Published: 29 June, 2012
LAST week the council’s Labour-run executive gave the green light to build new homes on two school sites in Finsbury and Archway.
The Tribune has reported recently just how controversial these plans are with residents, along with those for other sites, such as on the Holly Park estate, which the council is looking at concreting over.
Sadly, I fear we will be seeing the council come up with many more such controversial proposals over the years. With 13,000 people on the housing waiting list and numbers likely to increase as demand outstrips supply, Islington is facing the same pressures as every council in London.
Of course, we all want to see more new housing in Islington.
That’s why, when I was executive member for housing, Islington was one of the first boroughs to fund and start its own council house-building programme.
We are now seeing the fruits of that policy as more and more tenants get the keys to their new council homes.
Liberal Democrats also oversaw the completion of thousands of new housing association rental and low-cost homes between 2000 and 2010.
But there is no doubt we need to do more.
Islington and London are facing a housing crisis.
The question is how do we achieve this goal without destroying existing communities and building on the precious little open space we have in Islington?
What has come across loud and clear over the last few weeks is that you need to take residents with you. Islington Labour councillors can’t just dictate to residents that 45 new houses will go up in front of their homes and, by the way, they will lose car parking spaces, their community centre and open spaces too.
The council needs to be seen to be listening to residents and not just bulldozing through its plans arrogantly or coming up with secret lists of possible sites.
Labour councillors need to take a less blinkered view of how they will achieve more new homes.
Already we have seen that studio and one-bedroom flats are being sold off on the open market by the council to fund large, new homes.
This effectively pulls the rug out from under the feet of Islington’s young people, who now stand no chance of getting their foot on the housing ladder with sky-high property prices and private rents excluding lower-earners.
The Tribune has reported recently how we are in the crazy situation where the council’s planning committee is turning down applications to build affordable homes because the numbers offered don’t quite meet Labour councillors’ fixation with targets.
So, in the recent decision on the scout centre in Holloway Road, six Islington residents lost the chance to move into a new home on the site because Labour councillors insisted on seven flats. Net result? No new homes at all.
The council has decided to reject the government’s new “affordable rents” scheme.
I don’t agree with it, but it would help many residents who can’t afford a full mortgage to move into a new home.
This would fund new social housing in Islington too.
To rule out the option completely is just political dogma.
I really worry that Labour’s housing will just lead to an even more polarised community, with the extremely wealthy continuing as they are, new council homes for only those in the highest housing need and the rest left to fend for themselves or even driven out of Islington.
But just as important are all the existing social housing tenants.
We hear nothing about the council’s plans to modernise the homes of people who missed out on Decent Homes work or to keep estates up-to-scratch. Moves like axing £5million Tenant Compact funding for things like security works do not inspire confidence.
The scandal of the council failing to spend all the money it planned to each year continues.
Last year, Labour councillors managed not to spend £2million of the housing budget.
Now that the council has full control of housing management in Islington, residents will rightly have higher expectations.
The council needs to change course if it wants to avoid alienating many residents by building on every bit of open space and creating even more divided communities.
• Councillor Terry Stacy is leader of Islington Liberal Democrats.