“Homes have to be built for people”

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I have lived in the village of Lakenheath for most of my life and as I am now 52, no that can’t be right 2017 minus 1965 is…oh I am.  I have seen many of the fields I played in as a child built on, some by my family. I recall complaining bitterly when the company my father worked for brought a field where me and my friends used to play in and on the roof of the two barns on it. He said “homes have to be built for people”, if only we accepted this theory of life today, and “I told you to stop running along the roof of the barn one of you will get killed” so he brought the field and pulled down the barns – we did not speak for days!  Thinking about it, it was extremely dangerous as they were quite high.

Lots of new homes are proposed for our village over the next 10-year period and 250 to 300 of those will be given to Affordable Housing Providers who will rent them not sell them at below market rents to our young people and families not able to afford the rocketing cost of homes.  I have watched our village grow over 50 years but have despaired that in the past 18 years there has not be one major new estate built since an estate called Biscoe Way and hardly any socially rented homes built.  And in my time as a Councillor countless young people have complained to me they can’t afford to rent a home here and have moved away against their wishes or been forced to live at home with their parents for years after they want to leave home.  Shockingly the average age of the first-time buyer in this country and in my lifetime, has risen from 21 to 37.

Last week I had the chance to look at the Housing White Paper with the Prime Minster Theresa May and whilst a quick chat as she is an extremely busy person I thanked her for what she is doing and how her government is setting about tackling some of the biggest problems our country faces and one of those is housing.

There are those that simply don’t want new housing near them, they cite traffic congestion, they talk about the difficulty of getting a Doctor’s appointment and that housing changes a place.  All of these are important and we must work hard to address the infrastructure needs of our communities.  In my home village, I have secured the funding to build a much need second Primary school some £6M but we await the outcome of planning decisions to decide where it will be built.  We work hard to ensure development brings road improvement and engage with the NHS to improve primary care provision, that’s more Doctors to you and me.

The planning process is complex and the local Councils are blamed for its complexity yet it is laid down by government statue and it would be sheer folly for any Council not to follow it to the letter of the law, as they would lose Appeal after Appeal in the courts. It’s a long running process where numbers and allocation of numbers of homes is one part of the process that rarely, despite efforts by councils, engages many residents, but once the sites are proposed and applications start coming in people react.  The challenge for councils and Councillors is to listen to everyone from the vocal and angry about new homes being built in ‘their’ community to those residents struggling to afford a private rent or get on the property ladder or worse still have been made homeless for various reasons and are trying to get their lives back together in a bed sit accommodation. Across this country, here in Suffolk and in the communities I represent, far too many people are struggling to get a decent home and we have to address this.

This country has to build more homes, this county has to build more homes, this District has to build more homes, my Division has to built more homes and so does my home village of Lakenheath, it simply is not a solution to these serious problems to then say ‘ah yes but obviously not here’.  Do new homes bring challenges, of course they do, but what my dear old father said to me 45 years ago still rings true “homes have to be built for people.”

Please take my survey www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/RowHeath

 

The battle for Row Heath

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Over the past 11 year years I have had the honour of representing my community on Suffolk County Council and as elections approach I start my campaign full of beans.  After 11 years on a council it might seem that you might have done everything but far from it, Local Government is changing and resident’s expectation of the services they want and need is also changing. On the one hand, there is considerable less money in Local Government that there used to be, in the past 7 years Suffolk County Council has saved over £200M yet delivers more services that ever before. We done this by being business like in our approach to the way the council runs.

People want faster better services such as road repairs and want to know that Children are protected, we have prioritised Children Services and protected the budgets with which hard working teams go about their business, and this is recognised by OFSTED who rate our Children services as good.  For older residents who can’t afford their own care, we make sure they are looked after with love and dignity, and quite right to, we do this by making sure we have a robust relationship with providers of services, holding them to account, ever mindful we are the holders of the public purse.

