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Councillor John Harbour is deputy leader of Burnley Council and executive member for housing and environment. Here he talks about the changing face of the housing market in the borough and how it is vital for a prosperous future.
Burnley is a town where innovation, enterprise and excellence play a central role in all we do. Our town was named second in Britain for digital jobs growth. We take pride in our reputation for its manufacturing excellence, particularly in the aerospace industry. A “Knowledge Quarter” that will boost education, enterprise and entrepreneurship by providing new business space is currently taking shape; and our largest business park is about to double in size, creating up to a further 1,300 jobs. Burnley means business – and that means we have to provide good quality homes for those new workers.
I would argue that Burnley is in an unusual position when it comes to housing, which means it faces a particular set of challenges.
We need to re-balance our housing market by providing a wide range of homes, at a wide range of prices and sizes, to not only meet the needs of existing residents, but also to attract new people to our wonderful borough. How and where we do that is one of the biggest challenges we face.
In recent years, we’ve built a strong working relationship with the Homes and Communities Agency, which is now paying dividends. We have also established a joint venture company with a leading regional developer as a key part of our housing strategy. Our Planners are working constructively with several developers and hundreds of new homes are now taking shape across our borough.
However, and this is the problem we face, it’s our history as a traditional Lancashire mill town that has left Burnley with a large stock of terraced housing dating back more than 100 years. Most of this stock is still in good condition and provides a great selection of affordable homes ideal for first-time buyers, couples, or those who perhaps want to “downsize”. My main worry is the number of two bed properties within our urban core that no longer meets the needs or aspirations of our residents.
We do need support from central government however to address the issue of urban decay. It’s disappointing there’s nothing in the recent Housing White Paper that talks about urban renewal. The Government have to recognise that without their support in this area we can’t properly address our housing needs.
The challenges Burnley faces will ring bells with councillor colleagues across the country especially here in the North West of England.
So how do I try and make things better? I’m always looking for that one empty property that is bringing the whole row down. I might find it myself or it might be weary neighbours, councillor colleagues or officers who bring it to my attention. The Council intervenes, refurbishes the property and such a difference is made to the lives of the people on that street. All the money from the sale goes back in to the pot ready for the next house we spot.
Similarly, we are all on the lookout for that group of streets where we can extend our Selective Licensing Initiative. In my own ward, after much consultation and having faced some disgruntled landlords we now see the difference in several streets that were showing signs of neglect but which are now showing signs of investment and recovery.
A derelict mill site that had blighted people’s lives and their neighbourhood for far too long will shortly be brought back into use as a new social housing development. This has taken years of attending countless meetings with officers and frustrated residents but together we have now helped to develop a scheme that is welcomed by all parties, a scheme we can be proud of and one that will transform that part of town.
Being part of the huge process to form our new Local Plan has been a real challenge and very hard work. It is not welcomed by everybody yet but it will eventually deliver growth in jobs housing, infrastructure, and prosperity.
So I’ll keep on trying. Burnley is my town, I’m proud of it and I want to see it prosper. Providing good quality homes is the most basic of building blocks that will help ensure our future.