LHG South West Branch
The SW Branch held their inaugural meeting on May 18th 2021.
12 LHG members, and a few non-members, came together to elect an Executive Committee, and decide on the key issues to work on as a group.
LHG SW Executive Committee:
Chair: Zoë Peat:
I recognise that across the South West, there are unique challenges people are facing. From isolated rural neighbourhoods, to discriminated urban communities, and dwindling coastal areas, Labour must work to make sure everyone’s right to housing is not only protected but enforced.
My experience as a child has taught me how essential housing is, and how without the support of Local Government, people can be trapped in hostile arrangements. Whether it is being stuck in a toxic or abusive household, being exploited by landowners, or living in over-occupied and poor quality housing, not having a stable and safe place to call home can have a detrimental and lasting impact on a family’s wellbeing.
Secretary: Jonathan Wallcroft:
I’m a Parish Councillor in Keynsham in North East Somerset so I’ve seen first hand the importance of housing as an issue to the public. If Labour is to make an effective offer to the South West in the next election it must encompass a housing policy that is relevant to the needs of the future.
Executive Committee member: John Bloxsom
John is recently elected Leader of the five-strong Labour Group on Gloucestershire County Council and has formerly served on Stroud Town and Rodborough Parish Councils. He is committed to the provision of decent quality, affordable housing managed by not-for-profit providers.
He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Housing, currently serving as Vice-Chair of Two Rivers Housing based in Gloucestershire and an enabler for Community Land Trusts, and has worked in the voluntary sector and private sector, has set up arm’s length companies and worked for local authorities with retained council housing.
Executive Committee member: Jayne Kirkham
There is a housing crisis in Cornwall. We have skyrocketing house prices due to people buying sight unseen after Covid. But also 20% lower wages than the rest of the country. Our private rental sector is broken. Local people are being given Section 21 notices so owners can holiday let, Airbnb, or rent out their houses as student HMOs. Cornwall has the most empty houses of any local authority area – 18,621, of which 13,642 are second homes. In the recent election, it was an urgent issue on the doorstep and one which I, as a Councillor, desperately need to find a solution to.
LHG South West Inaugural meeting 18.5.21
Thangam Debbonaire, MP for Bristol West chaired the meeting.
Cllr Rachel Blake, LHG Executive Committee member, spoke about the current housing challenges. She listed 10 issues which need to be resolved in the region:
- Rough sleeping: the South West has the 3rd highest levels in the country
- Inequality: this has great impact on housing for people living in the region
- Fire safety: not enough is being done on this
- Housing affordability: this, and the number of 2nd homes, are critical issues
- Access to owner occupation: the Tories have failed their own test on this
- Homelessness: people are being moved to many parts of the country because of the shortage of options in London, putting pressure on housing in those areas
- Funding for social housing: low grant rates are making the provision of new homes very difficult, across the country
- Regulation: more regulation, and tenants being on their boards, is needed to make Housing Associations accountable
- Planning: the Tories’ White Paper threatens to largely take away the influence of local authorities and local people over planning decisions
- Devolution: we need powers to enable local authorities to tackle the different needs that there are in the South West, as in other areas – we need devolution not the centralising of power
Nicki Spear, Westward Housing Association, outlined the challenges for women experiencing domestic violence and abuse in the South West. Key issues raised were:
- The low level of refuge provision across parts of the region
- Difficulties for women needing to leave a violent partner when living in rural areas – with low incomes, very sparse public transport, and neighbours knowing your business
- The challenge to get rehoused from a refuge, particularly where housing policies work against people from outside the area
- Financial abuse and hardship adding to these difficulties
Cllr Jayne Kirkham (Falmouth and Cornwall) spoke about the housing crisis in the South West, and the fact that it is a major issue on the doorstep. Critical issues include:
- the number and proliferation of 2nd and holiday homes
- the huge increase in people from outside buying homes in the South West, prompted by Covid and the stamp duty holiday
- a large number of empty homes
- a lower-than-average proportion of social rented homes, and the lack of truly affordable homes that is linked to this
- low levels of building of council and Housing Association homes
- high rough sleeping levels in parts of the South West
- high levels of poor quality private rented homes, not meeting the Decent Homes Standard, poor heating systems, and a high number of families living in this sector despite its poor quality
- low earnings across the region
Jayne set out a number of solutions for discussion and to be campaigned on.
The meeting decided to start campaigning on the following topics:
- Educating people about their housing rights