Locally, housing for our younger people so they can start to get on the housing ladder is vital, as is new schools and school places. As the housing arrives we want better facilities in our communities and we also want to know that if we reach a stage in life that we can’t use a car that our lovely rural villages do not become traps.  On all these fronts, I try to be a strong voice for Row Heath advocating locally, in Ipswich and nationally for our area. Today for instances I am in Cambridge meeting senior officials about the future of RAF Mildenhall a set of decisions that will affect the economic prospect of Row Heath for years to come.

We have a number of plans we will be putting forwards in our manifesto, all careful costed out.  Labour Finance Spokesperson on the county council Len Jacklyn is on record as saying ‘It is predicted that finances should improve over the next four years and spending now on statutory costs will begin to pay off in 2020’. A truly scary comment as they have been to all the same conferences I have been and at not one of them did it predicted that the finances will improve much.  Their Financially Dangerous Manifesto makes promises they could not hope or maybe even be allowed to fulfil or maybe Labour have some Corbinista moneytree nightmare where he takes power and removes the Council Tax cap and they can go back to the good of days of treating your hard-earned money as their personal piggy bank.  It’s well worth having a look at their bizarrely already published Manifesto it is truly Financially Dangerous.

So, what a contrast we have spent the past year working on our manifesto, carefully costing it every step of the way. And I can’t wait to get it launched and be out their explaining to residents how we are going to take Suffolk forward.

In the meantime, as I am out and about I am asking residents to fill in my survey or do it on line.  The one for my Division Row Heath is http://www.surveymonkey.com/r/RowHeath please do click through and take the survey, as I am very keen to hear your views.

 

End of Year 2016

2016 New YearSo, as 2016 draws to a close, it’s a bizzare year to sum up.

On the personal front, it’s been a terrible one as we lost Dad in far too sudden circumstances.  We all miss him a lot.  It a strange thing to say when you ‘painted’ as this old hard-nosed individual but it’s a moment in life when both your parents have gone, of course we all must go through it, but it still a sobering moment for each of us.  Over Christmas, Lisa and I visited an Aunt of hers who is learning to live with Dementia, a dear lady I have known for 19 years who is struggling and in contrast before we left we travelled further north to visit my Auntie who is older but as sharp as a pin and in top form!  Old age is a strange journey and there is no play-book but what I do know is that this country has to wake up to the needs of an ageing population or we will sleep walk into an unpleasant society where old age is not celebrated but seen as a burden.  There are many things on the horizon but how we change our health and social care system and start building homes that address the needs of older people is right up there.

The highlight of the year for me as a Councillor, was being introduced to Her Majesty the Queen at the Home of Horse-Racing Museum official opening.  As we awaited her arrival I chatted with David Burnip the former CE of FHDC and asked him if he remembered my stance on the Palace House purchase and rescue, by the council, all those years ago.  He did, I was against it!  And we reminisced about the then District Council Leader Geoffrey Jaggard and his vision.  The day was all about the Racing Community and how Newmarket can capitalise more on being the world headquarters of Racing but without the decision taken by these two chaps all those year ago to rescue a tumbled down spooky old house and semi delicate yard, none of it would have been possible.  If you ever find yourself in Newmarket do go along as it’s a world class museum and the way it helps you understand of the science of Horse-racing is impressive. Not to mention the heritage and art which is just stunning.

On the national and international political front, it’s been a staggering year where the rule book has been ripped up.  You can see that Brexit is going to be the most complex, time consuming thing for our Government to get right and make sure our economy does not suffer more that it has too.  I suspect the history books will have a somewhat mixed view on David Cameron’s time as Prime Minister but I briefly met him at Felixstowe Docks 100 days from the Referendum and he spoke with passion and conviction that strangely was not the hallmark of the remain campaign which seemed to me to fail to make the points about access to the single market being vital to our economy and that the vast majority of those working in Britain from Europe where either here ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet’ style contributing to our industry or here raising their families and paying their taxes, i.e. contributing not taking British jobs.  The government and our new Prime Minister must find a way to get the best possible exit we can and that won’t be easy.

Internationally we will shortly watch the inauguration of a new American President and I recall the hope and expectation that hung in the air at President Obamas’, I suspect the world will watch with different feelings at President Trumps’.

