Parties competing to outdo one another on key issues of housing, railways and roads

A spate of burglaries in the Golden Triangle. Unthank Road. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

A spate of burglaries in the Golden Triangle. Unthank Road. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

A desperate shortage of housing, rocketing rents and prices, and frustration for first-time buyers have ensured housing - and the associated infrastructure - is a key electoral issue ahead of the election.

But how are the parties proposing to improve the outlook for weary tenants and homeowners - and how will it affect us?

Empty Housing

The crippling recession of 2008 saw house building plunge to its lowest level in decades – a shortage which has seen rent and house prices soar.


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In Norfolk, last year's average house price – £205,491 – was up 7pc on the previous year and 8pc on the 2007 level of £189,916.

All the parties are agreed that it is critical to build more houses, leading to a oneupmanship which has seen the parties trying to outdo each other on numbers.

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David Cameron has pledged to build 200,000 new homes for first-time buyers aged under 40 by 2020 to be sold at 20pc below the market rate, while Labour promises to build the same amount each year in the next five years.

Not to be outdone, the Liberal Democrats said they will increase house building to 300,000 a year until 2020, while the Greens have pledged to build 500,000 social rental homes in the same period.

Our dwindling supply of social housing is also under the spotlight, as more than 1.8m households wait for social housing in England and thousands are on council waiting lists around Norfolk.

As of the end of March, there were 2,297 on the register in Breckland, 4,134 in Norwich, 2,466 in West Norfolk and 3,048 in Broadland.

The Right to Buy scheme, introduced under Thatcher's government and expanded under the Coalition, has further depleted the stocks.

It offers local authority property tenants the chance to buy properties they have lived in for five or more years, but councils have struggled to replace sold-off stock.

While Greens are pledging to scrap Right to Buy, Mr Cameron announced in his manifesto that the initiative would be extended to housing association tenants, giving up to 1.3m more families the chance to buy their own home.

Homes sold to tenants will be replaced on a one-for-one basis, the party promises.

But the announcement has attracted a backlash from one local housing association – and opposing parties – with the group chief executive of Broadland Housing Group, Michael Newey, describing it as 'not well thought out'.

In an open letter, he wrote: 'This proposal will threaten the viability of local housing associations. The Conservatives hope that we will be able to replace sold homes on a one-for-one basis and we will certainly try. But this will be much more difficult than it sounds. We will need to find the land and achieve planning – neither easy and both taking time.

'Local authorities have been unable to do it, replacing only one house for every 10 that have been sold. We will inevitably see the reduction of the number of decent affordable low-rent homes, at a time when there is more need for them than ever before.'

UKIP has pledged to end Right to Buy for foreign nationals and will prioritise ex-servicemen and women and those returning from active service. Meanwhile, the Greens are promising to tackle the issue of empty housing, by bringing thousands of homes back into use. In government figures taken during a snapshot from October 2013, it was revealed that more than 4,000 homes across Norfolk and Waveney had been standing empty for more than six months – at a time when 21,000 households were on the waiting list for social housing.

First-time buyers

Steadily rising property prices – for many faster than wages – mean first-time buyers are struggling to get their foot on the housing ladder.

Many are forced to pay extortionate rent or remain at home with mum and dad while they attempt to gather a deposit.

The Help to Buy scheme was the flagship housing policy under the Coalition, and helps first-time buyers with a government loan of 20pc and a requirement for a 5pc mortgage.

And while experts have raised concerns that it has further inflated the housing market, Mr Cameron has pledged to extend the scheme until 2020.

In last month's budget, Chancellor George Osborne announced a new Help to Buy ISA for first-time buyers to help them get a deposit for a house.

Under the scheme, buyers can save up to £200 each month and the government will add 25pc on top.

The minimum you need to have saved to get the bonus is £1,500 and the maximum the government will contribute is £3,000.

Labour responded by saying it would use the scheme to fund 125,000 new homes, while making sure that banks offering the ISAs are obliged to invest the funds in house building.

Yesterday, they also announced that first-time buyers would be exempt from stamp duty when buying homes worth less than £300,000.

The Conservatives called the 'panicky' plans unfunded and said that they had cut stamp duty for most people since 2010.

To ease the pressure of saving for a deposit, the Liberal Democrats hope to pilot a scheme called Rent To Own, where first-time buyers can build a share in their homes through monthly payments equivalent to rent.

It would see the government partner with housing associations and providers to deliver 30,000 properties.

With a high student population in Norwich, thousands of students each year move into private rented accommodation, with areas such as the Golden Triangle a popular student area.

Nelson ward, in the Golden Triangle, has the highest concentration of both student and non-student houses in multiple occupation in Norwich with 16.2pc of houses in the area being shared.

Labour hopes to introduce standard three-year tenancies for private renters and cap rent increases.

Putting a ceiling on rent payments is also supported by the Liberal Democrats, while the Greens want greater rent control.

The bedroom tax

The under-occupancy penalty has attracted heated criticism since its introduction in April 2013. It means that anyone other than pensioners in social housing deemed to have surplus bedrooms has their housing benefit docked.

Labour, UKIP and the Greens would all scrap the spare room penalty, while the Liberal Democrats would reform rather than scrap it.

In August last year, city hall Labour leader Brenda Arthur said it had done little to free up bigger council homes in Norwich for larger families.

More families... and cars

Dozens of communities around Norfolk – many of which are likely to double in size thanks to large-scale development – have bemoaned stretched doctors' surgeries, roads struggling to cope with the traffic and a lack of school places.

While we will be focusing on health care and education separately in other features in this series – what are the parties doing to ease Norfolk's transport woes?

Roads

The completion of the A11 dualling in December last year marked the end of a decades-long campaign.

An estimated 27,000 cars use the road every day and a report has estimated that it will deliver £700m in economic benefits over the next 60 years. But there is more work to be done.

With rail commuters often suffering travel misery and accidents a regular occurrence on the A47 Acle Straight, more funding is desperately needed. The Conservatives have pledged the biggest programme of investment in roads since the 1970s and the biggest in railways since the Victorians.

A report in the government's autumn statement announced that £300m of key improvements would be made by the Highways Agency in Norfolk between now and 2021.

For weary Norfolk drivers often queuing or witnessing accidents, dualling the A47 will be a priority.

But the railways in the county would also be high on the list.

With services often delayed, old trains and lines and an ongoing campaign to see trains from Norwich to London take 90 minutes, investment in our region's rails would be welcomed.

Labour hopes to allow a public sector rail operator to bid to take on new lines, while capping annual rail fare increases.

The Greens hope to renationalise the rail system and promote cycling and walking to reduce pollution.

In their manifesto for the Norwich City Council elections – released last week – they pledge to make cycling in the city centre a more enjoyable experience.

It comes just after the city council secured an £8.4m government cash pot to improve conditions for cyclists in the city, amid a project to pedestrianise city's most central roads.

St Stephen's Street and part of Rampant Horse Street have already been closed to cars, with plans to do the same to Westlegate and Red Lion Street.

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