100 Years of Council Housing – Let’s Celebrate by Building Some

This year marked 100 years since the Addison Act – legislation that paved the way for councils to build social housing. What better way to celebrate and honour this ground-breaking Act than to get councils building again? There are somewhere in the region of 11,000 local authorities in the United Kingdom, if all of them pledged to build just 20 homes on secure fixed tenancies, at traditional social rents that is nearly a quarter of a million truly affordable homes.

Whilst I champion council housing, I also understand the need for mixed tenancies as well, I myself benefited from a 65% market rent ‘working persons’ option which lifted me out of homelessness in 2015. However, the majority of people on housing waiting lists cannot afford the standardised ‘affordable’ option which comes in at 80% of market rents.

The Mayor of London has gone some way to address this with the ‘London Living Rent’ and ‘London Affordable Rent’ – which is close to traditional social rents, but I think local authorities can go one better.

Councils should correlate affordability to average local wage levels, ensuring that ‘affordable’ means no more than a third of the average local wage on a borough by borough basis.

We’ll be told that this isn’t viable. However, the truth of the matter is that if the political will is there it can be done. It’s time to challenge the notion of ‘viability’. Basing a development on a 15-35 year return hikes the rents up and is contrary to the interests of millions across the country, pushing many further away from the security of a home.

The political system is so caught up in electoral cycles that for the most part we have stopped signing off on legacy projects. I expect a new home to be standing and habitable for generations. If councils, developers and ALMOs base their models on a 45-65 year return, we can start to make real meaningful inroads that provide housing at lower, traditional rent levels.

I’m running to be Labour’s GLA candidate for Havering and Redbridge and if I am selected housing will play a large role in my campaign. I’ll fight to deliver more council housing but make sure that we aren’t overdeveloping to the detriment of existing communities. That means sustainable place making and bringing the community with us on all decisions.

I’ll advocate like for like on all regeneration projects to ensure that families and community networks are preserved, and people aren’t moved on against their wishes. Regeneration shouldn’t be a code-word for social cleansing.

I’m also in full support of the Mayor of London’s call for rent controls. If I make it to City Hall, I’ll work with the Mayor and local authorities to extend licensing schemes, delivering more rights for renters.

There is much more to say but for now I will end where I began.

This year marked 100 years since the Addison Act – legislation that paved the way for councils to build social housing. What better way to celebrate and honour this ground-breaking Act than to get councils building again?

Halt Airport Expansion and Invest in a Green Transformation

Firstly, it is important to recognise that supporting the environment doesn’t mean neglecting the economy. However, after declaring an environmental and climate emergency it would be hypocritical to support airport expansion and the increased emissions that come with it. That is why I recently announced my opposition to the London City Airport master plan.

As a key stakeholder in the local air quality action plan, and having organised a campaign against waste incineration which would increase emissions across the south of Havering, I know all too well about the damaging impact poor air has on human health and biodiversity.

A report from the British Lung Foundation earlier this year highlighted that Havering has the fourth highest rate of lung disease related deaths per annum in London, and that Redbridge has the fourteenth highest. The British Heart Foundation recently reported that our area broke World Health Organisation limits for particulate matter and emissions. It is easy to link these two reports.

The flight path of City Airport runs directly over the south of the constituency and across areas like Newham, Tower Hamlets and Barking and Dagenham – I’ve seen the emission dispersal maps and with a prevailing easterly wind, Havering and Redbridge are set to take an environmental hit if these plans are agreed.

Opposing airport expansion doesn’t mean I want to see the country ground to a halt. There are proactive measures we can take that support the environment and contribute to a green and prosperous economy. Here are just a couple;

Renewable energy

At present Havering and Redbridge produces 47 megawatts of renewable energy. I want to see this hit 95 megawatts via local energy providers investing in solar, wind and sea that can collectively break the hold of large fossil fuel providers.

This year in Barking and Dagenham, we launched our own energy provider; Beam Energy which uses 100% renewables – I am led to believe that Redbridge are going to sign up to the company, increasing bargaining power and bringing down costs for residents. Investing in green energy also supports the creation of more skilled jobs in the power industry.

Housing and construction

Across Havering and Redbridge only 32.5% of the housing stock is insulated to a high standard. For best practice on energy efficiency we need look no further than the award-winning work of Norwich Council and the Goldsmith Street Estate. Built to Passivhaus energy efficiency standards it promises a 70% reduction in fuel bills. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/oct/13/observer-view-on-stirling-prize-winning-goldsmith-street

I want to see councils delivering similar schemes to Norwich, but I want us to go further; per tonne cement and steel release an average 1000kg and 1800kg of carbon into the atmosphere. It’s time to move away from environmentally damaging forms of construction.

After listening to Southwark Councillor Leo Pollack at Labour Conference this year I am convinced that we can take a bolder approach. I would like to see council owned construction companies and a switch to Cross Laminated Timber as an alternative to cement and steel – call me a dreamer but I’d also like to see the green belt reforested and effectively managed, creating a sustainable source of CLT building materials and thousands of jobs across all of the outer boroughs.

