Calling on all B&NES Councillors to declare all property

Today at the Standards Committee at B&NES Council I asked Councillors to support me in a new protocol on declaring property interests both inside and outside B&NES. The four Councillors in the room voted, 2 in favour and 2 against. The Chair, Cllr Duncan Hounsell took the final decision and decided against supporting this change arguing that it was not liberal and Cllr Sally Davies thought it would cost the Council too much money to do. Seems a great shame that so many of those in positions of power fail to realise the impact that unaffordable housing and homelessness is having on so many residents lives.

Statement to the Standards Committee by Cllr Joanna Wright

Please will the Standards Committee work with me to establish a new protocol for how B&NES Councillors register and declare any beneficial interests in land.

Presently, all B&NES Councillors have only to declare a proprietary interest, including any property from which they receive rent or which they are a mortgagee, or own on any property located inside of B&NES council’s area.

What Councillors do not have to declare is any proprietary interest on any property located outside of B&NES Council’s area.

It is clear that as Councillors we do represent local residents and we do work to develop better services and deliver local change.  We are also all now part of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), so our present standards are already compromised by our active involvement across the wider region.  If we are all to take decisions fairly, openly and transparently, which is a key component of the B&NES constitution then it would now seem time for a change in the Councillors declared property interests.

I propose that every B&NES councillor should declare a proprietary interest, including any property from which they receive rent or which they are a mortgagee, or own anywhere in the world.  

It is clear that issues on the cost of living for many across the UK is prohibitive.  Homelessness in many forms from sofa surfing to sleeping on the streets is a reality for many due to the high cost of housing. In fact, in the UK  there are 1.6 million households on the social housing waiting list.  

I would urge all Councillors to read the recent June article by George Monbiot in the Guardian on Second homes and their gross injustice due to the many tax breaks.

In it Monbiot states:

“just as homelessness is the extreme and visible symptom of a much bigger problem, so are second homes. Though we need to build far more social homes, the underlying reason for high house prices is not the lack of supply. The number of dwellings in the UK has been growing faster than the number of households, and there are now more bedrooms per person than ever before. The problem is the grossly unequal distribution of space. Houses are unaffordable because of the purchasing power of landlords and speculators, and their use as investments. Government figures show that even if 300,000 new homes are built every year for 20 years, house prices will be only 6% lower in real terms than they would otherwise have been.”

One of the key standards set in the B&NES constitution is to lead by example and act in a way that secures public confidence in the role of a councillor. It is quite clear that the situation on housing is not going to be dealt with by the single act of declaring what one owns where, but what it does do is show a commitment to transparency and a recognition that our individual actions on ownership is impacting the many lives of people we do represent.

I therefore ask that the Standards Committee agree to reword the B&NES constitution and that all Councillors must declare all the property interests that they have anywhere in the world.

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