I was very disappointed to read the attack by Conservative MP Tom Hunt on Ipswich Borough Council in his latest column.
It was disappointing because it contained so many wrong statements and inaccuracies. It was doubly disappointing because, having previously had a long conversation with him on this subject, I know that he is aware of this.
The crux of his argument is that the housing allocation policy operated by Labour-run Ipswich Borough Council does not work in the best interests of Ipswich people.
The first thing to recognise is that the policy was actually brought in when the Conservatives were running the council in 2009.
As Mr Hunt wasn’t in Ipswich at the time, he might be forgiven for not knowing this. However, the Conservative leader of the Council in 2009 is now working in his constituency office so it seems barely credible that he isn’t aware that this is a Conservative policy.
Every council operates an allocations policy because there are far more people wanting housing than there is housing available. I outlined how Ipswich’s works last week.
One aspect that Mr Hunt has picked up on is that Ipswich operates under a regional system with neighbouring councils. This is for sound reasons which benefit Ipswich residents.
Mr Hunt makes great play of the fact that people from outside Ipswich can access social housing in Ipswich. This is true, but he neglects to mention that that it also allows Ipswich people to access to social housing outside the town boundary so they can, for instance, move for work or to be closer to family.
Ipswich Borough has a very tightly defined boundary which excludes areas many people regard as “Ipswich”. The current system allows people from Chantry to access housing in Pinewood and people from Rushmere to access housing in Kesgrave. This can be a great benefit for families who don’t want their children to move school, or who want to stay close to relatives when they move house. It would not be allowed under Mr Hunt’s proposal.
Every year since 2009, more Ipswich people have moved to social housing outside the Borough boundary, than people from outside the boundary have moved to social housing in Ipswich. The difference has averaged around 125 households per year for the last three years.
By being part of a regional system, over the last 11 years around 1,000 Ipswich families have been able to move to a new house who wouldn’t have been able to if we had followed Mr Hunt’s policy.
But where Mr Hunt is most wrong is when he says that the system doesn’t allow local flexibility around the allocation of new-build council housing. It does.
Allocating purely on the standard needs-based criteria, especially for larger new-build council developments, could lead to quite unbalanced communities as, for instance, it would make it more likely that most families had children of a similar age rather than a range of ages.
To create a more balanced community from the outset, we follow a different “local letting policy” for new council house developments. One part of this is that new occupiers must have an Ipswich connection rather than be from the rest of the region.
Every new council house since we started building in 2013 has followed this Ipswich connection policy. These really are Ipswich homes for Ipswich people – just as Mr Hunt says he wants.
The Council was criticised for allocating new houses to “foreigners” when the first new houses were occupied. I remember one family was indeed originally from abroad. However, they had already been living in Ipswich for 12 years – twice the length of time Mr Hunt says is required before we should regard someone as an Ipswich person and eligible for council housing.
I do not believe Ipswich Borough Council’s housing allocation system disadvantages Ipswich people. The evidence points to the opposite conclusion. If it didn’t, I would be the first to look at changing it.
Mr Hunt’s understanding of the system is incomplete at best and in some cases simply wrong. Based on this he is proposing a “solution” to a problem that doesn’t exist which would actually make it harder for Ipswich people to gain access to social housing.
Mr Hunt said in his column that he wants an “honest conversation” about council housing.
I am happy to work with anyone, of whatever political party, who genuinely wants to increase the amount of council housing available to Ipswich people.
However, I will leave it to readers to judge for themselves whether Mr Hunt was being honest in his last column.