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Southend Tories let down affordable housing policy

March 21, 2018 3:07 PM
By Carole Mulroney in Leigh Times

Carole Mulroney

I've been involved with Local Government in one way or another all my working life and have seen it from both the side of a Council employee and working for developers as a paralegal in a City law firm; and for the last 4 years as a Borough Councillor.

I'm not an extreme person. I like common sense and straightforwardness and I can't abide 'faff' and procrastination. I like a 'can do' attitude, even if in the end I find I can't. I am not afraid to stand firm and speak my mind but I have always been drawn to the principles of fairness, tolerance and community.

But accidentally falling into the planning arena at the age of 23 set the course for me.

Planning affects us all some time or another and it is there for a reason and sometimes decisions are tough and you have to balance competing issues. It has complicated rules, regulation and policy which successive Governments have failed to simplify and I doubt this Tory one will do any better.

Leigh is under huge development pressure and it will get worse because the Government is putting more and more of the burden on local authorities to fulfil housing requirements, provide land and create communities without the resources they need to do all these things.

We need affordable housing, and we need it in Leigh, so our children and grandchildren can get a home of their own where they are growing up and not have to move away. But time and again developers wriggle out of providing it. It was a Tory minister, Eric Pickles, who got us into this situation.

Sometimes planning decisions can seem perverse and that is usually because policy issues outweigh what may to many seem like commonsense.

Take the car wash site in Leigh. I alone spoke against 20 flats, but it was rejected only because the developer refused to fulfil affordable housing requirements. So any developer prepared to include affordable housing can come along and propose 20 flats on the site and we won't be able to refuse it on the numbers. The pass is sold.

The developer then submitted a 9 flat scheme. Much better you say - until you delve deeper, because they were circumventing affordable housing requirements. Less than 10 flats means you don't have to contribute to affordable housing.

The officers recommended refusal because of the implications for affordable housing, and after careful thought I had to agree with them. We cannot compromise on what is a social need on which Government and our own policy is clear, and open the flood gates for other developers to do likewise.

We all have a duty to support those who are in need and our childrens' future and for a local authority one of the most tangible ways this can be done is by ensuring they have a roof over their heads which gives them security and helps in so many other areas of living, like getting a decent job.

I was surprised when Leigh's Tory Councillor voted for the scheme, letting down the principles of affordable housing and the people who need it in Leigh and the Borough.

I have consistently tried to persuade Southend's Tory Administration to lobby Government for support for towns under pressure, like Leigh, but they violently oppose me. Party before people.

Over the years I fought their plans for the community centre (now look at it), our Library (they were stopped). I fought their disastrous plans for our schools (they were stopped) and now their lacklustre response to changes to our hospital (we shall see).

Leigh is no longer a small fishing village but that industry is important to the town's wellbeing and I am involved in projects to help the industry move forward. But Leigh is not just about fishing - it has much more to offer and we should be nurturing our children, residents, local businesses and organisations, who together make it a great place to live.

I have worked hard to build a reputation as someone who fights for the town, its businesses and industries and its environment and heritage and in the future in every way I can I will keep on working to make Leigh a town to be proud of.

I have the sea on my doorstep and a community I love, its not a bad life for an Essex girl!

This article first appeared in the Leigh Times and you can see a .pdf of the paper's verson here