I’m often told when Crawley was built, residents were told there would be homes for ‘you’, for ‘your children’ and for ‘your children’s children’. It was a bold pledge, particularly since the country was bankrupt at the time, but it was also a time when voters felt that the State which had beaten the Far Right in the Second World War was capable of delivering for Britain in peace time too.
The New Town dream is something I remain committed to and delivering affordable housing for local people has been my top priority since I became leader of Crawley Borough Council. When Labour returned to control of the council in 2014 we were elected on a manifesto of building 1,000 genuinely affordable new homes in four years, many times more than the Conservatives had built in their eight years running the council, and we delivered on that promise.
When we pushed to bring in a rule requiring developers to deliver 40 per cent affordable housing as part of all new sites brought forward, the Conservatives fought us the whole way, telling us the Planning Inspectorate would never sign off on it. We won, despite their protests.
Unfortunately, there’s only so much we can do as a council. More and more Crawley residents are forced into the private rented sector, unable to afford a place of their own and, since the introduction of Right to Buy, without any chance of accessing a council home. While the majority of landlords behave honestly, rents remain far too high for too many, with the weakest rights over the places in which they live of any form of tenure and often uncertain as to how long before they are forced to move on. As a member of Generation Rent, I can tell you living precariously is no fun.
We can fix this problem and leave a housing legacy to the next generation, but it requires change nationally. Labour has committed to taking the shackles off of councils, letting us build much larger numbers of affordable homes and gifting the county an asset for the future. That’s an investment worth making.