Denying the housing crisis in Swindon

Back in October David Renard, in his capacity as Environment spokesperson for the Local Government Association wrote that “There is a desperate need to build more social housing in this country…Now is the time to reverse the decline in council housing over the past few decades” by funding 100,000 social homes a year. “Councils stand ready to work with the Government to tackle our housing crisis”, he said.

With his LGA hat on David Renard recognises that we have a housing crisis. Yet when there was a resolution to Swindon Council proposing that it declare a housing emergency and call on the government to do what the LGA is asking it to do, the Conservative Group which he leads, played petty party politics. They proposed an ‘amendment’ to the resolution, which was not an amendment but a completely different resolution.

His group appears to have joined the Prime Minister in Peppa Pig World where everything is hunky dory and the future is bright. The amendment denied the housing crisis in Swindon and told a fairy story about how wonderful things are, and what a fantastic job his administration is doing.

Swindon’s housing crisis is reflected by

  • Our council housing waiting list having risen by 33% over the past year to more than 6,300 households.
  • The ratio of house prices to earnings for median new build homes in Swindon having risen to 10.73 times earnings and lower quartile homes 12.27 time earnings.
  • The price of median new build homes increased between September 2012 and September 2020 from £165,000 to £339,000. Even the cheapest lower quartile homes increased from £125,000 to £291,550.
  • Despite building some council housing Swindon has 200 less homes than in 2011, owing to the loss of homes to Right to Buy and the failure of the government to provide grant to build ‘social rent’ homes on a large scale.
  • House price inflation and the shortage of council homes mean that many people have no choice but to use the private rented sector with high rents, insecure tenancies and often poor living conditions.

House price inflation is the direct result of the government’s Help to Buy scheme and their refusal to fund the council house building which is necessary to “tackle our housing crisis”. I have previously written about the danger of Swindon becoming something of a dormitory town because more and more local people can’t afford the house prices. Interestingly, Cathy Martyn speaking against a housing scheme in Wroughton said:

“I’m concerned that the proposed sites will offer nothing back to Wroughton. Existing developments are being marketed on their commuting times to Bristol – that’s not building to support the local area.”

The same applies to Swindon overall. Most of the building is not “to support the local area.”

If David Renard was serious about the words he writes with his LGA hat on he wouldn’t be refusing to work together with the opposition to campaign for a change of direction by the national government. What Swindon council is doing locally is just making the housing crisis worse. The housing shortage will not be resolved by building homes that less and less people in the town can afford.

The private lobbying of the government by the LGA has failed. Swindon and other councils declaring a housing emergency could act as a springboard for campaigning nationally. It won’t be the end of the world to admit that the government’s housing policy is failing. But this seems to be a step too far for David Renard and his group. Meanwhile the local population suffer the consequences of the government’s housing policies.

Martin Wicks

A letter to the Swindon Advertiser

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