Apr 062019
 

HOUSING

Housing is a priority for Labour at both national and local level.

Locally, the Council has failed to deliver enough homes for decades – especially enough affordable homes. In fact, it has only met its own target of 200 affordable homes per annum once since 1994.

This madness has to end. It is driving families apart, forcing many of those who work in the city to live elsewhere, and doing nothing to address the growing problem of homelessness in our District.

Labour would end this by implementing a housing policy which reflects local need and places public good above private profit.

Labour will:

  • Launch a five-year plan to tackle the historic shortfall in affordable homes, which the new Local Plan ignores. We will bring together key stakeholders in a district-wide approach which integrates with Labour’s national strategy, gearing housing delivery to local need.
  • Build the right size of housing – this means more smaller properties, and fewer 4- and 5-bed ‘executive homes’.
  • Build the right type of housing – addressing the mix between private ownership/ privately rented/ Council and other “affordable” solutions.
  • Build houses in the right places – striking a balance between greenfield development and increasing densities in existing towns and villages.

Specifically, as the Council’s own analysis shows that ‘more than 75% of all housing need in the District is for affordable homes’, we believe this should mean a minimum target of 75% affordable homes on sites of 10 dwellings or more.

The Government’s definition of ‘affordable’ covers a range of options. Labour wants the split to reflect local need. The Council’s own research indicates this as 81% social housing (up to 60% of full market rate), 16% ‘affordable rent’ (up to 80% of full market rate), and 3% shared ownership and other forms of subsidised housing.

Labour backs proposals in the recently-submitted Local Plan to release around 1% of the Green Belt for new housing and community facilities, between now and 2036. This means around 80% of the District will remain in the Green Belt.

Housing: a commitment to council building and responsible management

The recent removal of the ‘borrowing cap’ means the Council can invest in building the social housing needed by our local communities. But that requires a step-change from the present-day drip-feed of new Council-built housing, which barely offsets the loss of Council housing stock because of Right-to-Buy.

Labour is committed to:

  • Making ‘borrow to build’ a priority, not a marginal add-on. We oppose the way other parties “solve” housing issues by resorting to out-of-district B&B accommodation. We will tackle the shameful problem of homelessness locally.
  • Making Council land available for new housing, especially for those on Council waiting lists, and speeding up such projects significantly.
  • Making the best use of the existing Council house stock to benefit local people, and make the bidding system for allocating housing stock fairer.
  • Improving the quality of our Council houses, so that tenants benefit from good standards of accommodation.

Housing: a commitment to private renters

Labour believes that the high standards it expects of the Council in managing its properties should also apply to those who profit from renting out homes in the private sector.

Labour will:

  • Press for a system of landlord accreditation to supplement the existing private sector housing enforcement policy, which seeks to ensure reasonable standards of accommodation.
  • Support national Labour policy to end insecurity for private renters by introducing controls on rent rises, more secure tenancies with three-year tenancies as the norm, landlord licensing and new consumer rights for renters.
  • Push to end the scandal of empty homes, ensuring that all existing housing is brought back into use, including through compulsory purchase where owners continue to keep homes empty and in disrepair.  

Housing: a commitment to address homelessness

In an affluent district such as ours, it is unacceptable to have increasing numbers of homeless on our streets. The spiralling rise in street homelessness results directly from decisions made by the Conservatives on pay, housing, mental health and social security.

Labour will:

  • Ensure there is adequate winter shelter provision.
  • Prioritise direct access accommodation locally, to avoid use of B&B provision, particularly where this is out of district – with the inevitable disruption and stress this causes for those needing such services.
  • Look to provide a shelter with linked services to help those with alcohol or drug addiction, who are often excluded from existing provision.

CHANGING THE FACE OF OUR CITY AND DISTRICT

Town centres are changing as our patterns of shopping change. Labour believes we should be creative in re-inventing our town centres as centres for retail and entertainment – a bold vision that can enhance what our district offers to young people, while also exploring scope for bringing housing back nearer our town centres.

