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Disgusted of Tunbridge is alive and well – in Barnet
I find my post bag contradictory. One day people decry the lack of availability of homes for their children and grandchildren to rent or buy. Most people still want to buy, but even the credit crunched prices make them a real stretch for first-time buyers (and the housing market needs entrants to push the chain along). Then the next day, perhaps from the vantage point of a well stuffed armchair or perhaps cosseted by family money, I am assailed as a philistine for the temerity of allowing new homes to be built. Oh and sometimes the two are combined – go figure.
Oddly the ‘no more houses brigade’ often live in houses that were built on fields and sometimes as recently as just twenty years ago. Strangely enough I don’t want to see huge swathes of the Borough concreted over, but unlike the armchair strategists, I have a responsibility to ensure those living in council housing (now managed by Barnet Homes) have homes that meet the decent homes standard laid down by law. Even if it were not a legal requirement, a trip to some of our estates highlights that many of the buildings have reached the end of their useful life.
On top of this, Government grants to refurbish or rebuild the housing stock beyond its useful life are woefully inadequate to meet Barnet’s needs. Though if our council tenants were not handing over £9.4million to subsidise the Treasury and council tenants outside London – many more repairs could be paid for locally. In the absence of sensible Treasury policy, we have to find alternative ways of rebuilding our crumbling estates. So like many Boroughs we turn to the private sector, underutilised land on our estates is then used to build private homes for sale. The private developer in return demolishes and rebuilds new homes for our tenants. Perhaps not an ideal solution, but a pragmatic real-world solution. No-one else has yet come up with another method we can afford to demolish and rebuild these homes.
On top of that, of course, we have Government targets to provide new homes, these targets are backed up with the London Plan (which even Mayor Johnson has yet to rewrite), requiring us to expand the housing stock. In Barnet this means more homes/flats for shared equity to get people on the housing ladder and, of course, more flats and houses for outright purchase. The vast majority of people still aspire to own their own homes and we are meeting that aspiration.
Wrapped around this is the Three Strand Policy on planning, to identify which parts of the Borough that can deliver higher density growth, which parts will have lower density development and which parts will have no development.
A former Prime Minister once said ‘you can’t buck the market’ – well the market wants to live in Barnet, wants to buy homes in Barnet and the market wants to meet that need. So either we are pragmatic and harness the market or we try and be ‘Canute’ like and get drowned by it.