An entire economic class faces being wiped from the St Albans district due to Housing Bill, councillors warn

Cllr Mal Pakenham outside the St Albans council offices

Cllr Mal Pakenham outside the St Albans council offices - Credit: Archant

The government’s latest planning reforms will result in the “economic cleansing of a whole class of people from this district”, a councillor has warned.

St Albans district council’s ‘complacent’ stance on the Housing and Planning Bill 2015-16 has been scoffed at, with councillors warning it risks driving workers from this area.

With the House of Lords beginning a line by line examination of the bill on Tuesday (9), Labour councillors Roma Mills and Mal Pakenham asked for the Tory-led administration’s backing for the local authority to make representations on the government’s ‘pay to stay’ policy.

Fears have been expressed as the reforms seek to make tenants in council homes who earn more than £30,000 per household annually, or £40,000 in London, pay the local market rate in the private sector.

At a full council meeting late last month, Cllr Mills said she was ‘deeply, deeply shocked’ by the bill’s “potential for destruction of what we call social housing.

“I thought it important that we have the opportunity to discuss this as the local housing authority.

“We have lost 6,000 council properties under the right to buy scheme, which has gone down from 11,000 to just under 5,000 and that certainly hasn’t been made up by the provision of housing association properties in this area.”

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Criticising the council for being ‘complacent’ Cllr Mills said she was shocked that the bill labelled high earners as those with a £30,000 salary because for a family living in St Albans, that amount would fail to allow people to “access private rented accommodation” let alone enable them to buy a home in the district.

But Cllr Lyn Bolton said it was “important we wait until the House of Lords has had its reading and it goes back to the House of Commons”.

Cllr Mary Maynard added: “People’s circumstances change, when they move into council housing, they may be on relatively low income…however people get other jobs …they earn more money.

“They get to circumstances where they can earn substantial amounts and still be blocking council houses for other people, who cannot afford to live in this area. This is particularly true when we have over 1,000 people on the council [housing] waiting list.”

An ‘astonished’ Cllr Chris White (Lib Dem) said it was pointless waiting for the bill to progress further, “because after it has gone through, it is an act and it is too late”.

He said there was concern not just about people being driven from their homes but where they would move to.

Cllr White went on: “They serve us in restaurants and pubs, they do menial jobs, they do important jobs in hospitals; they are being driven out of our community by this foul piece of legislation. They will move to Bedford and drive down – what do you think our roads will be like?

“This will be a town populated by the wealthy and middle classes, served by people commuting hundreds of miles a day, to make this city work.”

But the council’s portfolio holder for housing, Cllr Brian Ellis, and the authority’s executive leader Cllr Julian Daly said there was no need for a specific motion on the matter, as they were already in personal talks with St Albans MP Anne Main and Housing Minister Brandon Lewis.

Cllr Ellis admitted: “With regard to pay to stay, the reality check is that the £30,000 proposed level for outside London should be higher for this district, and we will be making representations.”

Cllr Daly said he had spent a “lot of time with Brandon Lewis” and that Anne Main, along with councillors, had “successfully persuaded him to look again at what he is doing”.

An unimpressed Cllr Pakenham replied that it was “mealy-mouthed of Cllr Daly to say, ‘Oh, I’m off to see the minister to talk to and lobby him’.”

He added: “This bill isn’t about changes of circumstances and people being socially mobile.

“It will economically cleanse a whole class of person from this district. That is why it is so dangerous.”

But the motion was narrowly defeated 26-22, with four councillors abstaining from voting.