The White Horse Regeneration

On Monday 16 September proposals to restore the White Horse Pub in Chadwell Heath were approved at Planning Committee by Barking and Dagenham Council. The plans also included using the existing car park to provide three and four storey flats.

Councillor Andrew Achilleos who sits on the Planning Committee commented: “After reading the report, listening to the testimonies of residents at the meeting and not receiving satisfactory responses to my concerns I could not support the application.”

The concerns raised by Councillor Achilleos centred on infrastructure, housing mix and parking.

Worries were raised about the increased pressure on the local GP. There are two operating GPs at the Ashton Gardens site and at present one of them has been graded as ‘requires improvement’ – there is a concern that care standards will continue to fall with more demand.

Regarding the housing mix, a key consideration in planning, Cllr Achilleos explained: “I wasn’t satisfied with the commitment to provide affordable housing. The majority of the development is private, and what ‘affordable’ housing there is will not be affordable for many residents based on local wages and their relation to market values.”

Concerns were also discussed around parking. The applicant explained that the properties would be marketed as being ‘car free’ but with two and three bed flats the assumption is that families would be moving in – with cars. The surrounding area has just been approved for a Controlled Parking Zone which new residents would not have access to.

Despite his concerns Councillor Achilleos added: “I am pleased about the commitment to renovate and reopen the White Horse Pub, as Barking and Dagenham has the fewest number of pubs in London. The White Horse used to be a real anchor in the local community. I remember the late Cllr John White holding his surgeries there and despite not being happy with the wider development it will be good to restore the community that surrounded the pub.”

Phasing Out Single Use Plastics in LBBD

In July Councillor Andrew Achilleos proposed at Barking and Dagenham Council full Assembly to phase out single use plastics in the borough.

The motion was passed unanimously and can be read in full by clicking HERE

Cllr Achilleos said: “I take a keen interest in the local environment and am always looking at ways we can create better green infrastructure and improve our open spaces. I am proud of this motion and feel that phasing out single use plastics and replacing them with more responsible alternatives is a ground-breaking step. As a council if we lead on environmental sustainability today we can deliver a greener tomorrow for Barking and Dagenham, paving the way for other local authorities to do the same.”

‘The Lost Words’ Project Launch

Thursday 7 March marked World Book Day 2019. This year in Barking and Dagenham the day marked the launch of a project by local Councillor Andrew Achilleos and Trees for Cities, a project which has now fully funded a book called ‘The Lost Words’ by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris along with teaching resources for every primary and SEND school in the borough.

Beam County Primary School in Dagenham is the first school in London to get the book as part of the project, and throughout the year Trees for Cities will be delivering the book across the city.

Local Member of Parliament Jon Cruddas and Barking and Dagenham’s Cabinet Member for Educational Attainment and School Improvement Evelyn Carpenter both attended the event alongside David Elliot the CEO of Trees for Cities and Cllr Andrew Achilleos.

Jon Cruddas commented: “this launch is the start of something very special in our schools, I’ve had a chance to look at ‘The Lost Words’ since the project started and it has my full backing. Not only does the book highlight the natural world, it will also broaden young people’s vocabulary and creativity with its excellent use of language and art.”

The Trees for Cities team held small workshops based on the acrostic poems found in the book, all the Year 4 pupils took part in a quiz where they had to identify birds from pictures, and the winning child received a personal copy of the book.

Jon Cruddas MP, David Elliot and Cllr Achilleos all read out some of the children’s favourite poems from the book during the final presentation event.

In the coming weeks, Cllr Achilleos will be working with Trees for Cities to deliver the book and accompanying teaching resource to every primary and SEND school in the borough.

Cllr Achilleos said: “the event was a resounding success. I’ve got no doubt that the book and resources will complement the astounding work teachers at Beam and across the borough are already doing to teach our children about the environment. I’m a passionate about establishing the natural world back into the hearts and minds of the next generation in Barking and Dagenham. This project is the first step.”

Barking and Dagenham Council Sign Mental Health Charter

On Wednesday 30th January Barking and Dagenham Council committed to a Charter for Mental Health. The Charter was drafted and developed by Councillor Andrew Achilleos to highlight the range of services and support in the borough. It was also a commitment to lead by example recognising mental health issues in the workplace and breaking down stigma and discrimination.

This follows the launch of the Charter on World Mental Health Day in October last year. The Charter will receive further support when partner organisations such as the NHS, NELFT, MIND, Lifeline and Healthwatch meet in February to commit to it.

The Charter supports the Thrive LDN six aspirations, which address support for Londoners to maintain good mental health, as well as developing a programme to stamp out mental health stigma and discrimination. It also promotes work with schools and youth organisations to get young people involved, using digital technology to boost Londoners’ access to mental health support and services.

The Charter places an emphasis on working with employers to improve mental health in the work place.

Councillor Achilleos said: “this charter marks a really important milestone. One in four of us will face a mental health problem in our lifetime and we need to break down the taboo that prevents us from talking about it. The commitment from the council, which is one of the largest local employers sends a supportive message to residents who may be struggling with issues in the workplace.”