Nick Grant: we must act on housing

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Labour Parliamentary candidate Nick Grant has warned that action must be taken to prevent Twickenham from becoming a luxury dormitory by the Thames in a letter to the Richmond & Twickenham Times.

Dear Sir,

One of the benefits of door-to-door canvassing is the opportunity to hear people’s real experience of important policies, far removed from the one sided statements of central and local government. Housing is one such issue and the story I hear is one of failure in London.

One resident I met told me that having lived happily in Twickenham for over 30 years they were now starting to despair, not of their future, but of their children’s. They live in a house that on today’s market values they could not now dream of purchasing were they entering the market. For their children, there is nowhere in Twickenham that they can afford to buy. They also wondered who was building the social housing for the less well off. They, like the rest of us, can see luxury premises sprouting up but by definition these can’t possibly be in the sights of the younger residents of the borough. This concern would extend to affordable housing as well. The kind of homes that nurses, teachers and police officers need to be close to the community they serve.

Liberalisation of the planning regime has not helped. Research shows that the permitted development rule change that allows commercial premises to convert simply into residential use is not in fact creating the homes London needs. Too often these applications are being used to create bargaining power for the developer so that, when their full planning application is brought, they can argue down the percentage of affordable housing they are required to provide.

And the alternative to house purchase, the rental market, is no more promising. Nine million people now rent privately, including over 1.3 million families with children. Almost half of those who rent are over 35 – many of them want the same security and stability they would have if they owned their own home. But the rules on private renting have not caught up with the way people live now. Too many people are struggling with the rising cost of renting and with the insecurity and uncertainty built into the rental market. As well as rising rents – up on average by £1,020 a year since 2010 – letting agents' fees of up to £500 every time someone moves house have added to the growing cost of renting. And under the current system, most renters can only get short-term tenancies of six to 12 months which don't work for families looking to settle down. On top of that, they are faced with the prospect that their rent could jump unpredictably from one year to the next – half of all families who rent say that they are worried about unaffordable rent increases.

The underlying truth is that the government has built far too few houses: said to be the lowest level since the 1920s. All other effects - the house price bubble, the rise of unscrupulous landlords and letting agents, the fragmenting of established communities – stem from this one huge failure. Of course, I believe that Labour has a sound plan to address these problems.

But for me, the wider point to debate is what kind of Twickenham do we want. Currently it is, like London generally, being hollowed out; increasingly the preserve of the wealthy. The process is not inevitable: we don’t have to accept the creation of a luxury dormitory by the Thames.

Nick Grant
Labour Party Parliamentary Candidate for Twickenham

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