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Difficult choices call for political courage

Last month I raised the contentious question of whether the Housing Crisis is of more pressing concern than the Climate Emergency. Since then our members have been discussing that dilemma with a couple of the Council’s cabinet members and they believe both issues can be tackled in tandem, though it will call for some tough decisions.

Let’s start by getting a sense of the scale of the Housing Crisis. We know we have one of the highest ratios of house prices to average wages in the country and that’s unlikely to change any time soon. In addition, there are around 6,000 people on a waiting list wanting to change the houses they are in. That’s a big chunk of our total population so should be of great concern.

It’s interesting that the local authority has decided to make a contribution by building Council houses and they have an ambition of constructing a thousand of those over the next decade which will be a help.

Of course, as soon as you start talking about house building you run into the question of where they will go and there are always objectors who say they are in the wrong place – ie. In their backyard, so to speak. Another knotty problem comes with the Green Belt, which for some people is sacrosanct and not to be tampered with.

However, if you need to build more housing in a sustainable manner and the urban centre is largely full, does it make sense to place developments much further out, having hopped over the Green Belt ? You are just making it much more likely that you will be adding to things like traffic problems, however good public transport is and no matter how many electric cars you have.

Surely it makes sense to find sites which are close to good transport links, even if they are within the existing Green Belt ? At first sight it might seem odd that we develop in this way but there is an ironic logic behind it. It would meet the housing need and weirdly may be better for environment as a whole and climate change in particular.

Now this is extremely controversial stuff and quite probably politically toxic. It would be an extremely hard sell for any would-be Councillor to seek election on that as a platform. But politics sometimes means taking tough decisions which are locally unpopular. It calls for courage and leadership in the face of what will be strong opposition but the long term benefits will be there for all to share with more housing and less damage to the climate.


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