At a time when housing in our city is under impossible strain, you would think that the government would respond favourably to bold suggestions for building new homes.
The green group of councillors put forward a proposal to council in October that set out ways we could create truly affordable housing in Brighton and Hove. Despite growing housing waiting lists, and limited stock, a borrowing cap prevents us from accessing funds to build much needed social housing. Accordingly, we asked for an end to this cap in our housing revenue account to invest in new homes.
This cap strangles us as a council. Lifting the cap, according to the Local Government Association could allow councils across the country to access more than £7 billion to build over 60,000 homes.
Sadly the Minister for Housing, Gavin Barwell MP, has come back to us dismissing this suggestion. In many ways, this is no surprise – social housing and council housing has been under attack for years; from right to buy, to the bedroom tax and privatisation of housing stock. Successive Conservative and Labour governments have presided over the depletion in council house stock to the point where between 2012 and 2016 while 41,000 council homes were sold only 5,000 were built.
The government’s argument? “The caps on local authority HRA borrowing are in place to support government’s priority of deficit reduction.” So as well as devastating cuts to our budget, the pursuit of austerity will harm our ability to build new homes too. Government ministers ought to come and talk to the 88,000 residents in our city who cannot afford to rent or buy without needing help or spending a disproportionate amount of their income on housing.
The Conservative government might believe that our priority should be the ideological pursuit of cuts while our people find themselves high and dry with nowhere they can afford to live. I did not get elected to fulfil austerity ‘priorities’ when they are at the expense of our residents. Our priority will be to pursue bold solutions to the many problems Mr Barwell’s government has given us.
Phelim MacCafferty is the Convener of the Brighton and Hove Green Group