The Residents for Uttlesford party is failing the 1,145 households on the waiting list with a vague corporate plan that fails to set out any objectives to deal with the housing crisis. It’s a testament to their indifference to the most vulnerable and needy in our community, particularly in Stansted where more than 21 per cent of children are living in poverty according to the End Child Poverty Coalition.
Hundreds more local households are being driven into poverty and housing need due to soaring housing costs, Tory austerity and failing housing policies. Since 2017, the council housing waiting list has soared by 42 per cent with 337 households added to the waiting list as housing prices remain stubbornly at 12 times local wages – one of the highest rates in the country.
Despite the urgency, council housing targets are absent in the priorities set out in Uttlesford District Council’s proposed corporate plan. Every council has to produce a corporate plan setting out its vision and the outcomes and objectives its wishes to achieve for the next four years.
Uttlesford’s plan – a vaguely-worded piece of public relations fluff – was rightly dubbed as consisting of “motherhood and apple pie statements of warm gold deeds” by chair of the council’s scrutiny committee, independent councillor Neil Gregory.
There is a vague commitment to “increase the number of affordable homes delivered and different tenure options including social renting.” The recently released Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy also has no targets for council house building.
UDC’s corporate plan gives residents no way of knowing what success would look like and the indicators by which to measure it. The failure to spell out what the council fails those in greatest need in our community.
Compare UDC’s non-committal corporate plan with nearby Labour-controlled Cambridge City Council, which has set out a target of at least 500 new council houses by 2022 as well as 40 per cent affordable housing on all new housing developments. Labour-controlled Stevenage’s corporate plan has a target of 300 new council houses by the end of 2020/21. These plans set out the means by which they will achieve their goals and the portfolio-holders that are responsible.
Saffron Walden Labour Party produced the only local manifesto to commit to council house building targets. R4U’s manifesto failed to mention council housing, even though this is one of the authority’s main roles.
Saffron Walden Labour Party also set out policies to help tenants in the private sector. We proposed setting up a voluntary landlords’ register so that private renters can choose to rent their homes from responsible landlords. We said Uttlesford could set up a landlords’ co-operative so that landlords can avoid the high charges from private lettings agencies and tenants can get a fairer deal. We pushed for a council-owned not-for-profit lettings agency. We want a private tenants’ association to give private renters a voice and the ability to collectively organise for better conditions.
What does R4U have to say in its corporate plan? Nothing! Despite some token gestures towards “affordability” (with no definition of what that means) in housing provision, R4U made no commitment to leveraging new council powers to borrow and the lifting of the cap on the Housing Revenue Account so that UDC would be part of the solution. Instead, there is an attitude that this is the responsibility of housing associations and private providers – a laissez-faire approach that offers nothing new and has so far failed to reduce the council housing waiting list.
R4U appears to be out-of-touch with the ordinary people and uncaring towards those in need. This district should not become a lifestyle option for the wealthy, who want to pull up the drawbridge to all new development.