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Investing to create much improved housing choice
10:22am Thursday 10th July 2014 in Salisbury Letters
I refer to Cllr Ian Tomes’s letter concerning council housing in south Wiltshire (Postbag, July 3). I would like to correct some of his statements, which I believe are misleading:
- He says that Tory controlled councils in north Wiltshire sold off their council housing stock very cheaply. Wrong, the decision to sell was entirely down to the tenants who voted in a secret ballot to move away from council control to a housing association (HA). This was Labour policy at the time. Those areas that went under HA control have seen many more new affordable houses being built than those areas that stayed under council control.
- The reason Salisbury and the south of the county voted ‘no’ to moving to HA control was down to the standards being maintained by the old Salisbury District Council. Known as the Salisbury Standard, it meant tenants received the highest standards and our housing stock was kept in excellent condition. They saw no reason to move to another landlord.
- The old method of collecting the rent meant that for every £3 received, £1 was paid to central government as a negative payment to fund social housing outside Wiltshire. The current government knew this was unfair and changed the rules. Wiltshire was able to buy the stock of council houses for a discounted price of £124m and in return we now receive 100 per cent of the rent. This has changed the future outlook completely as the cost of borrowing the money has been fixed at a low interest rate and we are financially much better off and able to do things we could not previously afford.
Evidence can be seen with many flat roofed council properties having pitched roofs fitted.
The one thing that I do agree on is that we need more affordable accommodation, and both councils and HAs are not for profit organisations so the net rents received are ploughed back in to investing in improvements for tenants, maintenance and new housing.
I AM delighted to see the excellent work reported in the Journal that Salisbury's MP John Glen is doing in Parliament and Westminster around increasing the provision of housing.
Locally, Salisbury councillor Richard Clewer is setting the pace too, drawing up exciting plans to deliver more affordable homes in Wiltshire.
The trouble is that their detractors, such as the Labour councillor Ian Tomes, are quite wrong in saying that, "new housing has to be proper council housing", in that we need a good mix of affordable and also market priced houses.
The days of Marxist state control in housing are thankfully gone; never again will Labour councillors dictate to the community what housing estates will be built and where, even stipulating the colour of residents’ front doors.
Progressive councils such as Wiltshire must certainly play their part but there is a role for housing associations, private developers, community and self-build projects and others.
We need the right developments in the right place, built at the right time.
It isn't, and shouldn't be, a matter of narrow political ideology.
It is sometimes said (with a grain of truth) that Salisbury suffers from "London house prices and West Country wages", which is why efforts to increase jobs and investment, boosting wages in our city are to be applauded.
It is sad that Cllr Tomes appears not to share this approach; he voted against the plans to refurbish our fantastic Market Place to give just one example. It is to John and Richard's enormous credit that they are playing their part in delivering the Government's long term economic plan here on the ground in Salisbury, in spite of unthinking Labour opposition and intransigence.
Councillor for St Paul's Ward
Salisbury City Council