I have had some positive feedback from doing this blog for the Journal – it is a really good way of communicating issues that affecting us locally.
I also enjoy reading my counterparts blog – although recently I was disappointed to read his take on the town centre plan for Atherton. I have worked with local councillors from the inception of the strategy – who got no mention in the article but are passionate advocates for Atherton – this is disappointing as the only way we can tackle that we face is by all working together – regardless of political persuasion.
The housing crisis that has hit right across the country is no stranger to us locally. The developer-led housing bubble continues to inflate, and I recognise the enormous social impact this is having on our towns. And let us not forget that it was this Government who have made it easier for developers to build on Green sites whilst removing funding to develop on brown field sites and not Wigan Council as some would have us believe.
We are becoming all too aware of the housing shortages, the rising house prices and falling home ownership, and it is right that in Greater Manchester we are developing a spatial framework. As I have made clear previously, I strongly believe this plan must seek to increase affordable housing stock sustainably, using a ‘brownfield first’ approach which can be used as a catalyst for economic growth to our outer towns.
However, the goalposts set by Government which dictate local plans have recently been moved again, presenting an enormous challenge to the formation of our local plan.
Identifying areas of greatest housing need is set using population projections. This data, updated earlier in the year, is now identifying a decline in the expected rate of population growth. This, in turn, reduces the amount of homes identified as needing to be built.
We all know how critical the housing crisis is, we all know how existing housing demand vastly outstrips supply and we all know how urgent it is to get on with building new, affordable homes but with a complacent Government now overseeing the reduction in the amount of homes needed, Greater Manchester is left struggling to produce the transformative plan that it needs.
If we are to treat the housing crisis with the seriousness that it needs, we urgently need a Government that backs up its words with deeds. But so far we are without that essential leadership - instead all we have seen are announcements of expensive sticking plasters.
Help to Buy is just one of those expensive sticking plasters which the Government last year fed a further £10 billion into. The scheme rewards developers for building on more profitable greenbelt land with non-first-time buyers and households earning over £100,000 often the recipient of this vast amount of public money.
Time and time again the Government refuses to take bold action, instead opting for an ideologically based hands-off approach.
Our housing sector needs bold action from the top, meaningful devolution to our communities and an end to the developer-led system which puts profits ahead of social need and benefits from a lack of social housing stock.
The local developer who built affordable town centre houses by utilising Leigh’s old, derelict tax building to house adults with SEN and support them through independent living is a perfect example of what can be possible.
But we need to work together locally to make examples such as this commonplace.
If we get this right I truly believe that we can revolutionise our housing sector, recognise its importance to society, recognise the potential for the sector to be used as a driver of economic growth into areas such as ours whilst recognising the extreme dangers if we carry on allowing the bubble to inflate.