Time for the Council to address affordable housing shortage and climate threat

At the Council’s budget-setting meeting on 13 February 2020, I called on the Council to set targets for new genuinely affordable homes for rent, to provide stronger support across all our communities to address the impacts of austerity, and to commit to real urgency in addressing climate change.

This is the speech I made:

A year ago we raised a motion for this Council to take action on climate change and followed this with a call for more urgency in September.

And previously we have challenged the Council to re-engage with its potential to lead on climate change and sustainability locally, to bring empty homes into use, to provide the genuinely affordable homes needed locally. Finally, it feels that now the Council has started to move forward on these issues.

But we need a clear plan saying how much money will be spent, and when.  The budget has 29 new staff posts but no Zero Carbon Project Manager or environmental initiative leads. We need expertise for example in how to retrofit insulation in housing stock – something that is not yet part of the Council’s new joint venture with Raven Housing.

Instead the budget simply proposes a reserve for climate change going forward – with no clear commitment about what will be implemented next year.

Contrast this with the Council’s recent decision to proceed with the Horley Business Park real estate – a development predicated on a Gatwick Airport economy, built on greenfield land. Meanwhile Gatwick Airport plans to grow by 15 million passengers a year.

And with Reigate & Banstead’s failure to comment when Surrey County Council asked for its views on the now-permitted plan for 20 years of oil production from four new oil wells at Horse Hill – no comment.  We had repeatedly asked the Borough Council to engage with this damaging plan.

We welcome the big news in this budget with its commitment to allocate the ‘new homes bonus’ money we have received from the government to providing affordable housing, as other councils have done.

But how will the 10 million pounds a year to deliver the housing strategy be spent? The housing strategy and new joint venture with Raven Housing are a step forward but don’t provide details – will we prioritise investment in schemes that make money for the Council or will we first provide the genuinely affordable rented homes that are needed. We need a stronger affordable homes target that we can monitor success against.

I would like to thank the Council in matching other Surrey Boroughs and Districts in making care leavers exempt from Council Tax. Why not go one step further and provide free access to our leisure and cultural facilities for children fostered and in care? Waverley has pledged free swimming for children in care – why don’t we do the same here too?

Finally, with the impacts of austerity biting, including with the onset of Universal Credit, next year’s budget must better support those most in need, including through the voluntary and faith sector.

We need this budget to have real targets for new genuinely affordable homes for rent, provide stronger support across all our communities to address the impacts of austerity, and commit to real urgency in our awaited action plan on climate change, which must shift the Council from giving tacit support to airport growth and oil drilling to leading investment in renewable energy and energy efficient retrofit of existing buildings.

I welcome the Leader’s encouraging words but challenge the Council to back up words with action to direct sufficient monies and new staff posts to deliver real urgency and action, in the coming year.

 

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