Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Building sustainable communities or promoting inequality and division?

This week, The Sheffield Star carried an editorial noting how ‘the city is one of the most divided cities in the UK in terms of wealth, health and equality of opportunities. Almost every indicator of life shows areas in the north and east of the city poorer than in the south and west.

It called on all the decision-makers – private, public and third sector - to ‘successfully tackle those divisions that blight people’s lives and place them at a disadvantage to others purely because of where they happen to live.’

I agree with both the analysis and with the prescription that we need to address the inequalities between communities just a few miles apart. Most importantly, to build local sustainable communities will require positive action to ensure a variety and balance of housing tenures at a local level.

So, what then are we to do with the Policy Exchange report Ending expensive local tenancies, which promotes the view that all homes valued above a regional median owned by social landlords should be sold off and the proceeds be invested in new homes in areas with lower land values?

The simplest answer is ‘Put it in the bin’! It was clearly written by those who know the current cost of everything, but know nothing about value. It was a throw-back to Margaret Thatcher’s ‘There is no such thing as society’.

Unsurprisingly, as the headlines played well to the tabloid media, David Cameron voiced his support. Clearly, he hadn’t thought through the implications.

For me, the whole thrust of the report immediately brought to mind Shirley Porter’s unlawful gerrymandering plans to socially cleanse Westminster. Policy Exchange’s proposals would achieve the same result, not just for the whole of Central London but for a wide range of communities throughout England.

So, for example, Harrogate would become devoid of all social housing, with the proceeds invested in Bradford, some 20 miles away. I’m not convinced that the army of care assistants and cleaners who support the ageing population of Harrogate would be prepared to make the 80 minute each way bus journey from Bradford without a significant pay rise. Or, are they just meant to get on their bikes?

In Sheffield, it would almost certainly mean that Sheffield Homes and all other local housing associations would be required to sell the few remaining rented homes, when they became vacant, in most of Sheffield Hallam constituency, Wharncliffe Side and Worrall, Loxley, Nether Edge and Meadowhead. Beighton and Mosborough would not be unaffected.