Thursday, 24 June 2021

We need more affordable homes, says new councillor

We need more affordable homes, says new councillor

THE new county councillor for Watlington says he will campaign for more affordable housing.

Freddie Van Mierlo says young people born in the area will not be able to afford to buy property locally when they are adults.

Councillor Van Mierlo, a Liberal Democrat, won the Chalgrove and Watlington seat on Oxfordshire County Council at the elections on May 6, ousting the sitting Conservative Steve Harrod after seven years with 53 per cent of the vote.

The 31-year-old freelance public affairs consultant was standing for election for the first time.

Cllr Van Mierlo, who lives in Bix with his fiancée Katharina and dog Mochi, said affordable housing was a major issue in the ward, especially with the amount of development already taking place or in the pipeline.

In Watlington, 183 new homes are being built as part of the Redkite View development between the B4009 Britwell Road and the B480 Cuxham Road and 240 at another two sites, one north of Watlington Road and The Sands and the other east of Hale Road.

Developer Providence Land also hopes to build up to 70 properties on land north-east of Cuxham Road and up to another 60 west of Pyrton Lane.

Meanwhile, the population of Chalgrove would increase from 2,700 to 9,800 if the proposed Chalgrove Airfield development goes ahead.

Cllr Van Mierlo said: “People are concerned — and rightly so — because they raised their children in this town but they won’t be able to afford to live here as they grow up.

“When I was campaigning in Watlington people spoke to me about how they live in multiple generation households, where younger generations can’t really afford to move out and some of them really are in awful positions and they should be getting help.

“House prices have been rising and it is just impossible for young people to buy. 

“They told me it is impossible to rent and save at the same time and that it is difficult for them to stay in the area, where their families are.

“We need an increased focus on planning and affordable and social housing and increased intervention, where necessary, to ensure people can stay in the area. I think the Conservatives became quite detached from the problems of the community and failed to see them and act on them.”

Cllr Van Mierlo said he opposed the airfield development being proposed by Homes England, a government agency which owns the site. It would create a “new town” with two primary schools, a secondary school, sixth-form college, shops, a healthcare hub community and leisure facilities and 40,000 sq m of employment space.

Watlington is one of 22 parish councils to object to the plans, which are due to be considered by South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, on May 31.

Cllr Van Mierlo said: “We need to do better at tackling the climate emergency and this includes opposing the Chalgrove Airfield development, which would increase traffic and pollution levels and would not provide affordable housing.”

He said he was pleased to have been elected with a relativey high turnout of 45 per cent.

“I’ve always felt that engagement in politics is the best way to bring change in your community and that is why I decided to stand,” he said.

“I worked for NGOs in Belgium for seven years and I was really pleased to move back to the UK, where I grew up.

“I wanted to feel connected to the community I live in and we have such vibrant communities across the division and I really wanted to play an active part in them.”

Cllr Van Mierlo said the Lib-Dems’ partnership with the Green Party was beneficial, helping his party to win 21 seats — one less than the Conservatives — and the Greens three.

He said: “At local level the Liberal Democrats are extremely active in a way that other parties are not. The Conservatives take votes for granted, while Lib-Dems are local champions and that is what I want to be.

“I’m really pleased with the partnership we had with the Greens, which was a big part of our success across the council.”

Cllr Van Mierlo said he enjoyed campaigning despite the coronavirus restrictions.

He said: “It was obviously more difficult because of the pandemic but we delivered surveys and received feedback, which was very important to us.

“I got to speak to so many people and understand the issues that a lot of the residents face. Having been elected, I’m lucky enough to get to help them and that is really rewarding.”

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