COVID-19 has strained all aspects of the housing sector. So many tenants are struggling to pay rent as the end of the furlough scheme and growing redundancies take their toll. Thousands face homelessness when the eviction ban is lifted in four weeks. While (some) landlords across the country have stepped up and have agreed alternative payment arrangements with tenants, it has been at their own discretion and expense – exacerbating the already uneven safety net across the country.
The government should be credited for introducing the furlough scheme to protect workers and the eviction ban to protect tenants, but these were temporary measures designed to mitigate a national emergency. And they will soon come to an end. The real intentions of a government can be measured by what rights and protections they secure for their population over the longer term – whether in health, eduction or housing.
Against that measuring stick, Boris Johnson’s government performs very poorly.
There isn’t enough space on this blog to dive into the fiascos around the millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money funnelled to allies of the government without tender (or effective results). Nor do I have the energy to wade through the muddy mess of last week’s A-Level shambles, where the Gavin Williamson and Ofqual managed to grade students across the country on the basis of their socio-economic dis/advantages rather than their day-to-day classroom performance (despite advance warning that this would be profoundly discriminatory).
Today’s post is dedicated to Robert Jenrick, MP: aka Champion of “Landlord Britain”.
When Jenrick isn’t undermining his government’s own lockdown restrictions by travelling 150 miles to his second home in the middle of a pandemic, he can be found pushing through development schemes for millionaire Tory Party donors – flouting government procedures and cancelling out the £45m community-benefit levy that is meant to come with these schemes.
More recently, Jenrick has been working on one of the biggest “shake ups” of the housing sector in Britain. His plans? To remove local council decision-making in planning, and to divide land across the country into zones for growth, renewal or protection.
Those areas identified for “growth” and “suitable for substantial development” would get automatic approval. Areas designated for “renewal” would get “permission in principle”, subject to basic checks. Small sites will have exemptions from financing affordable housing. After all, what a burden building more lower-cost housing might be (it might bring in more poor people… heaven forbid!).
Critics across the country (even from within the Tory Party) have said this will be a complete social disaster. Local councils will no longer get to decide on developments in their area, local people will no longer be able to object to destructive projects. It rips away some of the safety nets of affordable housing, it offers nothing for tenants, and sets the country up for a future of low-quality “slum” housing. Developers must be rubbing their hands together with glee at the prospect.
We fear what it means for our estate in Oulton. Pemberstone’s appeal against Leeds City Council’s decision to refuse planning is set for 6th October 2020. If they win the appeal, 60+ families face homelessness. If they lose, then it seems as though all they need to do is wait. Wait until the area is earmarked for growth or renewal, and then they don’t need Council approval any more. Over 60 families will be made homeless regardless.
The only reason families in Wordsworth Drive and Sugar Hill Close still have roofs over their heads is because individuals and organisations across the country were able to object against the destruction of their homes and community, and because Leeds City Council was able to take a decision on a case-by-case basis. We’re going to continue fighting for the people who live in these homes to be considered as a priority above an area’s “growth” potential.
Houses and estates are lived in by people who have relationships and dependencies on those around them. You can’t map neighbours and carers and family and friends into zones.
The last time the government decided on people’s futures on the basis of a “dispassionate” assessment linked to geography, private school teenagers improved their A-level grades, while teenagers from disadvantaged schools across the country saw their results plummet and their university places withdrawn. Is this some of what’s in store for our estate? Automatic planning permission and overnight eviction?
Where these development zones earmarked for “growth” or “renewal” will be remains unclear at the moment. I’d confidently place a bet right now, though, that Jenrick’s expansive estate in Herefordshire won’t be one of them.
Help us keep up the fight and donate to our legal fund at JustGiving. This isn’t just about saving our homes, it’s about the future of all low-income tenant estates across the country. With Jenrick’s planning changes, tenants and other residents have less say than ever over the future of their homes and local areas.