Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Neighbourhoods and Housing

I was nominated last night by the Labour party and group to be the portfolio holder for Neighbourhoods and Housing.  This means that if we take control of the council I will be in the cabinet otherwise I will be shadowing the cabinet member.  It's a new role that combines housing, community safety and introduces a new responsibility for building up local communities.  I will have more to say after Wednesday but I thought I would share the speech I made to party members seeking their nomination.

It had to be no more than 3 minutes so it doesn't go into a lot of detail.  I'd just like to reiterate what I said in my speech - I'm really keen for people to get involved - please email me racheleden.whitley@gmail.com if you have any ideas or want to get involved.

"I'm standing for this role because I'm passionate about improving the communities where we live.  This portfolio is about housing but also about the quality of life in our local areas - and thus it links to other portfolios.

We've been asked about our priorities for the coming year.  I'll talk about housing first.

My vision for this portfolio is to ensure is that a child born in Reading today in 20 years time can both afford to and want to live in Reading.

Of course our council homes will remain a crucial priority.  However we have now achieved the decent homes standard, so it is now time ot talk to residents about what they want to see next.  Council tenants should be helping to make the decisions.  Personally I would like to see a focus on sustainability, working with the Environment portfolio, through even better insulation, and looking at the possibility of taking advantage of feed-in tariffs for solar.  However it's got to be about what residents want.

A key challenge to us will be the Conservative plans to allow social landlords to charge as so-called 'market rent'.  Many residents live in housing association homes and we need to see this as a wake up call to engage with the housing associations.  Many will also know that there can be concerns and problems regarding repairs and maintenance in housing associations.  The council needs to work with residents associations, and encourage new ones to ensure that we get what works for Reading's residents.

Every home in Reading should be a decent home though, not just social housing.  For that we need to look at the private sector, in particular private rented.  I would work with students, young workers other private tenants and their neighbours to find a way the council can help that goal.

Moving on to Neighbourhoods.   We need to be positive about our neighbourhoods and feel connected to our neighbours.

The police cuts are a real threat to our safer Reading agenda and to the Neighbourhood Action Groups.  It's an easy cut, community involvement, but we know it would be short sighted.  It's crucial for tackling issues that make a huge difference to our quality of life, such as preventing and dealing with anti-social behaviour.  In some areas we know the NAGs work really well and others they just don't get enough people.  We need to work with the police and concerned residents to build them up and make them sustainable.

On a more positive note whether it's community gardening, the upcoming Jubilee celebrations, the big lunch, children's events - the council needs to be working with people not just for them.
I see this role as working collegiately with other cabinet members and am really keen to foster community participation and allow residents to opportunity to drive change.

It's a Labour value to work together for the common good.  I hope we'll be able to work together across neighbourhoods to make an even better Reading"