This week I presented a Ten Minute Rule Bill in the House of Commons. This is a type of private members bill whereby a back bench MP can propose a new law. My bill focuses on affordable housing.
In Chelmsford there is an acute shortage of affordable housing, around 360 families are currently housed in temporary accommodation. This is an all-time high.
Locally, many new homes have been built. In the Chelmsford City Council area around 1,000 new homes have been built in each of the last 5 years. Where a new development of over a threshold of 11 homes is built, our Local Authority applies an affordable housing obligation of 35%. As a result, many hundreds of new affordable homes have been built each year in the Chelmsford area.
Across the country, since 2010, Government backed schemes have helped over 829,000 households to purchase a home. This is a massive achievement. But, despite this, in areas like Chelmsford, the demand for affordable homes is out-stripping the number of new affordable homes being built.
New homes are also created when an office block, shop or other commercial property is converted into residential homes, like flats. However, there is no ability for the Local Authority to apply an affordable housing obligation to conversions. Therefore, entire office blocks can be converted into luxury flats, without providing any affordable homes. My Bill is to enable local authorities to apply an affordable housing obligation to conversions of commercial property to residential use. Local Authorities would be able to do this in a manner that best suits local needs in their local area.
If Chelmsford City Council had been able to apply the same affordable housing percentages to the commercial to residential conversion that they apply to new build homes, this could have released 453 new affordable homes in our area alone.
This Bill has the potential to deliver many thousands of new affordable homes for people across the country in a quick and timely manner. I am very pleased that it passed its first reading in the House of Commons with unanimous support.
A lot of work has already gone into preparing this Bill. The next stage will be to work on specific legal drafting and then see if I can get it through remaining stages before the end of this Parliamentary session.
In Chelmsford, I joined students from St John Payne School as they held a minute of silence to remember the war in Ukraine. It is now one year since Russia’s brutal invasion and tens of thousands of lives have been lost. Mariia, a Ukrainian refugee in year 7 sang a very beautiful, haunting Ukrainian folk song to over 1,000 of her fellow students. As she sang, I was struck by her bravery and the immense bravery of the people of Ukraine.
I had a very happy moment with children from Trinity Road Primary School who had prepared time capsules to bury under the floor of a new building that is being erected. This will enable this primary to become a two form entry school from September. I enjoyed picking up a trowel and laying a brick!
I also joined the Bishop of Chelmsford and other members of the congregation for a very early morning service to install the Very Reverend Paul Kennington as Acting Dean. I am very fond of our Cathedral which is such a welcoming place to people of all faiths, and none. Paul has been Dean of Montreal Cathedral in the past so perhaps we will have some maple syrup in the Cathedral.
Following the murder of 16 year old Andy Wood in the Waterson Vale area last month, I have written a long letter to the Chief Executive of Chelmsford City Council and the Police setting out recommendations from local residents on how the green space could be made safer. I was concerned that at last week’s council meeting the cabinet member responsible did not answer specific questions about suggestions for safety improvements in this area. I hope the council will treat these recommendations seriously as safety must be a priority.
I have also written to the police regarding two recent incidents of spiking in Chelmsford nightclubs that have been reported widely on social media. I would like to see Chelmsford as a No Go Area for spikers. This will mean everyone working together to try to prevent spiking and catch perpetrators. I know many Chelmsford clubs and bars work extremely hard to keep customers safe. It is really important that anyone who thinks they may have been spiked comes forward and reports the incident very rapidly so that vital evidence can be obtained.