Stop Letting Private Developers Off the Hook

A concerning precedent has been set in recent months by Havering Council’s Planning Department, which arguably counteracts attempts to tackle the housing crisis for local people. In October the CPA studios development in Romford came to my attention, where IPE North Street Ltd proposed to pay £693,936 in lieu of delivering five social rent homes on the 66-unit site. On the face of it this money can be used to deliver those properties as part of another project, but the real issue here is it provides a ‘get out of jail free’ card for any developer looking to avoid delivering 35% affordable units, passing the buck onto the authority. This move will lead to both a decline in homes local people can afford and will undermine social cohesion by creating ‘exclusive’ estates.

Whilst I always champion council housing at traditional low rents, I also understand the need for mixed tenancies as well. The worrying trend in Havering is counter-productive to both and hands power to private developers. Housing developments, if properly planned, rarely lose money. Local authorities are therefore in a position of strength, as primary landowners, to ensure developers are building homes that residents can afford.

The reality is that most people on housing waiting lists simply cannot afford the standardised “affordable” option which comes in at 80% of market rents, and the new fad of shared-ownership as an “affordable” option leaves people, primarily young people, trapped.

Councils should correlate affordability to average local wage levels, ensuring that “affordable” means no more than a third of the average local income 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 developers’ notion of viability, designed to maximise their profits at the expense of the housing needs of local families. 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 in areas like Romford further away from the security of a home.

The Becontree Estate in Dagenham was built 100 years ago, it remains the most ambitious and largest council housing scheme in the United Kingdom. It was built on a 45-year return model, provided good quality family homes with supporting social infrastructure, and has paid for itself over and above. Whilst an early 20th Century renaissance isn’t the answer, we can learn a lot about sustainable place making from the Becontree Estate.

Stop letting private developers off the hook, start holding them to account. Romford deserves a better future and neither private nor so called “affordable” housing is the answer that young people, families, and all those in between desperately need.

Armed Forces Day – A Better Future for Service Personnel and Veterans

Our Armed Forces are essential to our national defence, resilience, and our global obligations. From operations abroad which keep us safe to supporting local communities throughout the pandemic, dedicated service personnel deserve our thanks.

This Saturday is Armed Forces Day, which is a great opportunity to show our appreciation and raise awareness of the Armed Forces and our veterans. However, after over a decade of Conservative cuts to our military, simply raising a flag just isn’t good enough.

Since 2010, the Conservatives have cut the Army to its smallest size in 300 years. The Government has cut the full-time strength of our Armed Forces by over 40,000 servicemen and women. One in five of our ships have been removed from the Royal Navy’s surface fleet, and more than 200 aircraft have been taken out of active RAF service since 2017.

The Conservatives have successfully peddled the myth that they are the party of the Forces, but their actions tell a different story. They are responsible for systematically dismantling our military and only the Labour Party has a plan to support both serving personnel and our veterans. There are around 7,000 veterans living in Barking and Dagenham, and 9,000 in Havering – the sixth highest veteran population in London.

In Dagenham, where we have a Labour MP and a Labour council, veterans get support with housing, local business are signed up to a commercial charter which guarantees an interview for unemployed veterans, they get free access to leisure facilities, and much more to help with the transition back into civilian life.

In Havering, where we have a history of Tory control (recently taken by Independents), with two Conservative MPs, veterans get a very different experience. The council refers them to external organisations for support and has failed to renew its 2012 commitment to the Armed Forces Covenant – a social pact that Labour in Parliament are pressing to be enshrined into law.

Over the past 12 months Labour has been calling on Ministers to halt their proposals to cut yet another 10,000 troops from the army. In 2021 Labour MPs mounted an ongoing campaign to amend the Armed Forces Bill, promoting a new duty of care to allow personnel to receive better legal, welfare, employment, and housing support.

We have a proud service history across Dagenham and Rainham, and as we thank the Armed Forces community this weekend, we must also look to our neighbours in Romford and Hornchurch & Upminster.

Active servicemen and women, their families, and our veterans desperately need Labour MPs who will fight for them and deliver a better future in Havering.