Housing crisis in our district

In the County Times of December 13 (‘Big Change in housing policy...’) you reported that Horsham District Council is intending to refuse to allow those ‘who have been convicted of a crime within the preceding 12 months or who have not lived a crime free life in the community for six months since leaving prison’ to apply to its housing register.

This is a surprising proposal in light of the council’s statutory obligations to the vulnerable and homeless and I should think that it would be difficult to uphold if challenged.

Andrew Neilson’s very robust criticism of the proposal deserves a second airing in the hope that it might inform, and hopefully prompt a revision of, what seems to be an ill-informed and increasingly reactionary approach by our Tory councillors to the housing crisis in our district.

He states, ‘ In England, we leave decisions on how to deal with people who commit crime to courts of law... We should not go down the road of having council bureaucrats step in to add the mandatory sentence of homelessness to any family with a member who commits any crime. Horsham council has strict criteria for allowing people onto its housing list based on their vulnerability and need. It should stick to these genuine concerns rather than try and achieve cheap political wins’.

Well said, Mr Neilson.

District councillor Sue Rodgers claims that the draft proposal reflects the responses received to the council’s consultation in which apparently 68 percent supported the idea.

This consultation received 604 replies, 400 of whom ticked this particular box in the section on allocation policy. Is it really appropriate to make council policy that flies in the face of statutory obligation on the basis of the opinion of such as tiny percentage of the resident population ?

Mrs Rodgers justifies this with the argument that social housing is a scarce resource. In Horsham that is undoubtedly the case but that is largely because the council has failed to deliver on its strategic objective to deliver the number of homes required.

If the council had enforced the obligation on developers to deliver affordable housing at the levels identified as needed there would be no need to exclude any group from the housing register. With the levels of development proposed in the area it has the opportunity to ensure that supply meets demand.

It will be interesting to see whether the council responds to the thousands of people who have called for more affordable housing and fewer sprawling executive developments.

In recent months the council’s failure to comply with its duty to provide adequate sites for travellers has been highlighted in the news.

We now see them, with this draft proposal, trying to offload their responsibility for another marginalised group. Our local councillors have made much of their role in running the council as a business, perhaps they need to be reminded of the kind of the business they are in. As an arm of the government they should be providing services and support to everyone in the community they serve, in line with their statutory obligations.

If the way to ensure that the council does this is to respond to their online consultations.

I would urge more right minded, social aware residents of Horsham, of which I know there are more than 400, to make sure they do this.

It seems this is the only way our voices are likely to be heard. The consultation on the draft strategy on housing and homelessness closes on January 1.

CAROL HAYTON

Horsham Labour Party, Clarence Road, Horsham