House price rises bad for some

FOR those of us homeowners - albeit with a mortgage - it is sometimes too easy to feel smug as house prices continue their seemingly endless spiral upwards.

FOR those of us homeowners - albeit with a mortgage - it is sometimes too easy to feel smug as house prices continue their seemingly endless spiral upwards.

But the fact is that the distorted shape of the housing market is causing real problems for society as a whole and local authorities in particular.

And frankly the lack of political leadership from government and the impotence of local councils is storing up severe problems for the future.

There are nowhere near enough affordable homes for rent on the market or coming on to the market.

That is a legacy from the Thatcher era, when the idea of a “home-owning democracy” forced councils across the country to sell off their housing stock to tenants. At that time councils were not allowed to use the money they received to build new homes - and now legislation makes it virtually impossible for councils to build any new homes.

When was the last time you saw new council houses (as opposed to Housing Association properties) being built?

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What local authorities can do, is insist that a proportion of “affordable housing” is included on any new development - but this proportion can vary between about 20 and 40 per cent and there is no guarantee that it will include the right kind of homes.

In Ipswich there is a desperate need for new family homes with three bedrooms or even more. Tenants who are in these homes are understandably reluctant to move when the children have flown the nest so the number coming available each year is pretty small.

I was speaking to one tenant who lives with his partner and their three young children, two girls and a boy, in a two-bedroomed privately-rented home. He told me: “We've been told that we've got a good case for a three-bedroomed council house, but we were also told that at the current rate of progress it could be ten years before we reach the top of the queue.

“By that time our oldest daughter will be almost ready to leave home!”

Many of the new affordable homes built recently - and still under construction - are one or two-bedroomed flats which I think do meet a need that has, until recently, been under supplied.

But now the balance has been tipped, and coupled with the increased prices on the open market for housing, there is now a serious imbalance.

It doesn't help if councils are too keen to give into pressure from developers to reduce the proportion of affordable homes that have to be included in new developments - this week Ipswich Council was accused of reducing the number of affordable homes being included in major new developments.

Frankly councils have to apply all the pressure they can - otherwise the housing squeeze in the county is likely to become a full-blown crisis.

The average income in Suffolk is £19,554 and the average house price is £171,413 - nearly nine times higher. There are, of course, cheaper starter homes - but there are also many people earning considerably less than the average income.

And that's where the social impact of the lack of affordable housing really becomes clear. If there aren't adequate homes for everyone then society becomes skewed.

It's all very well to have thousands of homes for yuppie commuters - but where will those who empty their dustbins live?

It's great to have all the entertainment venues, but where will the bar staff or ticket office staff live? Unless the government and local authorities start to do more to ensure there is enough adequate housing for everyone, I worry that our society will become increasingly fractured.

EDUCATION Secretary Ruth Kelly is perhaps not the most sympathetic member of the government.

After the dreadful tangle she got into over the issue of sex offenders working in schools, she's now got a real battle over the future of school organisation to look forward to.

But when I saw pictures of her leaving Salford Magistrates' Court earlier this week I felt really quite sorry for her. She'd been called to give evidence in the case of a Fathers for Justice prat, I mean activist, who was alleged to have thrown an egg at her during a meeting last year. He actually pleaded guilty to using threatening behaviour, so why she had to appear, I don't know.

As she left the building another idiot, sorry - he hasn't appeared in court yet - alleged idiot, decided to take another pot shot at her with a similar projectile.

I don't know if these people think that throwing eggs at cabinet ministers helps to advance their argument. If they do, then they're even more stupid than they appear.

OH dear! Once again Ipswich Market has been sacrificed for the Valentine's Fair.

The fair is a great Ipswich tradition, and it gives families something to do on what is always the quietest half term of the year.

But I can't believe that in a town the size of Ipswich it isn't possible to accommodate both the fair and the market.

It's all very well to say to customers: “It'll be back next week,” but if they rely on the stalls for their fruit and veg, their fish, and other groceries it is a big blow.

Part of the problem, of course, is that there's a bit of a culture clash - those who shop at the market are unlikely to want to leap on board the rides.

And their frustration hasn't been addressed by the market managers.

Hopefully for next year a solution will be found which will allow the fair to take place alongside the market - after all you don't find Norwich Market cancelled for the Lord Mayor's Show!