Thanet District Council (TDC) owns just over 3,000 properties, which it rents to council tenants via East Kent Housing. A further 4,000 homes are available at lower-than-market rent through housing associations. This is insufficient to keep up with demand, which leads people to rent privately, often through unscrupulous landlords.
We need a mature conversation about local housing need and the ways in which it can be fulfilled. I’d like to see the Labour Party at the forefront of this conversation. I’ve secured funding from the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party to conduct a Thanet Housing Survey, which asks people about their current living arrangements, the needs of their families and the kind of housing they can afford. I’ll gather this information in a way that makes all residents feel included. This will help us to ensure that local need is at the forefront of local planning and development, and it will help us to overcome the hostility towards house building that persists in Thanet.
TDC has identified more than 1,000 long-term empty properties and is the most successful local authority in the county at bringing them back into use. Between 2011 and 2013, the local authority has a statutory obligation to allocate land to 17,000 homes, some 9,300 of which still need to be accommodated. On 18 January 2018, Conservative and UKIP councillors at TDC overturned a version of the local plan that allocated the appropriate amount of land to houses. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government looks likely to intervene and raise the housing quota to 20,000.
Both South and North Thanet Labour Parties support mixed-use development of the former Manston airport site. The current owners, Stone Hill Park, are talking to TDC about designating 30% of the proposed 3,700 new houses ‘affordable’, alongside an unspecified amount of social housing and 100 homes offering supported living. Affordability is calculated on the basis of average national income and house prices, which would put most of the planned homes beyond the reach of local people, where earnings are below the national average. When TDC considers planning applications for locally unaffordable housing, we must look to campaigns in Haringey, Southwark and Tottenham which are successfully holding profiteering developers to account.
More money is spent on treating the health problems of people living in circumstances unfit for human habitation than is spent on public housing stock. If and when the Local Plan is approved, TDC needs to honour its commitment to build council housing. The Labour Party’s plan to compulsorily purchase undeveloped land for housing will be appropriate here.
When it comes to rented properties, the Labour Party’s plans to end insecure tenancies, implement rent control, clamp down on rogue landlords and reinstate housing benefit for 18–21 year-olds will be welcome here.