Regular readers will know that I’ve highlighted plenty of stupid things that James Duddridge has said or done in the last year or so. From his aspirations for irresponsibly expanded gambling in Southend, to his bizarre decision to run a “Halifax customers only” constituency surgery, it is safe to say that his judgement hasn’t been fantastic.
And, as Labour’s Cllr Ian Gilbert commented, since the change in administration on the council, he seems to have a lot more to say about what the council is doing. The combination of the two is probably going to lead to predictable results, including this little gem:
In response to the council’s decision announced yesterday, to launch the biggest new council house building programme Southend has seen in decades, James Duddridge is dead set against it.
In a small story in the paper Echo, attached to the one about the housing announcement, Mr Duddridge said:
“We need more affordable housing, but I think affordable housing is better provided by the private sector in mixed areas.“
Now, this was entirely predictable. Both because Mr Duddridge is a card-carrying Thatcherite who refuses to accept that a free-market approach is neither perfect nor the solution to every problem, and secondly because he is a slavishly loyal Tory backbencher who basically spouts the party line on everything.
He acknowledges that there is a need for more affordable housing, but we have had housing associations across the country and in Southend for years, and the problem has been getting worse. There just isn’t the money in genuinely affordable housing for the private sector to build it. The lack of affordable housing pushes up the demand, which as Mr Duddridge will well know pushes up rent. As a result, this pushes up the housing benefit bill to the taxpayer.
Mr Duddridge goes on:
“Clustering social hosing does not work as well. The council should be accelerating permissions for brownfield sites and looking to transfer its property to housing associations.“
He’s right on clustering. Where possible, social housing should be integrated into the community in a mixture of different housing options. And the astute amongst you may notice that where he talks about accelerating brownfield sites, that is exactly what the council has announced it will do; utilising disused sites for new housing, and spreading the new stock around the borough.
So the only objection that Mr Duddridge can have, is that it’s the council itself which is doing this.
The benefit, of course, of doing this is that there can be democratic oversight of the new housing stock. It also means that money from the rent can go towards both the upkeep of council-owned housing and the expansion of such projects. Money going back into the community, rather than into the pockets of private corporations.
So James Duddridge’s objections to Southend Borough Council’s housebuilding plans are, unsurprisingly, entirely ideological. And this is the same MP who has, previously, called on the council to “fire up the Quattro with the 1984 spirit” (I’m not sure that the “1984 spirit” is something to encourage, honestly…) and sell off all remaining property that it owns for private companies to profit on. He also wants to cut the waiting time for Right to Buy from three to two years, presumably in an effort to effect the former.
The phase “out of touch” is tossed around a lot, but it’s hard to think of anything else — certainly anything publishable — with which to describe James Duddridge. He clearly has no idea how desperate the housing situation has become, and just what a lack of supply policies like Right to Buy have caused. Those low-income families and individuals desperate for housing they can afford deserve better. The taxpayers who have to shell out for an inflated housing benefit bill to private landlords, because there isn’t enough suitable housing, deserve better.
Southend, in short, deserves better than James Duddridge.