Housing ‘transformation’ needed in Peterborough

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Recently, I was pleased to learn that the Conservative administration had located 128 unused phones. These were costing the taxpayer £1,700 per month and doing precisely nothing for the benefit of our city, writes leader of the Labour group on Peterborough City Council, Cllr Shaz Nawaz.

It does make me wonder what else may be missing: I suggest that common sense regarding housing should be the next item that the administration should try to find.

Housing and homelessness are still big issues for our city; it remains one of most frequently cited problems on the doorstep. We see homeless people in the middle of town: their lives are miserable usually through no fault of their own. It’s right that our civic pride is dented when we witness people who are so destitute. Worse, there has been a 53 per cent increase in homelessness in the last year alone.

We also find that young people are priced out of the market and must settle elsewhere. It seems beyond this administration’s will and ability to provide enough clean, safe and affordable housing.

The Conservative administration has tried a variety of short-term fixes. These are expensive: the cost of temporary accommodation is presently budgeted at £2 million. This money is used for “firefighting”, i.e. issues that are so acute that they’ll embarrass the current council’s leadership. It would be far better if the administration took a strategic view and spent this money on building new homes.

There has been some progress.

The Labour Group is pleased to report that after years of pressure from us the Conservatives have finally listened, albeit to a limited extent: they finally applied for a Housing Revenue Account. The money from this should help alleviate the problem. This development shows that an effective opposition can force necessary change.

But we need far more. We now need a transformative programme to deliver more housing. The Conservative administration must start building homes in order to keep up with demand.

I have my doubts that they will. Housing has never been a key consideration for the Conservatives: they would much rather trust housing entirely to the free market. The problem is that they don’t want to acknowledge the existence of market failure: in the present “free for all” situation, developers are incentivised to provide housing for the affluent. The return on investment is quicker and more obvious, despite the pent-up demand for affordable homes. Developers are not to blame because it’s not their statutory duty to provide housing.

When there is an irreconcilable tension between the market and what people need, the state must step in. Strangely, the Conservatives will only allow the state to step in when they want to lend money to an established, wealthy business such as Hilton to build a hotel. This simply doesn’t make sense; the people of Peterborough don’t have time for a government that lacks the sense to keep track of its phones let alone address the city’s real needs. The people can make a different choice next May; we will offer a commonsense prospectus.