Why Havering Must Build – sensibly.
I’ve confused people recently, with my posts and comments on Havering’s housing needs. So, what do I think and why?
The summary is that I think we need to build, the right stuff in the right places, but that I don’t want top-down housing targets.
Confused, angry? Hear me out a minute…
Havering has three key problems.
Our local services are overwhelmed.
Our budget is stretched to the limit.
We have a housing shortage.
These problems all feed each other. A lack of suitable housing means the council end up housing people in hotels and B&Bs. This is expensive and so drains our budget.
Poor housing also creates health and social problems, adding to the demand on our services. Which then requires heavier investment and so on.
Let me be clear on one thing. I’m not saying “build build build” with the idea that current services are adequate. They are not. When I talk of new homes, I also mean developing new schools, GP surgeries, hospitals etc.
Another problem, according to others, is that certain areas of Havering are becoming ‘over-developed’. My town of Romford is the obvious example of this, and many residents are upset at the huge volume of housing being put into the ward. I’ll discuss this further down. I don’t entirely disagree.
Overwhelmed Services - Solution
If you were to listen to our current administration, run by the Havering Resident’s Association, then the solution to all Havering’s problems can be found in the chequebook of central government. They are the sole source of our problems and the saviour we all need.
I believe in the principle that local people pay for local services. I believe that Havering should become less dependent on central government and the whim of whatever politician’s happen to be in power at the time. We must chart our own course and take back control.
In order to do this, we must not shy away from the fact that Havering’s population cannot sustain the services we currently demand. Let alone what we may want in the future. With a growing elderly population, and a rapidly growing infant population, we are seeing the demand on our NHS and schools rapidly increasing.
At the age of 65, men in England can statistically expect 9 years of good health. This is just under half of their remaining life span (according to charities). 40% of those over 65 have a long-term illness of disability.
Most of these older folk will have spent their life paying their taxes and they still do. However, when we age we begin to draw more from the state then we put in. That’s OK, my generation will do the same, but it means we need young people to pay the bills.
But those aged under 16 are not paying taxes yet. So Havering’s rapidly growing infant population isn’t going to fund those bills.
This isn’t a Havering issue. This is a UK wide issue.
We need to attract more young people to move into the Borough to fund the services we need. But, they have nowhere to live and can’t afford what’s on offer.
Housing Shortage – Solution
We must build. But we must build the right things in the right places.
If you are a young professional looking to move into Havering, it’s unlikely you can either afford or want a family home with a garden. Your priorities are good transport links, retail and restaurants, and low maintenance. At that stage in life, a well-designed apartment isn’t just good, it’s preferable to a house. This apartment should be located closer to the town centre and the railway station.
At present, you’ll probably end up in a badly maintained flat or a family house that’s been converted into 4 dingy rooms. Let’s free up those family homes for families.
If you’re a young family, then you want to live a bit further out. You don’t wander into town as often and you want a garden. So, you live outside Romford’s ring-road or perhaps in Hornchurch or Upminster. But, the homes there are too expensive at present.
So, we must build more apartments as we get closer to the railway stations and various high-streets. No, these don’t have to be huge 12 storey blocks. Romford has a lot of old office space left empty. These buildings can be properly repurposed. Take Mercury House for example (the tower block opposite Asda and just by the marketplace. I happen to know that a developer was previously willing to give the Council £millions for that). It’s mostly empty now.
Romford is currently suffering from people cramming flats into low-density areas. Lower-Mawneys is being squeezed too much and the developments there are not suitable.
But the North Street site on the old Decathalon site is ideal. It’s not too dense and it’s making use of an otherwise defunct site. Best of all, this site is going to attract the young professionals we need and bring in much needed tax revenue.
Stretched Budget - Solution
The North Street site will generate an estimated £600k a year of extra council tax for Havering. Someone remarked to me that this will “hardly cover the gap”. I disagree, the impact would be very welcomed.
The recent doubling of parking permit prices was done to generate an extra £250k in revenue for the council. This means that, before the rise, it was bringing in around this. So, for £500k Havering could make all resident parking permits free.
The proposal to switch to fortnightly bin collections is going to save £130k a year. So weekly bin collections could be protected with no additional council tax rise needed.
In the council’s recent budget, they identified that the rise in homelessness is adding £500k to the council’s financial burden. So, using the revenue from the new North Street homes the council could meet the new homelessness pressures and keep weekly bin collections.
If we then factor in that the council is also looking to build 1000 homes on the Bridge Street site, and we assume 50% of the homes are taxpayers at Band C, that’s another £600k.
Yes, we can’t whack up those giant developments everywhere. But these two sites alone go a huge way to easing the pressure on Havering’s budget.
NTIMBYism (Not THAT in my back yard).
NIMBYS get a lot of bad press. They are residents who know we need homes but don’t want them near their home (Not In My Back Yard) This is a problem, but it’s understandable and also right. We must protect the character of areas. Whacking up a tower block in an area of houses with gardens isn’t right.
But, we can’t just accept nothing should be built. We must get the balance right.
At present, Havering’s new HRA led council is intent on whacking up tower-blocks on any site they can find, in Romford. They’re selling off 3 major car-parks for developers. At the same time, they are constantly fighting against any new homes in the rest of the borough. Especially in their wards. I’ve seen them more upset about 35 large homes with driveways (In Upminster) than about the 1100 flats in Romford.
We need a council that changes from being full of NIMBYS to one full of NTIMBYs (I’ll find a catcher name).
Labour have, this week, said that they will bring back top-down housing targets. This is the idea that someone behind a desk in Westminster should decide what is built in Havering. With a Labour government, Havering will be losing control of our planning at a time when we must take back control.
It’s time our local politicians got bolder and tackled the problems head on, instead of flip-flopping based on what they think may win then an election.
We need Havering to build more homes, in order to fund better local services.
And, for those of you who missed it earlier, yes that means we must also build new schools and GPs etc.