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View from Westminster: Council can borrow to build homes, but we need to go further

Last month’s budget was just the latest in a series of disappointing budgets over the last nine years of Tory and Lib Dem Tory government, writes Helen Hayes, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood…

While the budget failed to tackle the funding crisis impacting on councils in London and across the country, didn’t provide our schools with the funds they so desperately need and still left King’s College Hospital with debts of more than £300 million and an annual deficit of £150 million, there was one step forward on housing.

I was glad to see the cap lifted on councils’ ability to borrow in order to build new council homes, something that I have been lobbying for many years to achieve.

But despite this one positive step there is still a huge amount more to do to start to make an impact on the housing crisis.

Southwark Labour has the most ambitious programme of council house building in the country – with a costed programme to build 11,000 new council homes. There is no substitute for genuinely affordable secure council homes to address the housing crisis.

I’d like to see the pace of building accelerate and then in due course the target raised.

In the meantime we need government grants for building social housing – cut by 98% by the Tories and Lib Dems to be restored.

We need to go further and faster in making changes to our planning laws, to repeal the ‘viability test’, a get out clause for developers introduced by the Tories and Lib Dems in 2012.

We need to change the law to make it possible for councils to buy land to build new council homes at affordable rates, rather than at the current hugely inflated prices.  And given the huge pressure on affordable homes, I believe we need to suspend the right to buy to stop the loss of homes from the social sector until the crisis is addressed.

The budget was also presented in a Brexit vacuum, with no account taken of the enormous impact Brexit is likely to have on our economy, and therefore on the tax revenues which fund our public services.

This government is faltering, failing to invest in the services we all rely on and the new homes which would make a difference to thousands of households across south.  It simply isn’t good enough.


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