Local elections 2018: Parties clash over affordable housing

View of the City of London and Canary Wharf from Custom House. Picture: KEN MEARS

View of the City of London and Canary Wharf from Custom House. Picture: KEN MEARS - Credit: Archant

The parties battling for votes ahead of local elections next week have clashed over their affordable housing plans.

Candidates in the local elections have clashed over affordable housing. Picture: Isle of Dogs Forum

Candidates in the local elections have clashed over affordable housing. Picture: Isle of Dogs Forum - Credit: Isle of Dogs Planning Forum

Last year 1,085 affordable homes were built in Tower Hamlets, the highest number in the country according to the council.

The borough’s Mayor John Biggs said in a pre-election pitch: “These figures show the benefit of having a Labour mayor of London working alongside a Labour mayor of Tower Hamlets.

“We are leading the way in providing new council and social homes and have redefined affordability so that affordable homes are more genuinely affordable.”

But Conservative Canary Wharf candidate Andrew Wood argued the high numbers were a result of the large amount of building going on. He said the work was having a negative impact on people’s lives with increased traffic and a lack of GP surgeries and schools to absorb the people moving in.

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He added new developments were concentrated in Poplar, the Isle of Dogs and Aldgate, putting pressure on those areas while other parts of the borough, including Whitechapel, were ignored.

He called for building work to be spread across the borough more evenly.

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However, Aspire’s Ohid Ahmed challenged Mayor Biggs’s numbers saying it was under his time as deputy mayor that the council delivered the most affordable homes.

Mr Ahmed said: “All homes built under the Labour administration since 2015 were actually approved by our Aspire/Independent administration between 2010-15.”

He went on to say if voted mayor he would deliver 10,000 homes and root out homelessness.

Both the Conservatives and Green Party said they would look into the success of a scheme in St Clements, Mile End, where the community owns the land which reduces building costs meaning homes were cheaper to buy.

Green Party mayoral candidate Ciaran Jebb said if elected his party would redefine affordable. Instead of a home being labelled as such if valued at 80 per cent of what it would fetch on the housing market the Greens would link affordability to people’s pay.

He vowed to increase the percentage of affordable homes developers had to include in new builds from 35 per cent to 50pc.

Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate Elaine Bagshaw put forward the same idea describing the borough as “one big building site”.

“But Labour has not built homes that are truly affordable,” she said. She went on to say the council had done nothing to bring back into use 559 homes the party identified as empty following a freedom of information request.

She said: “They talk a good talk, but are not walking the walk.”

The Lib Dems and Greens agreed to scrap plans allowing housing association tenants to buy their own homes. Both want to set up council owned housing providers.

“Although Mayor John Biggs claims to have delivered his pledge of 1,000 new council homes, he has included houses that have not yet been built and houses that still have no planning permission. He has also tried to claim false credit for homes that were in the pipeline before he became Mayor,” a spokeswoman for the People’s Alliance of Tower Hamlets said.

Its leader, Cllr Rabina Khan said: “Affordable housing means creating homes that are affordable for everyone, not just the few. Unlocking brownfield sites owned by public bodies will reduce the pressure on those in need of social housing and on private renters aspiring to become homeowners.”

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition was approached.

Voters go to the polls on May 3.

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