Everyone deserves a home. It’s a simple sentiment, but the state of the British housing market turns this basic need into a challenge for so many in our town.
Reading meets its Government-imposed housing targets year after year, yet – as my colleagues have said elsewhere – these targets don’t reflect the reality of what is needed. Private developers build too few family homes in our town, and even within those that are built there is a lack of truly affordable provision.
Like many people, I was born in Reading, grew up in Reading, went to school here, my family are here. And like many people too, I’ve struggled to afford to stay in my home town, as have my friends. But I don’t just want people to stay here, I want people to be able to move here – I want us to thrive through our diversity of backgrounds.
As a Council, we only have so many levers at hand to alleviate this situation. But as a Labour-controlled Council, we do recognise our duty to use every opportunity we have to tackle the housing crisis and in doing so, we set an example for private developers to follow.
That’s why we’re investing £88 million in over 300 new Council homes across Reading, building exactly the kind of homes that will help families to stay here. We also know that some of our social workers, nurses, teachers and those in need of care can face a horrible choice between affordability and the town they love – so we’re ensuring that new key worker and extra-care housing is part of our provision.
We’re setting an example on tackling fuel poverty too by putting £34 million into retrofitting our own housing stock with energy efficiency measures. It’s good for the environment, but it’s the benefit in people’s pockets that will help transform lives most.
Setting an example is only part of the equation, though. We also have a very high-bar in terms of what affordable housing supply we demand from private developments seeking planning permission. Do we always get what we want? Frankly, no – the national rules don’t always favour Reading’s real needs – but we’ve had some significant success in requiring contributions and seeking our Reading Affordable Rent (70% of median rent in our town). Lives have been positively transformed by gaining access to housing that would otherwise not exist.
Since land is at a premium in Reading, we’re also acting to stop Conservative Government-endorsed ‘permitted developments’ which lead to office blocks being turned into sub-standard flats without any planning permission or any financial contribution from the developers to the necessary infrastructure – schools, GPs, community space, parks, roads – to allow communities to flourish.
Let’s be clear, though, that the Government could still intervene and stop all the good, both through Council housing and through planning controls, that we’re able to achieve. They’ve done it before, including trying to stop us getting affordable housing contributions from private developers. On that occasion, we fought them in the Courts and won.
Reading really is a ‘little big town’ – a busy, booming place with a small-town feel and a strong community. I passionately want to keep the ‘little’ alongside the ‘big’, I want sustainable communities and I’m proud of what Labour is doing in Reading to help achieve this. I hope that the Government will recognise the need to help us, because it’s to everyone’s benefit.
Cllr Ellie Emberson
Lead Councillor for Housing, Reading Borough Council