On Tuesday this week the government set out its housing strategy in a new white paper, published by the Department for Communities and Local Government. At its heart is one simple message; that we need to build a lot more properties both to rent and buy. For decades we have fallen well short of the the number of new homes that are needed, and the consequence of that has been to see prices go up and up, as the availability of properties has fallen. Nationally, the average property price is eight times the average annual salary – this has effectively put home ownership out of reach for the younger generations. The scarcity of supply in the private rented sector has also put up prices. For people on lower incomes, not only is housing the big bill they have to pay every month, they pay a greater proportion of their earnings on rent than any other sector of society.
We need a revolution in housing in this country to give people the opportunity to find a decent and affordable place to live – whether they are renting or buying. The government is asking all local councils to identify sites where new homes can be built to meet the local demand. Shepway District Council is already ahead of the game in this regard, having selected sites for housing development, and applied to the government for support for the proposed garden town at Otterpool, close to junction 11 of the M20. Otterpool can deliver up to 12,000 new homes over the next thirty years. The development will include affordable homes to rent and buy. Thirty percent of the land within the development area will be kept as green space. There is also space for business development, recreational facilities and community infrastructure, like schools and medical centres to serve the community. I would urge everyone with an interest in this project to engage with the Council’s consultation on the plans for Otterpool. This scheme can deliver the homes and jobs we need, and bring a large amount of investment into our district.
On Saturday I was delighted to be invited to present the prizes at the Rotary ‘Youth Speaks’ debating competition at the Tower Theatre in Cheriton. This annual event is jointly organised by the Folkestone, Channel, Hythe and Romney Marsh Rotary clubs, and is open to all of the secondary schools in the district. Over the last four years the competition has grown in terms of the number of participants and the quality of the presentations. I was interested to see a wide range of debates on important and highly topical subjects, from the power of advertising, to issues relating to race and identity. I look forward to welcoming the winning teams to parliament in the spring, for a tour of the House of Commons, and to wish them well when they represent the Shepway area in the Rotary regional debating competition. I would also like to congratulate everyone involved with the event, and in particular Collen Hill, who has worked so hard, with his committee, to make it such a great success.