck under your administration”.
Then Butler hit her stride. “Yes, we are bringing forward social and affordable homes.
“Why are we doing it in a certain way?
“Because your government has based a war on social and council housing.
“I would be delighted to build council homes, as soon as your government lifts the borrowing cap on the Housing Revenue Account.
“As soon as your government stops forcing us to sell off homes.
“As soon as your government stops taking away the majority of that money, back into its coffers, from homes of Croydon people.
“As soon as your government doesn’t put limits on what we can we spend the 30 per cent we actually get to keep.
“As soon as your government stops setting the rents for Croydon people and not allowing us to run our own housing stock properly.
“As soon as your government lifts the threat of enforcing councils selling off high-value voids.
“But I don’t see that happening under your government.
“So we’re going to have to wait for a Co…,” at which point, Butler, who in the past has been regarded as something of a Blairite, seemed almost to choke on her words, before resuming, “… Corbyn government to deliver council homes back here.”
Using £240million of public finance and property, Brick by Brick was supposed to deliver 1,000 homes around the borough, with half going on to the private market, the other half being “affordable”. Because of viability issues, now less than 40 per cent (according to the house-builders’ own figures) will be for affordable rent or shared ownership.
Brick by Brick has yet to build a single new home.
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What can a poor local politician do when stuck on the cusp of political change and their own obsolescence?