Saturday, 30 April 2011

A Record of Action on Housing and a Promise of More

with Andrew Stunell MP, Cllr Kirsten Bayes
and Katesgrove Lib Dem Candidate Margaret McNeill
Outside a former empty home on Christchurch Road in Reading

Over the past four years I have led the campaign in Reading to reduce the number of privately-owned homes that are empty for 6 months on more.

It is one of the local issues I feel very passionate about.

As Lead Member for Housing I am acutely aware that in Reading we face a big shortage of affordable housing with thousands of people stuck for months and in many cases years to get access to a home.

This is a direct result of the failure of the previous Labour and Conservative governments to do enough to increase the supply of Council housing and other types of housing.

Tackling empty homes is another way to increase the supply of housing and when the Council was controlled by Labour the Council did too little in this area.

In my capacity as councillor responsible for housing in Reading I work hard day in day out to try and increase the number of affordable homes available for residents who need them.

This involves actively lobbying government to make the case for more funding to allow us to build homes and working with officers to identify opportunities to increase the supply of housing locally.

Over the past 11 months I have worked with officers and MPs in Reading to deliver:
In my role as Lead Member for Housing I  have worked hard to stand up for the rights of local Council tenants and people living in private rented housing:
Empty homes in Reading - latest figures

I asked officers for the latest figures on empty homes in Reading and they make interesting reading.

Latest figures show that there are currently 527 empty homes in Reading.

This is down from 555 in 2010.

12 empty homes were brought back into use in 2010/11.

Currently the top 5 wards for empty homes in Reading are Battle (93); Tilehurst  (69) Abbey (56); Katesgrove (37); Park (35);

The highest numbers of empty homes can be found in wards with high levels of privately rented accomodation.

I take a keen interest in work officers are doing to tackle empty homes, joining officers out and about in Reading in February for the second time to better understand the work they do.

Labour's terrible record on empty homes

In 2008 the then Labour-controlled Council in Reading launched a new strategy to tackle the problem of empty privately-owned homes, following a campaign I led.

former empty home Alexandra House on London Road

I have David Ireland, Chief Executive of the Empty Homes Agency to thank for first provoking my interest and prompting to me to launch a local campaign all those years ago.

In 2007,  again when the Council was under Labour-control there were 924 empty private homes.

No empty properties were brought back into use that year (source: Empty Homes agency), which prompted me to campaign for a new approach.

When I was chair of the Housing Scrutiny Panel in Reading between 2008 and 2010 I brought in quarterly reports to help councillors measure progress and to increase public confidence that work was being done.

And there is no doubt the work done by officers with landlords to tackle empty homes  has helped provide new homes for families right across this Borough as the Evening Post reported last year.

Campaigning to raise the profile of empty homes
during the 2010 General Election in Reading West

On assuming the chair last year the Labour Chair of the Scrutiny Panel responsible for housing, Cllr Mike Orton, dropped the reports from scrutiny agendas - what a backward step!

A quick scan of Reading Labour Party's Manifesto it is clear that empty homes work would not be a priority for them as it is not even mentioned.

This will not go down well with some former Labour councillors - notably former Battle councillor Tony Jones who said in 2009:
"The scandal of empty homes while so many people need decent accommodation is a big problem in Battle ward – and is on the increase.

“Battle has also suffered from a greater number of squatted properties than any other part of town.

“But I have been impressed by the efforts made by Lib Dem councillor Daisy Benson to get the council to renew their Empty Homes Strategy after so many years, and the professional approach being adopted by the council’s empty homes officer Nick Pritchard-Gordon.”
Sadly due to financial pressures many councils have been forced to cut back on this important work.

However, thanks to Lib Dem influence on the Council despite a tough budget settlement empty homes work will continue this year. 
In addition I have also been in discussions with government advisers at national level who are keen to do more on empty homes as stated in the Coalition Agreement.

So the message is simple: if you want this and other important work on housing to continue - vote Liberal Democrat on 5 May.

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