Labour will:

  • Look to use local planning policy to safeguard existing retail and entertainment uses
  • Pursue a creative response to retail challenges, by embracing opportunities to enhance the leisure/entertainment offer such as ten-pin bowling, mini-cinema, ‘Quasar’ games area, “youth café” with games area.
  • Enable and encourage street entertainment and central ‘street events’
  • Liaise with local business-owners to review all costs related with doing business in the town centre/local centre such as business rates, parking and parking charges and rental costs.
  • Reassess the use of controlled parking zones

Our city and district: a commitment to local employment

The Local Plan promotes building a business zone adjacent to Hemel Hempstead, but offers little or nothing for St Albans, Harpenden and London Colney. Policies that deliberately force people into longer commutes are illogical and unsustainable.

Labour will:

  • Look to identify employment land closer to our main centres.
  • Seek to provide some part of this as ‘start-up’ offices and entrepreneur (small venue) space, with smart planning so that the workspaces themselves are flexible and provision organised in combination with useful ‘wrap-around’ services, such as childcare
  • Use the Local Plan as a basis for developing a high tech business park in St Albans which can allow local tech businesses to grow and thrive.
  • Work with telecoms providers and other interested stakeholders to look to develop St Albans as a 100% fibre broadband city.

Our city and district: a commitment to healthy, integrated communities

National planning policy requires Councils to promote healthy and safe communities. Labour will use its influence to champion the health, wellbeing and safety of our local communities and bring back some civic pride.

Labour will:

  • Push for the reintroduction of manned police stations, at least one with a custody suite, reflect local concerns about a rising crime rate and the increase in late night licensing
  • Promote strong policies on where fast food takeaways are located
  • Push for toddler play areas to be provided locally
  • Demand that existing green spaces are enhanced and new ones are delivered in all new housing developments
  • Require new development to include well-maintained options for walking and cycling as part of the master planning process
  • Support the provision of more Places of Worship and additional cemetery facilities in the District

Our city and district: a commitment to local transport

We welcome the various references in the Local Plan reference to new public transport initiatives, but don’t understand why local communities should wait many years until they are delivered.

Labour will:

  • Push for the urgent restoration of cut local bus services, to end the social isolation those cuts have caused for local residents
  • Demand significant improvements in the Thameslink line, and look for our fragmented and dysfunctional rail services to be re-nationalised under a Labour Government.
  • Push for improvements to the Abbey Flier line, to make it a genuine alternative option for commuters and a better service for less frequent travellers.
  • Require Herts County Council to repair our crumbling road network
  • Insist on improvements to key junctions before significant housing developments are allowed.

THE ENVIRONMENT

The Labour Party recognises the need to care for our environment at every level, from the local to the global.

While we can all make an individual contribution and commit to help solving environmental problems, we also need to make collective choices about how we live and about funding choices that support sustainability.

The drive for profit above the need for public good has brought us to where we are. We need to challenge this at every turn.

We need planning, funding and imagination for a sustainable future. Only the Labour Party will take the political and economic decisions that allow this to happen.

Labour will:

  • Work towards a zero carbon buildings objective including introducing solar panels on the Council’s housing stock, saving tenants money and benefiting the environment for all.
  • Tackle the District’s high emission zones where air quality is poor. We know where these areas are; the existing anti-idling measures need strengthening. We will introduce low emission zones to stop heavy polluting vehicles making matters worse.
  • Ensure that new development contributes infrastructure (roads, schools and community-based facilities) and sustains long-term, good public transport connections.
  • Ensure that cycle/pedestrian routes are designed into new housing areas, so that it benefits not just the new home-owners but the whole community.
  • Introduce 20 mph areas in residential areas and around schools and encourage children and parents to walk to school wherever possible.
  • Offer community grants for local people to improve their environment by adopting areas where they can plant and tidy up these open spaces, helping local people to have a say in their local environment.
  • Encourage and recognise local businesses who develop green initiatives.
  • Deliver a partnership deal between the Council and a green local energy provider so that we use local energy to benefit local people and businesses.
  • Look for new ways to partnership with the County Council in expanding recycling services for local residents and businesses.
  • Introduce measures to alert the Council when waste bins are full.
  • Ensure that funding is in place to deal with the effects of adverse weather events.

