Last Thursday at a full Arun District Council meeting, the Conservative majority took a decision about local housing provision which is likely to reverberate for years to come.
They decided, against strong advice from officers, that new house building in the district would be cut from 495 units per year to 400.
The implications of this decision to slash new housing provision are worrying and very serious.
First, this decision could now mean Arun will leave themselves open to legal challenge with their new housing provision found to be ‘unsound’.
It may mean Arun will be told to start again, which could also have the effect developers could become more, not less, predatory, so exposing local people to more not, less new, house building, the exact opposite of what the Tory majority voted for.
Second, this decision flies in the face of overwhelming evidence that Arun has a serious and growing housing deficit.
Figures from the housing charity Shelter, who have been working with Arun, show quite clearly that over the next ten years, 379 new ‘affordable’ homes need to be built to stand any chance of reducing the current housing waiting list of more than 3,400 or even begin tackling the thousands of ‘hidden homeless’ within Arun.
Even with Arun’s commitment to provide 1000 affordable houses over the next five years, this still falls well short of what is required and one wonders with the vote last Thursday, if even this will actually happen.
Third, a reduction in new housing will cut across Arun’s regeneration strategy.
If Bognor Regis and Littlehampton are to attract new jobs and businesses, which is the avowed aim, then less housing is not going to help achieve these very laudable objectives.
This is especially bizarre in the light of Bognor’s bid to become an Enterprise Zone, having now been accepted as the one and only bid from Sussex, and which has now gone to government for decision.
What is more, the new reduced housing allocations in the district make it far less likely Arun could now benefit from Section 106 agreements with developers to improve infrastructure, which in the current economic climate is one of the few ways left for local councils to improve their areas.
Specifically, the improvement of the A29 in and out of Bognor Regis, and a bridge over the railway, becomes even more of a dream because of the Tory majority decision.
Finally, one of the arguments put forward last week trying to justify this decision was councillors had to abide by what the public consultation had said, which in summary was largely that people wanted less not more new housing.
It’s worth asking if Arun consulted any of the 3,400 local people on the housing waiting list, and it’s worth pointing out that we as councillors have always to take a fair and balanced decision weighing what local residents are saying with the duty to provide basic and decent of housing needs.
What Tory councillors have done by this decision is to betray many thousands of Arun residents, their children and grandchildren, and quite possibly condemn them to years of inadequate and sub-standard housing.
How nasty, short-sighted and selfish.
Cllr Roger Nash
Leader Labour Group
Arun District Council