Ronan Leyden opens the debate, with chair Will Forster, Cath Stemper and Debbie Harlow.
RONAN Leyden, from Bioregional Homes, opened the Debate. Bioregional is an innovative enterprise concentrating on high quality environmentally friendly and affordable housing developments. Their first project was BedZED Eco village in Sutton, where they developed zero carbon homes and a vibrant community. Compared with the national average of people knowing four neighbours, people here know 20. With the price of housing going up, they provide housing for the “squeezed middle”. They have five tenets. Firstly they partner with community led trusts. Secondly they offer discount market property 30-40% below the market value. The community led trust owns the land and keeps part of the profit when the property is sold on. Thirdly, they are custom built with generous space. Fourthly they are built to a high environmental standard. Finally they increase social interaction through the way they are planned. They are working on six projects in the South East including one at Chobham. In Chobham their project at the former Mincing Lane Nursery will have 30 homes of which 22 will be affordable. The application is for a development exemption on Green Belt land. They contacted all properties in the parish and got 44 positive responses saying there was a need for such a project locally. Cath Stamper began by talking about the project. Set up in the 1990s, it is a night shelter for homeless people with an outreach team, a well-being worker and they teach skills. It supports 350 people a year. Ten people are sleeping on the streets in Woking each night. People can stay at the hostel for three weeks and then need to be out for three weeks before being eligible to stay again. 60% of guests who are eligible are moved on to other accommodation. The age of clients is dropping and most are now in the 25-34 age group. About 70% have mental health issues. The project runs five properties people can move on to. The number of homeless is rising nationally and locally. New developments in Woking do not sufficiently cater for people on low incomes. 1,546 people are on the waiting list for council housing, a rise of 156% in the last 10 years. Local authority housing is now only 6.7% of the housing stock in England. The price of a one-bedroom flat in Woking is now £274,000 and £208 a week to rent. If you are lucky enough to be in council housing, the cost is £170 a week. There is no Government legislation requiring local councils to provide housing for homeless people and there are only two night shelters in Surrey in Woking and Guildford. The right to buy needs to be abolished, long with Universal Credit. Debby Harlow asked should we have the right to buy our house. She told us about a new scheme whereby people who are renting will be able to claim a proportion of their rent towards a deposit. Woking last year started 25% of all new council-house building in the country. There is a gap between what people can earn and what they can afford to rent. You need to be earning £30,000 a year to rent here in Woking.
Parts of Woking have been designated areas where landlords have to meet certain criteria. Woking has an ageing population and people need to be encouraged to downsize as they get older but often people do not accept what can be offered to them. The Council is targeting empty property. Woking has traditionally had a high percentage of owner occupied property. The new tower blocks being built will all be for rent and are one and two bed flats. With the green belt around Woking land for building on is restricted and the Council is identifying brown field sites. The problem of shortage of housing has grown over successive governments and we do not have a tradition of renting as in Germany. From the floor, the issue of commuters squeezing out affordable housing was raised. Restricted covenants was suggested as a partial solution to the housing crisis. Winter weather provision was discussed. If the temperature drops below 0 degrees for three consecutive nights then and only then does the Council have a responsibility to provide shelter for all homeless people. Woking offered people accommodation in Slough where bed and breakfast accommodation is cheaper but nobody took up the offer. Eventually people were put up in the local Travelodge. Those most affected by the housing crisis have been least involved in politics which has been dominated by the older generation. Young people need to be more involved. Voter ID was raised as a reason preventing people getting more involved. The problem of subletting was raised but it was not thought to be a big problem in Woking. If people know of cases they should be reported to the Council. Cathy told us about the danger of "cuckooing", where vulnerable people have been intimidated into subletting or handing over their tenancies. One young person raised the problems of anti social behaviour he encountered when he moved to Sheerwater. Immigrants coming into the country have to be here working for two years before becoming eligible for benefits and housing. In concluding, Cath said she thought Woking is not just for rich people. Woking leads the way in Surrey for provision for the homeless. She told us how a few people now begging on the streets of Woking have been brought in from London and are victims of modern day slavery. The outreach teams are working with them. Please do not give them money but a coffee, a sandwich and kind words are welcomed. Contributions to the discussion from the audience.