OUR LEISURE SERVICES

Many leisure centres across the district are private or run in partnership with the local Council. Labour believes we can do better with the money the Council has available to it. 

Prices are unaffordable to many. Labour will review the cost to local community groups of booking venues for community activities, ensuring that there is a wide range of activities on offer for people of all abilities.

Labour will:

  • Fight to ensure that the Council’s leisure budget provides leisure activities for all
  • Push for the urgent improvement of grassroot sporting facilities, particularly playing pitches and changing rooms
  • Work to ensure the provision of flexible childcare facilities at leisure centres
  • Consult local residents regarding the type of equipment they would like to see in our parks.
  • Support local community clubs and youth activities and, where possible, work with the Youth Council and schools to do so.
  • Provide services where they are needed and create links with local schools, creating volunteering opportunities for students
  • Continue to support regular leisure events like the local fashion week and film festival.
  • Protect our local community pubs from closure.

OUR LOCAL ECONOMY

Labour is ambitious for our local economy. We want the local Council to act as a facilitator for local businesses and create the right environment for local people to work locally. We recognise that not everybody wants to work in London.

Labour will:

  • Work closely with the Chamber of Commerce, businesses and the local Colleges and University to turn the District into a gateway to London for those that want to do business in the Capital but not be based there.
  • Work to strengthen links between businesses and the University of Herts, the Building Research Establishment in Bricket Wood and Rothamsted Research Centre in Harpenden, to turn the District into the scientific/hi-tech hub of Hertfordshire and grow green jobs and technologies locally.
  • Champion a new business park in St Albans to sit alongside the longer-term development around Hemel Hempstead.
  • Encourage local businesses to engage with social enterprises such as the Credit Union to foster better business and community links.
  • Work to promote the local Credit Union, to help less well-off citizens so they no longer need to turn to payday loan companies.
  • Continue Labour’s work on the real Living Wage by engaging with local businesses over the issue and promoting the benefits (better staff retention, less absenteeism and a boost to local spending) to our local community.
  • Have a Capital Plan that focusses on investment in the most neglected areas, rather than primarily in areas that will contribute funding.
  • Seek to create a cultural quarter around the new museum and make St Albans more visitor-friendly in the evening, to support and expand our tourist business.
  • Work with local businesses to play on our strengths, such as our Historic City status, our links to the Ryder Cup and our association with the sporting success of those teams who train and play near the city.

LOCAL COUNCIL SERVICES AND DEMOCRACY

The Council should be a positive engine of growth, innovation and support, using its resources for the public good.

Labour will:

  • Encourage local groups to apply for grants to improve local areas where residents are willing to undertake those improvements.  
  • Focus on delivering services where there is greatest need, greatest utility and most social deprivation.
  • Ensure that the Council’s efforts at localism meet the needs of local residents, and continue to review the Council’s efforts to make the Council more accountable to local citizens. 
  • Review the Council’s policy of not changing highways/parking matters unless 60% of residents agree on a particular course of action.
  • Set up a Fairness Commission, headed by a local independent person, to review the types of services we offer to our local citizens and how effective the Council is at delivering them.
  • Look at different ways to engage the public more in Council meetings, and webcast all public meetings so that residents who are unable to attend them are still able to scrutinise policy-making.

HEALTH.

The District is a key stakeholder in the decision-making process of our local health services.

Labour will:

  • Continue to campaign for a full A&E services in the District
  • Fight to retain and expand NHS services across our District.
  • Campaign to scrap excessive parking charges at local health facilities.
  • Seek to upgrade health facilities for the elderly, disabled and mentally ill within our community, as Labour believes they are not getting a fair share of the resources.
  • Engage with local sports/health facilities, so that these are made more accessible to younger people.
  • Work with GPs and local sporting facilities so that less well-off residents who need to return to health via sporting activities can do so at an affordable rate.
Mar 022018
 

