Ian Shires

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Willenhall North Ward, Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Walsall MBC Learn more

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Shameful Tories oppose condemnation of Osborne’s social housing sell off

by Ian Shires on 12 January, 2016

Ian ShiresLiberal Democrat Group Leader Cllr Ian Shires (Willenhall North) spoke out against the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill which contains amongst other things plans to sell off social housing into the private sector.

Councillor Shires’s condemnation of the Bill which had its third reading at Westminster this week came during a debate on a notice of motion submitted by the Labour Group. The notice of motion highlighted the many concerns that have have surfaced during the passage of the Bill through Parliament.

Liberal Democrats on Walsall Council felt that Labour’s motion didn’t go far enough. “The Labour Motion added to a similar Notice of Motion moved by the Lib Dems back in September of last year” said Ian “A great deal of ground has been covered since then and Labour’s motion sort to highlight further concerns as the content of the Bill becomes more well known. However we felt that Labour’s motion missed some of the more insidious measures surrounding the planning process put forward by the Conservative Government in this Bill as a result we put forward an amendment to highlight a range of dangerous and chilling measures designed solely to benefit the private sector at the expense of local democracy.”

Mike BirdThe Labour Group Leader accepted the Lib Dem amendment, but Cllr Bird’s Conservatives did not like the condemnation of the stripping out of the democratic scrutiny process at Local Government level in a bid to shift the power in favour of the property developer. When it came to the vote Mike Bird’s Conservatives voted against the motion and defended the thrust of Osborne’s plans. In spite of this the motion as amended was carried sending a message to Conservatives at both local and national level of the general condemnation of their plans to sell off social housing and manipulation of the planning system.

Below is a full transcript of what Cllr Ian Shires had to say:

The Housing and Planning Bill contains a raft of measures which will increase inequality and provides benefits to the Private Sector at the expense of Local Government.

In an ideal world something called the Housing and Planning Bill could be assumed to be something which would do what is so desperately needed; provide the stimulus to promote the level of house building needed to satisfy the demand. In reality it does exactly the opposite. It will make matters worse.

As it stands the Bill will replace genuinely affordable homes with public subsidies for property investors. Instead of building homes for affordable rent the legislation will force Councils to build “Starter Homes” for first-time buyers, which in London is capped at £450K and £250K in the rest of England.

These so called affordable homes will be unaffordable for the majority of people on average incomes in over half of the country according to Shelter. I checked this out for the WV12 Post Code area I represent in Willenhall. You would need to earn £32,099 to afford one or travel back in time to 2002. This is based on a median house price of £120K!

At the end of 5 years buyers will be free to sell their home at full market value which is great for them but removes any long-term value for future first-time buyers.

As has already been pointed out the Bill extends the Right to Buy to Housing Association Tenants which further reduces the availability of social housing. It also compels Councils to sell their highest value housing stock and pass the proceeds on to Central Government creating further division between the haves and have not’s within urban conurbations.

This Bill in practically all aspects does the exact opposite of what it claims to do.

But there is another aspect of this Bill which hasn’t been included either in this Notice of Motion or the Notice of Motion we moved at the last Full Council meeting. This appertains to the planning side of the Bill.

The proposed changes threaten to eat away at what remains of the democratic process which defines how our communities are made shifting power into the hands of the developers.

The most radical of these changes introduces automatic planning permission in principle on sites allocated for development without applications being subjected to the usual scrutiny through the planning process.

When this was first suggested back in October it was said that it would only apply to Brownfield sites. However there is nothing in the legislation going forward which stops it applying to any kind of development on any site. This could lead to fracking being given a decision in principle.

By all accounts it would appear that a number of amendments were “slipped in” in the rush up to Christmas. One such change would open the door to the privatisation of the planning system allowing planning applications to be processed by an “alternative” provider to the Local Authority.

There are many other aspects of this Bill which are profoundly undemocratic allowing Central Government to by-pass local council’s and “micro-manage” planning with disastrous consequences.

It is with this in mind that we would ask the movers of this Notice of Motion to accept a further bullet point #5 under “This Council notes” to read as follows:

  1. That the Bill also threatens to eat away at the democratic process which safeguards how our local communities are made, shifting power away from Local Authorities into the hands of the developers.

And further under “This Council resolves” add to the second bullet point after the words

“To analyse and report on any further likely impacts of the Bill on the local area”

In all its forms including proposed changes to the Planning Process

Moved by                Cllr Ian Shires

Seconded by           Cllr Doreen Shires

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