Housing The People

08:08 Thursday 23rd August 2012
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

ANDY GALL: There are calls for a boost in the private rented sector to help meet the nation’s housing demands. The report by Sir Adrian Montague suggests that more investment into build-to-let, more flexibility for councils, which could allow authorities to waive affordable housing on new developments. But there are concerns that this could have an impact on those who are not very well off. Rachael Orr is Campaign Manager at Shelter and joins me on the line. And also Ed Murphy is a labour councillor in Peterborough. We’ll go to Rachael first. What do you think about these potential new rules?
RACHAEL ORR: The first thing about this report is that we really welcome that someone’s actually taken the time to focus on the private rented sector. The number of households renting their homes has increased by 41% in the past five years, and it’s almost happened a bit unnoticed. So we were pleased that the Government was taking the time to look at the private rented sector, the way it was changing, and potentially come up with solutions to help people. We feel that the report is a bit of a missed opportunity really, because there’s no real discussion about real reform for people who are living in the private rented sector now, many of whom are experiencing high increasing rents, real instability, really short-term tenancies, and nowhere to put down roots.
ANDY GALL: We have discussed, this week actually Rachael on the Breakfast Show, about some of the concerns about the quality and the standard and the cost of rented accommodation in the city. Do you feel however that it can be placed upon the shoulders of the private sector to actually pick up the slack.
RACHAEL ORR: Well absolutely. And I think that’s one of the good things about this report, in that it talks about the need for institutional investment. I think it doesn’t address any of those concerns that you just raised about quality and standards, and what can be done to help people renting now. But it does talk about how we could potentially invest in the private rented sector, and potentially that gives us some opportunity to offer those longer tenancies, make private renting more professional. The area of concern for us is that we would be very worried if there was a move to substitute private rented housing for affordable housing. Because while private rented housing may be suitable for some households, and especially if they have a lot more security, it’s absolutely not a substitute for affordable housing.
ANDY GALL: OK Rachael. If you can just stay there we’ll bring Ed Murphy into the conversation, Labour councillor in Peterborough. So Ed, what do you think of this report from your perspective?
ED MURPHY: I, like Rachael at Shelter, welcome the report, because we’ve got a focus on the private rented sector. Unfortunately the private rented sector is not a solution. I share her concerns about security. Only last week I visited somebody in Chestnut Avenue in Peterborough, a former council home. £720 a month they were being charged in rent. They were frightened of registering to vote. They didn’t really have any security. What we need in this country is a house building programme, and we need to have more public housing. There is absolutely no reason why Peterborough City Council couldn’t be part of the solution, by building more new homes in Peterborough.
ANDY GALL: But this report, the reason we’re discussing it this morning, a report by Sir Adrian Montague suggests more investment into build-to-let and more flexibility for councils, and believing that if the private sector did get involved, it would give councils that flexibility. But you’re critical of the councils not actually providing what you believe they should be providing for the most vulnerable people in society.
ED MURPHY: They missed a trick in this report. We need more secure homes. We need homes with a rent that’s affordable. We’re already spending millions of pounds a year on rent allowances for unnecessarily high rents. They’re astronomical in this city, and they’re exploiting people. Many private landlords are decent, but there are a large number of poor private landlords who are just exploiting people. We need to get housing sorted, and we need housing ..
ANDY GALL: But do you think it’s more political than it is social, with regard to the Government maybe having an eye on getting the construction industry back on its feet?
ED MURPHY: Well in Peterborough, four years ago we were building 1,300 homes a year. It’s plummeted down to about 43 when the new Government came in, and lack of investment. What we need is investment in housing, and we need to build those homes for people to live in.
ANDY GALL: Rachael, there has been a drop in the number of new houses under construction. The Government needs to try and do something to give this a boost. So would you see these plans as being something to actually do that?
RACHAEL ORR: There has been a lot about housing in the news recently. This is another thing that talks about another way that we could kick start the construction industry. I think we’ve heard a lot of proposals, and actually what we need is some action. We need the Government to take some bold steps to start investing in housing, to kick start the economy, to kick start construction. And there are a number of ways they could do it. But the crucial thing is we just need to get building homes.
ANDY GALL: OK Rachael Orr, who is Campaigns Manager at Shelter. Thank you for joining us. And Ed Murphy, who’s a Labour councillor in Peterborough. Just Ed, while you’re still with us, people listening to this within our area, they’re going to be concerned more by this that heartened.
ED MURPHY: Well I think your journalists have done a really good job lately in exposing the situation in Peterborough. I think you were doing a story on unemployment benefit, and stumbled across the reality of living in the private rented sector in a significant number of homes in Peterborough. And it is appalling. That property I visited in Chestnut Avenue, I was out canvassing for the Police Commissioner elections, I would have closed it down if I had been an environmental health officer. It wasn’t being looked after. £720 per month they were charging that couple, and that’s not unique in Peterborough.
ANDY GALL: Indeed.