Sunday, 16 February 2014

Barnet Housing Strategy report reveals failure of Council economic policy

A report on the Barnet Council website reveals some rather interesting facts about the housing situation in Barnet (

There are a few interesting points to consider. Firstly the revealation that the population of Barnet will incease by 101,000 peope between 2001 and 2022. Not only that, but most of those people have already moved to Barnet. It is no surprise in these circumstances, that the report notes the number of private homes for rent has shrunk, homeless applications have increased and private sector rents have increased. This is called "the law of supply and demand" if you have more people using the same resources, then things get more expensive. The long term effect this has on the boroughs economy is to drive out young people who were raised in the borough as they seek cheaper accomodation elsewhere. This causes the breakdown of social support networks, and increases the social care costs. I saw an example of this in my own family. My mother had a stroke in 2001 and needed constant care. Much of this was provided by myself and my siblings. My sister was living in Edgware and would visit my mother every day (as would I). When my mother passed away in 2008, the first thing my sister did was make a long planned move to Essex, for a larger, cheaper property. Had she moved in before 2001, then my mother would have needed to rely on the council for the social care we provided to a far greater extent. This is one of the social costs of council policy that the bean counters cannot quantify. Large Council estates such as Burnt Oak, used to supply homes for generations of working families at affordable rents. As a result of Thatchers policy of Council house sales, with no replenishment of the social housing stock, the younger generations were forced out. Now the council is picking up the costs of this divorce of parents and children. Contrary to many right wing commentators, no one wants to become dependent on the council for care. Families would much rather look after their own, but it is not practical or feasable from long distance.

Another interesting comment is on the failure of the governments economic policy is also revealed. It states that "median incomes fell in 2012". For those who don't understand statisics, the median refers to those in the earning tree. The implication is that Barnets super rich did alright, at the expense of the majority of the rest of us, who work hard and pay our taxes, whilst trying to raise our children. The Coalition governments decision to cut top tax rates from 50% to 45% for the super rich has meant that the burden clearly has not been fairly shared.

Another interesting fact is that the number of empty properties has risen. This is the one fact that I have struggled to understand, given that there is clear need. It can only mean that the govenrment and the council have defective policies towards housing stock. Margaret Thatcher abolished the old system of rates. Now we have the community charge, which has no socially progressive element to encourage landlords to rent homes. In seeking to understand what is going on, I discussed the issue with an estate agent. They informed me that property developers are buying up empty homes and seeking to build huge blocks of flats. This can result in the acquired homes lying empty for periods of years whilst they try and buy neighbouring properties and argue with the council about planning requests. It is standard practice for developers to submit schemes that are far too ambitious, just to see what they can get away with. All of this leads to delays, resulting in housing stock sitting empty. I personally would like to see two things done. Firstly an empty house charge to be applied to any property sitting empty for more than one year. The second thing I'd like to see is two new bands on the community charge, so that the largest home owners pay their fair share. Billionaires in Bishops avenue pay the same charge as relatively modest suburban detached houses. I have calculated that for many of these mansions, billionaires are paying a rate of as little as a 10th or a 20th of the value compared with normal Barnet residents. The Leader of the Council spoke in a recent newspaper column about the fact that it is "unfair" to target owners of mansions to pay their fair share of community tax. I disagree and I believe that the vast majority of Barnet residents would disagree if they realised that billionaires were paying a 20th the rate of tax they were on their homes.

The last phrase in the report chills me to the bone. It states that Barnet has a "higher capacity for new homes than other London Boroughs". This can only refer to an attck on the green belt and conservation areas.

So you may ask what the councils strategy is? This is described in section 9.1

9. BACKGROUND INFORMATION   Existing housing strategy 9.1 The council’s existing housing strategy was agreed by Cabinet in April 2010 with the following key housing objectives:  o Increasing housing supply to improve the range of housing choices and opportunities available to residents o Improving the condition and sustainability of the existing housing stock o Promoting mixed communities o Maximising opportunities available for those wishing to own their home o Providing housing related support options that maximise the independence of residents o Providing excellent value services that exceed residents’ expectations.

That was passed in 2010. Has the council succeeded on these lofty aims, set out in 2010. Their own report clearly spells out the failure of the strategy. Their own document clearly states there are less homes, showing that they've failed on point 1. Given that housing is now more expensive and incomes have dropped, they have also failed on point 4. As to point 5, by forcing people to move away from parents, they have increased, not decreased reliance on Council services. I suppose that we can say that on point three, they have to a certain degree succeeded. There has been huge net immigration into the Borough and the character of many neighbourhoods has changed significantly, even over the last four years.I must confess I hadn't realised that the council had a clear policy of moving long standing local communities out and replacing them with immigrant communities. My own personal view is that the Council not be seeking to "move on" existing residents, many of whom have paid tax all their life to Barnet Council. It may surprise many, given the perception that the Tories are "anti immigration" that the council has such a policy. It doesn't surprise me at all. What they are really talking about is trying to move out people such as the elderly and the disabled, and replace them with fit young immigrants who are less of a burden on the Barnet Taxpayer. That is perhaps the greatest hypocrisy of the Tories. They pretend to be anti immigrant, but actually encourage immigration when it suits their greedy tax cutting agenda. I am not in the least anti immigratant, but I strongly believe that groups such as the elderly and the disabled should not be discriminated against, to facilitate a goal no higher than tax cuts for the super rich.

As with all council reports, the devil is in the detail. I doubt many Barnet Councillors bothered to read this report and even fewer (especially on the Tory benches) understand what it is saying. But the truth is there spelled out in black and white. Barnet Council has a proven track record of failure on housing. It has a clear policy of discrimination against existing residents  and a clear policy of bending over backwards to wealthy private Landlords. There is a council election in May. If you vote Conservative, you are voting to continue this record of discrimination and failure.

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