Housing trust vice-chairman: ‘Stop stereotyping tenants like me’

Vice Chair of the Vale of Aylesbury Housing Trust David Briercliffe
Vice Chair of the Vale of Aylesbury Housing Trust David Briercliffe
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The vice-chairman of the Vale of Aylesbury Housing Trust has hit out at people against social housing in rural areas, claiming there has been a ‘pernicious stereotyping’ of their residents.

The trust has caused controversey in its bid to place more social housing in Vale villages.

David Briercliffe, who lives in social housing, told the trust’s ‘rural housing garden party’ that more homes were desperately needed in the countryside.

His speech in full:

I count myself fortunate to live in a thriving rural community. We have schools, shops, pubs, a reasonable transport system and leisure activities at our disposal - and a strong sense of belonging.

Perhaps it’s because of this that I have a keen interest in protecting the viability of our rural communities.

Elsewhere in the Vale, other communities have not been as fortunate.

Professor Mark Shucksmith, a senior and distinguished academic with interests in rural housing, development and rural exclusion, has called the UK’s declining villages ‘rich people’s ghettoes’.

It’s a juxtaposition in terms that should resonate with each and every one of us who can and do influence the future of the Vale.

Since 1980, over 11,000 ‘council houses’, or social homes as they are now known, have been lost to Right to Buy - and never replaced.

Yet the need for affordable housing has never been higher than now.

Right to Buy has eroded local rental stock to such an extent that in places like Bishopstone and Poundon, we have more properties bought under Right to Buy than retained general needs properties.

Common sense says these properties need to be replaced. The average wait for a three-bedroom property anywhere is 22 months – but for a rural property it is considerably longer.

These are the facts:

• In 2010, 31 people placed bids on a three-bedroom property that became in Gawcott. No other family properties have become available there since

• In 2012, a two-bedroom Quainton property attracted 138 bids on the shortlist, and a three-bedroom received 67 bids. These were the first family properties available in the village since 2009

• No two- or three-bedroom family properties have become available in Soulbury since Bucks Homechoice records started in 2009, 4 years ago.

You may be aware that the Trust has secured planning permission for a range of rural developments. Some require utilising Trust-owned land that villagers may have come to consider as a ‘village asset’, others require the redefinition of a garden boundaries – but most positively change derelict and unkempt areas into affordable homes for local people.

It’s regrettable when long-standing residents of the Trust have their outside space reduced – and I can assure you that no one at the Trust is insensitive to that - but we have a clear responsibility to provide homes for families in real housing need.

Those currently without homes must be afforded the same opportunity to get somewhere to live as those fortunate enough to have had that security guaranteed for a lifetime.

Is there prejudice here?

No one can deny that there is a nationwide housing shortage with the lack of affordable housing reaching crisis point. So it is a puzzle to me why small, sympathetic developments are not always welcomed and that even people who have benefitted from social housing themselves would be amongst those who would deny others the same opportunity.

From some of the objections raised it would seem garaging vehicles or, more often than not, household junk, is preferred to housing people.

But what really concerns me is the stigmatising of those who will become future residents of an otherwise close knit, supportive rural community.

There is a pernicious stereotyping of ‘social housing’ residents that is damaging to the planning process and disruptive to the community – and which needs to be challenged just as we would any other prejudice.

To illustrate this, these are genuine comments in the public domain via the Planning Portal:

• ‘Why [this village]? Social housing should be the last thing the council would want to put in a village such as [this]!’

• ‘I am concerned that social housing hides behind a curtain of issues.’

• ‘The young people are doing well but a little concerning is the possible influence some of the ‘new’ people could have on them.

• ‘My son is doing very well, growing up into a responsible young man and the last thing we want is outside influences affecting him.’

• ‘There will be negative impact on house prices in surrounding area.’

• ‘We wonder who will live in these properties and have major concerns that we do not want to change this area. I obviously sound callous and hard, when in fact, I am not.’

• ‘Additional social housing should be provided in areas that have day to day amenities and a regular bus service for tenants. [This village] does not have these amenities; consequently a prospective tenant will need a car which most of the people on the housing waiting list cannot afford.’

• ‘Overbearing nature of proposal’: a 3-bed detached house in this area provided as social housing where there is not any local amenities, shop, bus routes, transport to junior and most senior schools. This means the occupants must have transport for work, school runs, shopping etc. When the present council housing was built in the 1920’s, all the occupants worked locally and there were shops and a school in the village.

My personal ‘favourite’ objection that epitomises the problem:

• ‘The Social Houses will make the remaining land, which contains a public right of way, feel intimidating especially at night and early morning for children and elderly’.

From this one might wonder who actual lives in social housing. What does this rare breed do, what do they look like. Do they speak like me? Or look like my Board colleague there, John?

And yet we are residents of social housing.

Who lives in social housing? People who do not earn the £57,000 annual salary it takes to secure a mortgage for an average property.

People who cannot afford nearly £900 per month for a private rental. People who, for a multitude of personal reasons, need the security, the opportunity, the assistance that social housing provides.

Some may receive welfare benefits, many will be in work. They may have caring responsibilities, disabilities, small families, large - but all have one thing in common: they just need a home.

Never lose sight of one simple truth, amid the negative stereotypes, the objections, the parking debate: Social housing changes lives, and it is our responsibility to ensure that it continues to do so.