BEAST FROM THE EAST 2 COMING OUR WAY!
I sometimes wonder why it is that we can ignore something most of the time, then suddenly get very concerned for just a few days a year. I was thinking this last week, looking at the snow falling over the car park as the “beast from the east” brought snow and freezing conditions to our sheltered southern climes. Predictably, for the first time since Christmas, the news focused on the plight of people who were homeless. Equally predictably, as the weather warmed and the news moved its focus, the homeless again became invisible to most of us.
As far back as the 17th century Walton Charity was providing housing for local people - as well as essential household items, food and clothing. It is sobering to realise that, despite the apparent wealth of Elmbridge, the lack of affordable housing, food and basic household amenities mean that life for many remains an ever increasing challenge.
Having a stable and affordable home is surely one of the most basic necessities of life. With house prices rising higher and higher relative to wages and a shortage of affordable homes there is a sense of an inevitable worsening of this situation. Outside of London, Elmbridge is the most difficult place to get a ‘foot on the property ladder’ with private rents even more unaffordable for many.
We need to work together as a local community to work out where people in lower paid jobs can live. Local teachers, nursery workers, care staff do not have the benefit of London-level salaries – but they are forced to pay London-level rents and house prices. It seems that people are moving out of the area because they can no longer afford to live in Elmbridge, and recruitment for these roles is ever more difficult.
Is this what we really want as a local community? Change is never easy and locally we need to ask ourselves whether we are content to allow the status quo. 57% of the Borough of Elmbridge is Green Belt and nearly 10% is public open space and we would all want to retain this in an ideal world. But it is not an ideal world and with an ever worsening housing crisis on our doorstep, Elmbridge is one of places with the greatest need for new homes.
Surely it should be possible to preserve a decent environment to live in and build enough homes for our children and those we need to make our community work?
By not permitting and managing a controlled development of affordable homes for our local community we continue to constrict supply and subsequently force up land and house prices. This denies decent local homes to people on low and middle incomes and ultimately forces people into long commutes and limits access to local workers. We need to embrace bold and imaginative ideas, like community led housing developments, cohousing and living spaces that are retained in the community.
The homeless, who periodically come into view, are simply the lowest tier of this housing crisis. Their plight is seen by the media as extraordinary, an aberration in our wealthy state. Yet it is simply the worst aspect of a crisis that affects so many of our young (and not so young), those who are not lucky enough to inherit property or the income/deposit to get a mortgage. Not only the homeless but the hard-pressed renters, those struggling with debt and those saving up for decades for an improbable dream of home ownership are all with us, all the time, even when the spring weather arrives. We, at least, try not to forget them.
Chief Executive, Walton Charity