Here in Suffolk I have had the pleasure to lead the County Council and the frustration of Devolution.  I say pleasure to lead the County Council because it is.  There is lots more to do and we are doing it but I am proud of the staff, the Cabinet and my group and how they have all risen to the challenge of significantly less Government funding and our demand that the Council lives within its means and maintains a sensible level of reserves.  As I look about the sector our cautious, prudent approach puts us in a place that is very different from some councils beyond Suffolk, there begins to be real concern that some councils may start to run out of money and fail to deliver front line services, I have often said that unlike the NHS, if councils run out of money the cheques don’t just carry on being honoured, staff will not get paid and services will fail, not here in Suffolk.  As a political party, we pledged and have delivered 7 years of 0% base Council Tax rises only putting up the Council tax to pay for the National Living Wage which everyone agrees is the right thing to do for the lowest paid workers in our society.  However I say a frustrating year in terms of Devolution because across Suffolk we can see how it can help us reshape Public Services and be a part of how we create a community that addresses the needs of our ageing population at the same time as investing in new infrastructure to accelerate growth and housing, which is vital for the quality of life we will want to see.  Yet at the end of the year Suffolk has no deal.  Cambridgeshire does but not Suffolk. The Public surveys, the business leaders and their respective trade bodies and all councils agree we want a Suffolk based Devolution deal, will we get one, it certainly won’t be for the want of trying and or effort.

Looking ahead… well that’s another blog!

If you have been kind enough to read this, may I take the opportunity to wish you and your family a very Happy, Healthy and Successful New Year.

Ipswich Vision / MIPIM Conference

2015_10_21 BEn Gummer David Elsemere & Deborah Cadman on stand at MIPIMLast week Thursday was the Ipswich Vision Conference, where myself amongst others set out our aims, objectives and aspirations to really put Ipswich back on the map.

In readiness for the Conference, myself, Deborah Cadman SCC’s Chief Executive and colleagues from Ipswich Borough Council and the New Anglia LEP have all been attending the industry’s leading property show – MIPIM, at London’s Olympia. Ben Gummer MP popped in to offer his support along with other MPs who came along to see what the show was about.  As well as spending time on the Ipswich Vision stand, myself and colleagues have been talking with developers and businesses to highlight the value of not only Ipswich but, of course, the wider county of Suffolk.  These conversations have been around seeking investment in and around Ipswich, as well as really raising awareness of the huge opportunities for both housing and employment growth, particularly around the exciting waterfront area.

We really do have so much to shout about – from the benefits of working on our beautiful rural county, to our close proximity to London and the industry leading science parks at neighbouring Cambridge, the county town of Ipswich is facing a particularly stage in its regeneration.  Not to mention the fact that Suffolk’s ambitious superfast broadband programme is enabling the perfect economic conditions for prospective new businesses to compete and thrive in the global market.

Setting out the Ipswich Vision, our stand at the conference featured a rolling video showing an animated fly-round of the waterfront, plus a wider selection of shots of the county town.  An interactive screen allowed users to really focus in closely on individual sites and companies already in situ.

The stand was certainly very well attended and I think it fair to say that we have had an exciting response so far.

I am really very excited to see how this progresses with the launch of the conference last Thursday and it’s fantastic to see such close collaboration amongst our partners as we all come together to promote our great County Town.

A unitary Ipswich is the wrong answer in an age of Devolution

Ipswich VisionAnother week and another step in the process of taking forward Suffolk’s case for Devolution.  But is a unitary Ipswich the right answer?

No, I do not believe that it is.  Of course, it is absolutely critical that Ipswich, Suffolk’s county town, is not left behind when we are looking at future development and investment.  This is precisely why Ipswich is very firmly included on the devolution bid currently being driven forward by Suffolk’s Public Sector Leaders.

Only through working collaboratively can we promote an exciting vision for Ipswich that will seek to include further investment and greater employment opportunities for the town.  Indeed we must build on the existing assets of the Waterfront area, the Innovation Centre at Adastral Park and, of course, Britain’s biggest container port at Felixstowe.

