The new Housing Minister that Theresa May tasked to increase home-building has been accused of taking a “not in my back yard” approach, after it emerged he fought against the construction of hundreds of properties in his own constituency.
Gavin Barwell was appointed by Theresa May last month as the incoming Prime Minister pledged to “get more houses built” and solve the housing crisis plaguing parts of Britain.
But plans opposed by Mr Barwell in his own constituency of Croydon Central, despite a huge housing shortage there, would have potentially provided homes for more than 500 families in the area.
Hundreds of local residents had signed a petition against the developments and the issue received significant coverage in local media. Since the campaign the local council has shelved plans for some of the homes.
Mr Barwell said any suggestion that he was against homebuilding was “absurd” but Labour accused him of Nimbysim.
Since being appointed Housing Minister he has however continued to make political capital out of the so-called "Save Shirley" campaign. In one tweet on 9 August he highlighted comments by a local Labour councillor saying that "anybody other than an idiot" would see the need for new housing in Croydon; his constituency party described the comments as "appalling".
In January, as Mr Barwell made his opposition to the plan clear, figures released by what is now his department showed the number of rough sleepers on London’s streets had doubled in five years.
Statistics released by the Department for Communities and Local Government at the time showed rough sleeping in the capital hit 7,500 in 2015, up from 3,673 in 2009-10.
Meanwhile rents are continuing to rise faster than inflation across the country, with a 2.4 per cent increase across Great Britain in the 12 months leading to June 2016.
On her appointment as Prime Minister, Ms May warned that unless Britain dealt with its “housing deficit” it would see “more and more of the country’s money” being ploughed “into expensive housing instead of more productive investments that generate more economic growth”.
In January of this year Mr Barwell told the local Croydon Guardian newspaper that several planned developments were a “pile of nonsense” that would “significantly change the character” of his part of south London.
Under the plans opposed by the MP one development would provide homes for 107 families in the area, with another providing homes for between 80 to 215. A third planned development would see 88 to 236 homes built on another site in the vicinity.
Mr Barwell said at the time: “There is overwhelming opposition in the area. It would represent a significant change to the character of Shirley.
“There is a huge need for new housing in Croydon, but they haven't shared it out. The only part of the borough they're proposing to do this is Shirley.
“It's a pile of nonsense. That one area has been singled out with no explanation. Nothing has changed about that land.”
The Labour leader of Croydon Borough Council Tony Newman then responded by accusing Mr Barwell of whipping up “unnecessary anxiety and fears” over the developments, which were included in the borough’s local plan.
Mr Barwell told The Independent that he was in favour of housebuilding but that the sites in the local plan were not suitable because they were located in areas designated as ‘metropolitan open land’.
“When I was actually involved in running the council we turned the town centre into an opportunity area for thousands more homes to be built. The idea that I’m against housebuilding is absurd,” he said.
“If you look at my record as a councillor for 12 years in Croydon and then as an MP I’ve consistently supported housebuilding.
“I do feel very strongly that unless there is literally no alternative we shouldn’t be building houses on greenbelt or Metropolitan Open Land.
“The overwhelming majority of people who lived in the area agreed with me and the Labour council now clearly agree with me because they are no longer planning to build houses on the sites concerned.
“The local plan proposes building thousands more homes in Croydon and the vast majority of those I support.”
Teresa Pearce, Labour’s shadow housing minister, however accused the new housing minister of Nimbyism.
“Croydon’s Labour Council have been leading the way in clamping down on rogue landlords, bringing empty properties back into use and in pushing forward new housing developments,” she told The Independent.
“There is a growing consensus that we desperately need new affordable homes built both in the capital and across the country to tackle the housing crisis. It’s a shame the Minister seems to want these homes built anywhere but in his back yard.”
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