Addressing disparities and equality gaps in St Albans
The feature is based on the Council’s response to my enquiries.The Race Disparity Audit Report published by the government last year
recognised that:
“There are disparities between ethnic groups in all areas of life affected by public organisations.Some are more pronounced than others or have a greater impact on people’s life chances and quality of life. In some areas, disparities are reducing, while in others they are static or increasing.”
In November 2017, St Albans City and District Council launched its Inclusion Strategy for 2017 -2020. Its aim is to build an inclusive community where everyone has the opportunity and support to take part in and contribute to community life. The Council in its strategy recognises that some people and communities may require additional support to reach their full potential and participate in community life.Within its strategy, the Council has identified current priority areas for inclusion as Age, Disability, Race,Religion and Belief. By targeting its resources in these areas, its aim is to work to reduce the equalities gap.Examples of some key actions that relate to these priority areas are as follows:
– Carry out detailed study on the current population to identify issues and challenges.
– Use findings to undertake targeted work to build community networks and engagement in each area to help support specific needs identified e.g. youth provision, isolated elderly and black and minority ethnic groups.
– Monitor delivery of services against all protected characteristics and target resources where gaps are identified with the aim to help ensure that inequalities do not arise and to respond to the changing needs of our community.

The Council needs first to understand the specific challenges faced by communities locally.The key objectives identified in the Delivery Plan for 2018 are:
– To understand our communities, the needs and concerns of local people, and respond to them.
– To involve local people in decision making to ensure an active democracy.
– To encourage and empower all local people to become involved in community projects and play an active role in community life.
– To ensure access to information and feedback for local people
and organisations.
Questions & Answers
I set out below some specific questions that I posed to the Council and their feedback.
Q. How is implementation of the plan going so far?
A. “We are on track with the Inclusion Strategy delivery plan. Our Community Grants programme has successfully funded a number of projects to support the priority areas identified in the strategy. These include:
• a project at St Nicholas Church in Harpenden, to bring people from different communities together;
• Herts Practical Parenting Programme who are providing a specialist project aimed at supporting BAME families in the district.
• Internally we are implementing Equalities training for elected Members as well as officers. This will ensure that the principles and practices of inclusion are embedded across the work of the Council.”
Q. What linkages are likely with the Council’s wider Local Plan in terms of “community facilities” for meeting BAME communities needs?
A. “The first consultation on the local plan is open until 21st February. There are 14 points across the district where residents can view the local plan exhibition and comments are welcomed online as well as via email and post. The plan can be made available in different languages as well as accessible formats and we very much encourage all members of the community to contribute their views. In line with national policy the infrastructure will include community facilities to support the number of houses identified. We will continue to work closely with the community to identify the specific needs for facilities.”

Q. What schemes are being developed locally through engagement with employers to provide greater opportunities for paid internship mentoring, apprenticeships and volunteering specifically for BAME youngsters?
A. “The Council has a programme of graduate placements, internships and apprenticeships. We source graduates through the National Development Graduate Scheme (NDGP) and directly for some areas. We also work closely with Oaklands College and the University of
Hertfordshire to promote our apprenticeships and internships to ensure these opportunities are advertised widely to all their students as well as within the wider community. We had a number of employees going through these programme over the past two years, up to 11
candidates were from BAME backgrounds.” We are developing further volunteering at the new St Albans Museum and Gallery, which is
due to open Summer 2018. We are working with YC Hertfordshire and other local youth groups to create brand new ambassador opportunities for young people to become engaged with the museum. In particular we are targeting young people who may not have been involved with participation before, including those from BAME backgrounds.”
Q. What are the more significant emerging issues so far from work already undertaken (e.g., isolation, hate crime)?
A “Isolation is an issue for some of our residents and may be more so for those who are older, from BAME backgrounds and with disabilities/ mental health needs. We have in place specific action plan to tackle loneliness in the district. This includes commissioning projects to increase our information on services for older people and supporting community groups to expand their volunteering workforce. We will ensure these current initiatives fully reach residents from BAME backgrounds and very much welcome discussions on further proposals from BAME community groups.
Working with the police and our voluntary sector partners we have robust systems in place to respond to hate crime We monitor incidents through the Community Safety Partnership and our partners at Citizen Advice are shortly to become a Hate Crime Third Party reporting centre. As part of this initiative Council front line customer services staff are also being trained.”
Jagat Chatrath
BAME Officer, St Albans Constituency Labour Party
26 February 2018
ALL DIFFERENT – ALL EQUAL