Saturday, March 28, 2009

Hopes dashed?

Mr Wright & one time friend, Liz Dawn...

On the 17th March Iain Wright MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government visited the Council at the Civic Centre. This was the culmination of a long standing campaign by Highfield Resident's Association for government to consider how very high numbers of larger 'Houses of Multiple Occupation' can change the character of older urban areas and review what can be done about it.
The first thing to note about Mr Wright is his relative youth (b.1972, he is the same age as me!) and like his immediate parliamentary predecessor, he certainly seems a smooth operator with the gift of the gab. That said, while the Minister could not have been more charming, I really don’t think he could have realistically have been less supportive of Southampton at all. On would have thought that given his loyalties to the area he represents, he could have been a bit more understanding of Southampton's plight. Southampton is extremely unusual in that the council estimates 58% of its housing stock in the central area of the city are classed as HMOs and 9 % of the stock across the city, compared to just 2% nationally.

The fundamental issue was, as I see it, that he didn’t really acknowledge the difficulties that having very high densities of HMOs in established older urban areas creates. Until one considers that central problem, one cannot identify relevant solutions. Indeed he said at one point that he wanted to see a larger private sector housing element in most cities (and if he did that nationally, presumably by making the buy to let market more attractive to landlords) the consequences for areas like Highfield could be incredibly profound.

On the matter of the relaxation of permitted development rights within the planning process, I also saw no recognition of the issues that have been created by the opening of that particular Pandora’s Box. I just don’t think it is a priority for political priority for him at the moment.

My biggest disappointment was on the issue of the use classes order. Until larger HMOs can be bought into and tested by the planning process, there will be nothing other than a largely unplanned piecemeal approach to development. His reluctance to make any commitment in this area, talking about ‘unintended consequences’ and all the rest was profoundly disappointing. I spoke to our Head of Planning & Sustainability at the Council after the meeting and in terms of a pre-legislative consultation; there certainly has been nothing forthcoming from government in recent months.

I felt his focus on community engagement (a laudable activity in itself) showed this lack of understanding of the problem. My view is that the University could not reasonably do more to engage with the local area and no one (as far as I am aware) has ever alleged that this is a problem in recent times. It is not that we are unable to live side by side but the social consequences of depopulation of families, older and working people that need to be considered.

My only comfort is that he did at least appear to commit to think about the problem and indicated that legislative time would be found if that was an appropriate solution at the end of the meeting, having earlier indicated he was pretty cool on the idea.

On a personal level, thanks to everyone from HRA for inviting me and letting me address the meeting; our wider concerns could not have been put more articulately by the HRA committee members as well as the University who answered the Ministers point's with brevity and courtesy.


Blogger Red Rooster said...

I have it on good authority from multiple people at that meeting that all you and your cronies did was make a few vague points at the beginning, then stay very quiet and let your officers do all the talking. Of course we'll never know, as it was a private meeting, but if they are right, you giving a crap contribution but then blogging publicly with complaints about how you weren't listened to seems a bit two-faced to me.

I also understand Adrian Vinson exposed you pretty effectively by pointing out that you have broken your promise to apply for additional powers from the government to regulate HMOs, because you're not willing to pay the paltry sums to administer such a scheme. Why not instead of whinging about how nobody listens to you, do you not instead take some responsibility for the situation as it exists in Southampton and do something about it?

Is it because, perhaps, you judge that Southampton Conservatives have a greater interest in exacerbating the problems of HMOs in the city rather than solving them?

4:04 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Red Rooster sounds like a Labour councillor. Glad to see you are still sticking up for your coalition partners, that may work some day, if at first you dont succeed try try again!!

5:48 pm  
Blogger Matt Dean said...

Red Rooster, people may not have agreed with my contribution but I don't think I was vague- I explained to the Minister why I didn't think additional licensing would help Southampton's problems in terms of densities of HMOs and then explained why I felt aligning the use class definitions across both Housing and Planning would be useful.
As I recall, Adrian Vinson agreed with me.
By the way, there is no issue about the council not finding the funding for additional HMO licensing- the tab is picked up by a charge to the Landlord in full so that really isn't the issue- although we are chronically underfunded by this Labour government in so many areas.
Finally, I don't think it is anybodies interests to exacerbating the problems of HMOs in the city and certainly not the Conservative controlled council- in fact, quite the reverse.
Best wishes,

6:53 pm  
Anonymous Baarakiss said...

Anonymous grow up, everybody knows from the daily echo comments that Red Rooster isnt a cllr. He only works for the Labour party!!

7:37 pm  
Blogger Red Rooster said...

lol, two tories, both wrong about something. Who'd have thunk it? (although I find it a bit odd that I'm getting lectured on anonymity from 'anonymous' and baarakiss').

10:28 pm  
Blogger Matt said...

Lets debate the issues shall we?- who people work for or what their political affiliations are (which are normally clear anyway!) are of secondary importance!

4:51 pm  
Anonymous Red Roosters South American relative said...

Cant see how Matt Dean is correct, Whitehead is the way to go.

3:16 pm  
Blogger Matt Dean said...

but go where?

5:14 pm  
Anonymous Omegaman said...

I am a big supporter of Dr Whitehead, however I cant excuse the Red Rooster for writing on Blog sites when he should be working in the office at 2.28pm.

6:43 pm  

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