Green councillor calls for more affordable housing

On 9 February, Councillor Steve McKenna moved a Motion calling on Reigate & Banstead Borough Council to agree that publicly-owned sites should deliver higher levels of affordable housing than is required for the Borough as a whole.

The Motion also asked the Council’s new Property Company to invest in affordable housing.

See the Motion on the Council Agenda

As is the Council’s usual way, the Motion was referred to the Executive with no debate.

Speaking in support of his Motion, Steve made the following speech:

We all know the lack of affordable housing in this country is now very serious. The average house prices are 8 times average earnings – but in our area the situation is far worse. The map for our area in the new Housing White Paper shows it’s around 14 times earnings, the biggest affordability gap in the country and almost twice the national average.

The effects are damaging our community in all sorts of ways. Young people cannot access decent housing, key workers have to commute longer distances and families have to squeeze into smaller sized units. At the same time, those more affordable areas come under greater pressure so schools and other services are overloaded.

It’s a very good thing that this Council has a policy of 30% affordable housing and we congratulate the Council on delivering affordable housing schemes such as Court Lodge in Horley.

However the reality is that whilst the scale of the challenge is growing, we are not managing to deliver the affordable housing locally on major projects in line with our own housing policy.

The current situation is that developers, including our own Council, are using the viability test of the National Planning Policy Framework and a methodology for the calculation of profit to justify not meeting our affordable housing policy requirements. The adverse consequences of this are compounded locally as we are under the greatest pressure in terms of unaffordability of housing.

Recent planning decisions, including on the publicly-owned Marketfield Way site in Redhill, have not guaranteed that affordable housing will be provided. In this case the Council’s legal team said the Planning Committee, on which I sit, should consider this issue in the same way as any private developer.

In other words the current approach effectively puts developer profit first with affordable housing as optional. A more robust approach is necessary to meet the shortfall and we want even higher levels of affordable housing (at least 30%) to be built on all publicly-led schemes.

The new White Paper says the current housing system is broken. Going forward, this Council has an opportunity to take a lead to provide truly affordable housing locally. We, the Council, should show developers that what is required here can be delivered and we can set the benchmark for the sort of housing schemes and real affordability that is needed for our Borough. This should apply to all schemes delivered by the Council including those through our new Local Authority Property Company.

The new White Paper also helpfully suggests local authorities may dispose of publicly-owned sites at less than market value if this helps enable regeneration including for affordable homes.

All of this also sits alongside our commitment to protect our Green Belt. This doesn’t require us to build even more houses, just to make sure the housing we do provide is truly affordable, so meeting the real affordable housing need of our residents.

In conclusion, we want to see the full policy requirement for affordable housing provided, as a minimum, on publicly-led schemes including those of our own Council Property Company.

I look forward to this being given full consideration by the Council, and to hear the views of other Councillors here today.



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Greens slam Surrey Conservatives’ budget cuts and secrecy

Commenting on the Conservative budget that was passed by Surrey County Council today, Cllr Jonathan Essex, Green County Councillor for Redhill East, said:

“Today’s budget debate was a sham, with the Conservatives choosing to suddenly drop their proposal for an unaffordable and unfair council tax rise of 15%. But no new money was announced, so perhaps they are just crossing their fingers and hoping that their Conservative colleagues in government will recommit to properly funding councils in the next few weeks. In the mean time, Conservatives have given themselves permission to make up to £123 million of cuts to council services.

“Tory councillors have failed to share their plans for £93 million secret cuts. Failing to share any details as to which services will be affected is an appalling dereliction of their duty to act on behalf of the residents who elected us. Plus this budget still has a £30 million black hole – still completely undefined, which needs to be filled.

“The Conservative Government needs to come forward with additional money to properly fund vital council services across the country, which will also mean that Surrey’s finances are sustainable in the long-term. We can then shift from an agenda of austerity and secret council cuts to local government being freed to focus instead on improving quality of life for all of our residents.”

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Surrey County Council plans 15% council tax hike

Surrey County Council wants to raise its Council Tax by 15% in the next financial year. The proposal will be tabled at the annual budget-setting meeting on 7 February.

Any Council Tax increase of more than 2% must be put to residents to vote. So if this is agreed, a referendum will take place on 4 May, alongside the local elections.

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Tackling homelessness locally – our response

Reigate and Banstead Borough Council recently consulted on its proposed new Homelessness Strategy.

The Council’s review highlights two underlying problems that are making homelessness worse in Reigate and Banstead:

  • increased termination of private rented tenancies, and
  • rising rent prices and a persistent lack of affordable homes.

We responded, welcoming the measures set out in their proposed strategy, including the reduced use of bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation.

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The Autumn Statement: my response

I had hopes for the Autumn Statement. The Local Government Association and Surrey County Council had talked up the massive funding gap to local councils and social care, which is making 4% a year council tax rise the new normal. And the UK government had, just a week ago ratified the Paris Climate Change Agreement. I heard the words ‘fiscal reset’ and ‘new chancellor’ and hoped this might indicate a change of direction in response to the concerns raised by Councils.

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Let’s buy the Belfry: a chance to change Redhill for the better

Redhill’s Belfry Shopping Centre is up for sale. I wrote to the Council Leader, Cllr Vic Broad, proposing that the Council should buy it. I’d be interested to hear residents’ views on this – please get in touch and let me know what you think.

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Surrey County Council unanimously supports Green Motion on restoration of mining sites

Surrey County Councillors voted unanimously to support a motion calling for high standards of restoration of mineral sites across the county.

The motion was tabled by Green County Councillor Jonathan Essex, who represents Redhill East.

In introducing the motion, Cllr Essex said,

“Surrey has lots of quarries, active and historic.

“National planning policy requires quarrying to be considered as a temporary activity, and sites to be restored afterwards to what they were before.

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Surrey Greens call for £177m pension investments to be moved from fossil fuels

Green Party Councillor Jonathan Essex has called upon Surrey County Council’s Pension Fund to change the way it does its business.

Cllr Essex, who attended the latest meeting of the Fund this week, highlighted the financial case for considering a more sustainable investment strategy

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Surrey Pension Fund urged to divest from fossil fuels

On Friday 23 September, Green Cllr Jonathan Essex is raising questions at a meeting of the Surrey Pension Fund Committee about their continued investment in climate-wrecking fossil fuels [1]. Surrey pension fund members and Divest Surrey campaigners will be there to show support for calls to divest from fossil fuels.

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Why we’re standing up for the Green Belt

Reigate & Banstead Borough Council is consulting on new development management policies that include potentially allowing up to 1,400 new homes to be built in the Green Belt.

You can view the Council’s proposals and submit your comments online – or visit an exhibition to see the plans and meet planning officers. Details of both are on this page

East Surrey Green Party is holding a public meeting to discuss the proposals. All are welcome.

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