Friday, 11 March 2011

Is this Cameron's idea of localism? Woodnook faces the brunt of housing cuts

Spending cuts stall regeneration plans as housing minister ends 10 years of community regeneration efforts, says Graham Jones MP for Total Politics Magazine

A decade-long housing regeneration programme will come to an end at the end of this month leaving £2.2bn worth of taxpayers' money invested in projects only halfway through completion.

The Housing Market Renewal (HMR) programme, introduced in 2002 under Labour, operated in some of the most deprived areas of the country. Its aim? To rebuild housing markets in areas of social and economic decline.

Originally intended to be a 10 to 15-year programme, the government has pulled the plug on it eight years in, at a time when many of the schemes were beginning to see results.

This week, a report released by the Audit Commission commended the HMR programme. It found that HMR made a substantial contribution to improving housing and economic circumstances in some of the country's most deprived areas.

Since the programme first began in 2002, more than £2.2bn has been invested in tackling the declining housing market in these deprived areas which in turn generated some £5.8 billion of economic activity across the economy. In fact every £1 of HMR investment attracted more than that in additional investment from the private and public sectors.

The HMR programme refurbished more than 108,000 existing homes across the country, attracted private investment to complete over 15,000 new homes, created some 19,000 jobs in construction and related industries; and maintained an additional 2,600 jobs in the construction industry each year.

It appears that the government's decision to pull the plug on HMR is not just ill-advised but rather has not been thought through at all.

Back in 2009 in a speech entitled "We will regenerate deprived communities and inner cities" the now housing minister Grant Shapps spoke of the importance of community regeneration and pledged to support communities in regenerating some of this country's poorest areas.

Indeed Cameron himself while leader of the opposition named community regeneration as a top priority for his future government. Now instead communities and families who were finally being given hope are being left out in the cold.

And so is this Cameron's idea of localism?

Instead of seeing cuts to HMR we are seeing a valued and invested programme being wiped away altogether. The fact remains that these deprived areas continue to need investment and it now falls to Grant Shapps to ensure that promises made to communities are met and to prevent a legacy of uncompleted projects.

A legacy that includes Woodnook in Accrington. Abandoned twice by local Tories who displayed to residents plans first in 2004 and then in 2010, it is left with no funding following the Conservative Council's decision to spend a £2million bonanza meant for Housing Market Renewal on marginal seats in a last ditch effort to cling to power.

At a stormy residents meeting, local Conservative Councillors were blamed for "double talk" and voting last week to spend the Housing Market renewal money for their area, Woodnook in other marginal seats.