Housing in crisis

This is the letter I had published in the local paper last week:

Our housing in Kingston is at breaking point. Last year, according to Rightmove, the average price of a home in the borough was £554,178, up 11 per cent on 2013 and 20 per cent on 2012. Who can keep pace with these astronomic levels, when salaries only increase by between one and two per cent per year?

Meanwhile, figures from Shelter, the Homeless charity, show that since 2011 in Kingston 77 council homes were sold off and none of them has been replaced, while the social housing waiting list has over 6,000 people on it. Housing officers tell me that the rent cap is forcing them to relocate residents outside the borough.

Furthermore, in the three years to 2013, less than 200 affordable homes were built in Kingston, not even 10 per cent of the council’s own target. In 2013/14 the target was a mere 84 homes. How can the council hope to achieve its targets when it approves developments such as the one by Berkeley on the old gas works at Sury Basin, where only 50 out of the 315 homes are affordable. No doubt this was justified by the viability assessment. And, what is a ‘ viability assessment’? It’s the developer’s OWN analysis of the finances of their OWN scheme, and if this self-assessment demonstrates to the council that the scheme is not financially viable, then the developer is able to duck out of providing affordable housing.

Exactly the same looks to be happening with the Eden Quarter development on the Old Post Office site. The developer St George, owned by Berkeley, says that because of viability they can only afford to provide 15 per cent affordable housing. Really? Maybe it’s because they’re worried about their profits? It can’t be that, because Berkeley Group posted a 40 per cent jump in profits to the end of April 2014, up to £380m from £271m in 2012-13.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t make last Tuesday’s Development Control Meeting, where St George presented their scheme to our councillors. Instead, I sent Council Leader Kevin Davis and the two councillors responsible for housing, Cathy Roberts and Patricia Bamford this letter to ask them to do the right thing for the people of Kingston. I also copied in MPs James Berry and Zac Goldsmith in the hope they can bring pressure to bear on both councillors and government with regard to the deep problems we face over housing locally and nationally.

I, and many other residents in Kingston, urge councillors to stop accepting poorly designed, exceedingly tall, overly dense schemes with unduly small rooms, featuring a derisory amount of homes that people can actually afford. Instead, they should tell St George, and other developers, to create schemes that reflect the history and prestige of the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames as well as providing for the needs of residents both now and in the future.

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