Thursday, 6 September 2012

Working together to solve the housing crisis

We have a housing crisis in Cornwall. This is a fact that cannot be said too loudly, or stated too often. The vast majority of those looking for a decent home are hard working local people, priced out of the open market not through any fault of their own, but by house prices that are now thirteen times the average annual wage in Cornwall.

What can we do to tackle this? There isn’t one simple answer. We need to make sure that as many as possible of Cornwall’s nine thousand plus empty homes are brought back into use and build more genuinely affordable homes to rent or buy. In order for this to happen two things need to be in place, consent from local communities and support from government.

There is a tendency amongst some to label people opposed to new local housing as ‘nimbys’. This is wrong, here in Cornwall we are blessed with a magnificent natural environment; concerns that this precious natural resource could be lost forever under concrete should be listened to.

 However alongside our environment, we are fortunate in Cornwall to possess another key asset- a vibrant sense of community. I believe that if local people can be assured that a development will be to the benefit of their community and that they will have influence over the location and character of it, new housing will be supported.

The advent of neighbourhood planning is an excellent way in which residents can constructively engage with local government about developing their communities for years to come, ensuring that their views on what their village or town needs directs any future development.

No longer do councils have to build a set number of houses decided in Whitehall, instead the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework sets councils free to draw up their own plans,  encouraging them to work with local communities to draw up a ‘collective vision and a set of agreed priorities for the sustainable development of the area’.

It is only by working together in this way that we can utilise the support for delivering genuinely affordable and decent homes now on offer from the Coalition Government’s policies. That support is considerable, ranging from the New Homes Bonus, which financially rewards Council’s for building more affordable housing, to new community building powers , to the revitalised right to buy scheme. This scheme will see the money raised from people buying their council houses used to build like for like replacement housing. Concerns have been raised about how the scheme will work in Cornish villages with particularly high property prices, months ago I put these concerns to the Housing Minister and have been assured that Cornwall Council can now apply for extra exemptions from the scheme.

At the heart of all the housing initiatives now on offer is the principle of a consensual, community-led focus on delivering genuinely affordable homes for local people. I will continue to press for Cornwall Council to work together with each community to tackle this great Cornish challenge.

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