Opinon: Lib Dems promise houses – and deliver

In 2007, two key milestones were marked in the Vale of White Horse District Council. First, we celebrated the completion of the 1500th affordable home built in the district since the Liberal Democrats took control in 1995. We also celebrated winning a fourth term in office with a thumping majority. Those in the know might suggest that these two milestones were linked.

The Vale’s original housing stock was sold off by the ruling Conservatives in 1995 at a time when housing development in the district was at a standstill because of the Government’s restrictions on investment in new homes and the Council’s own financial constraints. The housing stock was decreasing in size because of Right to Buy, the waiting list was growing and we could do nothing more than reluctantly support the Tory plan to go for large scale voluntary transfer (LSVT) of the housing stock to private social landlords to wipe out the Council’s debts and gain a significant income.

The sale of the Vale’s housing in March 1995 gave the council a capital receipt of around £54 million, of which £19 million was available under the government’s restrictions to enable Social Housing to be developed. The Tories did not want to commit this money to new housing and it was only in the face of pressure from us that the full £19m was committed.

In May the Council had all-up elections and the LDs went into the polls promising 550 new affordable homes in five years. When the votes were counted the LDs found ourselves with 17 new Councillors, control of the Vale for the first time and the Tories were rather dismayed to find themselves with a lot more free time. We confirmed our commitment to build at least 550 new homes in five years, funded by the nice little ‘nest egg’ the Tories had expected to have at their disposal after the election.

Our original target of 550 houses was honoured and exceeded and by 2002 the major milestone of 1000 new homes was reached. During this period, the Vale also planned and built a foyer to provide young people who have experienced difficult circumstances with accommodation and training for up to 2 years. The foyer was built in the heart of the Vale’s main town, Abingdon and it opened in 2004.

The new dwellings have been built across the district, from major developments in our main towns to small, local developments in villages. Perhaps the most notable recent development was in the village which is home to the leader of the Vale’s opposition – right opposite her house, to be exact. Having reacted to the initial plans with less than gushing enthusiasm she has now commended the quality of the housing built and accepted that it has enhanced the area considerably.

We continued to build new housing and by 2007 the number of new affordable homes in the Vale had reached 1500. The Council still has a financial commitment to building housing included in its budget. This funding is available to ‘top up’ any schemes which may not otherwise be affordable so we can ensure that the number of new houses built in the district continues to exceed over 100 a year.

This funding is being squeezed somewhat by our budget constraints but the LD Group retains its original commitment to provide more new affordable homes every year. In our recently adopted Local Plan we set a target of 50% affordable homes over a certain threshold but the government’s Local Plan Inspector marked this down to 40%. So much for the government’s commitment to housing in the South East…

Liberal Democrats have shown what can be done in one small, cash-strapped district when there is a clear commitment to providing high quality, affordable housing. To coin a phrase, it’s not rocket science.

Andy Crick is the Lib Dem Group Assistant on the Vale of White Horse District Council.

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