Southend councillors weigh up quality of life versus need for housing

Southend Council has pledged to tackle the town’s severe housing shortage and get more than 1,000 people off the wait list and into homes but concerns have begun to emerge over the impact this will have on existing residents.

Lundy Close is a small estate close to Southend Airport with less than 100 homes and a small patch of green space where residents go to walk their dogs, children go to play and other go for some fresh air.

But residents fear that all that could change after the council undertook a land review that identified the green space as ripe for up to 31 new and affordable homes that could help provide a roof over the heads of some of the 1,500 residents living in limbo on the council’s housing wait list.

Proposals to develop the estate have become the centre of crucial council debates on whether more weight should be put on the concerns of residents – who argue development will harm quality of life – or on the need to build more homes in a borough with a limited supply of land.

Lundy Close campaigner Laura Newman, 32, said: “We are a little community and as such the green provides much needed facilities for elderly, dog walkers and the children of the estate.

“The impact of more houses would be kids being forced into their homes instead of being outside in all weathers to play with their friends, playing football or on their bikes. A number of residents are also avid wildlife lovers so we would lose the benefits of badgers, bats, owls, woodpeckers and others.”

Miss Newman added that she fears a more crowded estate could lead to the estate being hit with anti-social behaviour as a result of community divisions.

She said: “I know and so do many other residents that there is a great need for council housing but there has to be something more beneficial for the town that building them in areas that already struggle with transport, parking, congestion as well as other infrastructure such as doctors and schools.”

Councillor Tony Cox, leader of Southend Conservatives, has insisted that the concerns raised about Lundy Close need to be taken seriously and must be considered when planning housing across the whole borough.

He said: “We can’t build at the expense of quality of life. For certain areas such as Lundy Close there has been a lot of opposition and you can’t cram people into these areas.

“We need to avoid the mistakes that were made 30 to 40 years ago that we are still picking up today. Yes, we want more homes but we don’t want to create ghettos for the future.

“It could be argued that this is the issue we have today with Queensway, which we are now having to spend a lot of money on regenerating.”

Homes supported with infrastructure and green space are considered vital by many but Southend’s council leader, Labour councillor Ian Gilbert has admitted that building enough affordable homes to house everyone on the waiting list, including hundreds of children, will mean “trade-offs”.

Furthermore, Government housing targets which are part of the council’s local plan, call for 24,000 new homes to be built over the next 20 years.

An annual report from Southend’s director of public health noted the borough currently has the second lowest housing stock growth of all cities’ in the UK and house prices are 11 times the annual salary of residents.

Mr Gilbert said: “Currently around 300 children, whom the council has a duty to, are in temporary accommodation, with all the negative experience that that implies.

“We have 1,400 on our housing waiting lists, people with a local connection who are not adequately housed. There are thousands more who are struggling in housing that does not meet their needs.

“People in desperate circumstances come to me week-in, week-out, and however much we look at prioritisation there are always more people in need than there are available properties.

“I actually think there is general agreement that we need more homes in the area, and certainly central government expect us to build houses, but clearly the trade-offs involved in delivering them will be controversial.”

He went on to explain that private sector housing is bringing economic benefits to the town but his priority is building “genuinely affordable” homes.

“Taking Lundy Close as an example,” he continued.

“If we do take forward a development, we will make sure that residents still have access to amenity space, and I believe we can do much to improve the quality of that space. Previous small-scale council developments have been successful.

“What we need from government is better mechanisms to make sure that funding for infrastructure, not just physical infrastructure like roads but social infrastructure such as health services arrives alongside or ideally before developments are completed, so that residents, new and existing, are not disadvantaged by development.”

Lundy Close residents

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter