Melanie Onn MP, shadow minister for housing, opened a conference, Guildford’s Housing crisis: towards progressive solutions, on Thursday afternoon last week (March 22).
Around 70 people gathered at the Millmead Baptist Church to attend the conference, jointly run by Guildford Labour Party, Guildford Action and Guildford Private Renters Association.
Although an MP for Great Grimsby, Melanie used to live in Liphook and chiefly remembers Guildford as the place she failed her driving test!
She outlined the various levels of crisis, both locally and across the country; the inexorably rising numbers of homeless, the crushing rise in rents and one-sided nature of tenure and the huge cost of buying a house. She poured scorn on the idea of half a million-pound houses being in any way ‘affordable’.
She went on to provide a ‘sneak preview’ of Labour’s ‘New Deal on Housing’, which includes building more social housing, new powers of compulsorily purchase for unused land, making three-year tenancies the norm, capping rent increases, creating a homelessness task force led by the Prime Minister – and creating a sensible definition of affordable.
Although jointly organised by Guildford Labour Party, the event was open to all regardless of political persuasion, and councillors from both the Conservative and Liberal Democrats were in the audience.
Guildford Borough Councillor Philip Brooker, the Conservative lead for housing and environment, was a panel member alongside Anna Birley from the Co-operative Party and Kevin Fulcher from Homes for Surrey. There was also an authoritative presentation from Duncan Bowie, a member of the Bartlett School of Planning at UCL (University College London).
Further workshops were held on community-led housing, student housing, private renting and homelessness in Guildford.
In total there were 14 speakers from a wide variety of organisations. There were a wide range of issues raised from the floor and although discussion and debate was sometimes passionate, the tone of the afternoon was one of working together to find progressive solutions to our local housing crisis.