The Vision for Ipswich is extremely ambitious and impressive – our county town has so much going for it; good connectivity to the rest of the UK and its close proximity to London are just the tip of the iceberg. I firmly believe that for Ipswich to thrive and for Suffolk to stand the best possible chance of delivering devolution for our local communities, we must continue to work collaboratively with our partners across Suffolk and also with our colleagues in Norfolk.  This places us in a stronger position to present the best possible proposal to Government.  Together we bring a much more credible force to Government, with the collective geographic area and economic bedrock creating an entity on a par with the likes of city regions such as Liverpool and Sheffield.

The Housing Crisis and how we might start to solve it

Elphicke-ReportLast Wednesday week I was in the Grand Committee room of the House of Common for the launch of the long awaited Elphicke-House Report ‘From statutory provider to housing delivery enabler: Review into the local authority role in housing supply’.

It’s an important report in that it was commissioned by the Treasury to look at the issue of how we as a country can build more houses from a local government’s role prospective and by that I don’t mean the usual planning policy prospective. how we as a country can and need to build more houses. Danny Alexander MP, The Finance Minister of State and Brandon Lewis MP the Local Government Minister of State for planning and housing, spoke at the launch and this gives you some idea of how seriously it is taken.

I had a particular interest in this report as I was asked to be one of its ‘expert witnesses’ essentially because I have some 30 years knowledge of the Housebuilding, land and planning sector but can also blend this with knowledge of local government across County and District council responsibilities and my more detailed knowledge of Adult Social Care and housing for older people, something I have led on in Suffolk with the two conferences I arranged on Housing for an Ageing population.

The report can be downloaded from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/398829/150126_LA_Housing_Review_Report_FINAL.pdf and if you have an interest in local government and housing delivery this is a must read.

It’s not a report about the planning system nor about money, both Natalie and Keith were clear about that as they introduced it. As Keith put it it’s about how Councils should be Housing Delivery Enablers not just a sausage machine for developers to get planning permissions.

In her introduction Natalie posed a really great question to the bankers and investment fund managers in the room ‘How many meetings would you attend before you gave up and went to a different use class of investment’ as they found that sometimes, before a brick is laid up to 300 meetings will take place and this needs to change.

The report itself draws on the innovative approaches and case study examples, from the a very wide range 15% to 20% of the councils who are active in this space and following this report hopefully others taking a central role as Housing Delivery Enablers, working collaboratively with partners across all sectors to increase the building of new homes that can support strong and prosperous communities.

It’s also great news that government has welcomed the report, and accepted its core recommendation that councils should become Housing Delivery Enablers. By being proactive in identifying housing need and opportunity, working with partners, and actively using their assets and knowledge to unlock housing opportunities, councils can and frankly should be at the heart of delivering more homes and building strong communities.
Government’s response can be viewed here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/councils-can-enable-more-homes-to-be-built

An Affordable Home

Image_house_buildingLate in that day last Tuesday week I popped along to the Lakenheath Parish Council who were holding a public meeting or as it turned out, more a Parish Council meeting where the public were allowed to observe and make comment on the matters being discussion at the end of the meeting but with no response from the Parish Council, local democracy in action, quite bizarre to watch and listen to. The subject was the number of planning applications submitted in Lakenheath to take up the FHDC Adopted Core Strategy allocations for the village. Surprisingly only 21 residents out of population of about 4,000 turned up to what was a widely publicised meeting.

Beyond frustration at the lack of actual debate on the evening what came across was real concern about the facilities that need to follow from new homes being proposed for the village. For me over the course of the past 2 or 3 years this has been discussed at FHDC and over my time as a Councillor in Lakenheath itself I have heard from a number of people who want to have a home of their own in their village and thus would welcome the new affordable housing element development will bring so young people from the village will be able to get a roof over their head.

Lakenheath is not a particularly high priced property location but it’s a local market condition due to the USAF bases here that the lowest market rental price for homes is well above what it should be and many younger people have to move out of the area to be able to afford to rent their first home, so more affordable homes for local people will of course be very welcome. Whatever is decided about where new homes will be built as a Councillor I will be working with the many different organisations to make sure the village benefits and facilities grow to accommodate the new housing.

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