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GENERAL ELECTION: David Morris and Gina Dowding clash over housing in Morecambe & Lunesdale

David Morris and Gina Dowding clashed during our 'Beyond the Ballot' debate

Conservative David Morris and the Green Party's Gina Dowding have clashed over housing in Morecambe & Lunesdale during a heated exchange on Beyond Radio.

The five candidates in the upcoming general election were debating how the planned Eden Project Morecambe might affect the housing market in the constituency.

During our 'Beyond the Ballot' studio debate, Gina Dowding blasted the Tory government for failing to insist on "the quality of housing and the energy efficient standards that are absolutely essential" in new housing developments.

David Morris, who will be defending his seat for the Conservatives in the election on July 4, replied that the local council makes the decision on granting planning permission for new housing.

He also accused the Greens of promising NOT to build more housing, which Gina Dowding strongly denied.

The row over housing came about after the candidates were asked how they would protect rental and affordable housing being lost to the holiday lets market once the Eden Project Morecambe is built, should they be elected MP.

Lizzi Collinge of the Labour Party said: "I do think housing for local people is one of the key risks of Eden. We need to get plans in place now to make sure local people aren't pushed out.

"Nationally we have a supply issue with housing. We need to address it in Morecambe by making sure purpose-built holiday accommodation is built. We want to bring in holiday let licensing to ensure that any houses that are used as holiday lets truly are used as holiday lets for the visitor economy not simply as hidden second homes, as currently happens.

"We need to improve the housing stock, we need to build more social housing and we do need as wider house building function which will be brown field first, and disused car parks, not nature-rich areas. Decent homes should be a basic right. And we need to build the right sort of houses. That includes improving the housing stock we already have, some of which is of very poor quality."

The Morecambe & Lunesdale candidates during the debate at Beyond Radio

Peter Jackson of the Liberal Democrats said: "Morecambe has a lot of HMOs (Houses of Multiple Occupation) and cheaper rental property. There is a risk that private landlords will see the Eden Project coming as a financial opportunity. That might lead to them doing up their properties as David (Morris) has already suggested. But it might also lead to properties ceasing to be available for people who need low rent, private rental property.

"So one of the obvious solutions to this is to build more social rent houses and remove Right to Buy so they remain social rent houses. That's an issue that government has to provide a framework in which local authorities are able to make that happen. We're not in a position to tell private landlords what to do with their properties but we are in a position to provide council owned property if the right framework is put in place."

Barry Parsons of Reform UK said: "It's not just about the Eden Project causing this issue, there is an explosion in terms of population in this country and we need to address that. This is an immigration election. I have a real focus because of the swelling of these numbers that we simply don't have the capacity for.

"I'm hugely mindful that the council needs to be heavily involved in (Eden). We have a housing market in this country that's broken. (Reform UK are proposing) a tax break on the first £20,000 that you earn so you don't pay any tax at all on the first £20,000 of income. I think that's going to help an enormous amount."

David Morris said: "In the West End of Morecambe there is a lot of housing stock that has been left empty and been degraded. Those houses need tender loving care and put back into use again. The West End of Morecambe is starting to turn a corner now. I'm not one of those politicians who thinks we should be building everywhere and landscaping the countryside. Labour say they're going to be looking at easing planning (restrictions). I think that will be met with a lot of rebuttal from the communities, especially (in the) new Morecambe and Lunesdale."

NOTE - Labour is pledging to ease planning restrictions on onshore wind farms in England if it wins the general election, as part of plans to boost renewable energy.

Mr Morris said: "We invest in the houses that are already there. We look into what we've already got and capitalise on that. The population is growing. But we've got to look at where we can maximise housing. With Eden coming, of course we will need more housing. But don't just start building for the sake of building."

The Conservative candidate also said that he believed some of the long-derelict Frontierland site in Morecambe (pictured below) has been earmarked for social housing.

But Gina Dowding and Peter Jackson, who are both Lancaster City councillors, said this was not the case.

"We are at the point of starting to look for a preferred developer (of Frontierland)," said Mr Jackson.

"We do not intend to put any significant amount of housing on that site. We do intend leisure and tourism based development."

Gina Dowding said: "The Frontierland site has not been earmarked for social housing or any housing. I strongly believe that is the perfect site for building holiday accommodation to the needs of the visitor market.

"I disagree with Barry strongly. This isn't an immigration election, this is an inequality election. We've got ourselves in a position where people are struggling to put a roof over their heads.

"We need to tackle the strong grasp that developers have over the housing market. There is an affordable housing shortage. We've got millions of people not able to find that first home.

"The Green Party would introduce a renters' charter and we have strong policies laid out to meet that need for right home, right place, right price. Councils need to be given the funding to invest in council housing and social housing. It's shocking that we are still building houses that will need retro-fit in five ot 10 years' time just to meet our own carbon zero targets.

"The government has not insisted in the quality of housing and the energy efficient standards that are absolutely essential. The Tories have had decades to sort this. You've not stood up to developers and you've not insisted on them fulfilling affordable housing quotas and build to the standard that we know is absolutely esssential for the climate crisis."

In response, Mr Morris said: "Most of the housing market is driven by the markets. So developers will buy a plot of land, the land will be sold to them and then they will have to go through planning, local planning, council planning, and they will say what houses will go on there. So I throw it back to you, it's in your domain."

The Green candidate then said that the council works to the (government's) National Planning Policy Framework guidlines on whether to grant planning permission to developments.

Mr Morris replied: "(The Greens on Lancaster City Council) passed more housing in the area than anything. You said in your local council manifesto that you were going to stop building."

Gina Dowding replied: "No-one's arguing (against) that we need housing. No. Never."

Lizzi Collinge then said: "Time and time again, developers have appealed the amount of affordable housing, saying it's not viable, they've appealed the green standards that have been asked of them, they've gone to a national planning inspector, who is appointed by the government, and the inspector has almost to a case sided with the developers. 

"We will reform planning entirely."

Mr Morris said: "That means nothing."

In their manifestos, Labour have promised to build 1.5m new homes over five years and the Conservatives have promised to build 1.6m homes over the next Parliament.

The Lib Dems have pledged to deliver 380,000 homes per year, including 150,000 for social rent, and give councils power to end the Right to Buy, which allows most council tenants to buy their council home at a discount.

The Greens also plan to scrap Right to Buy and deliver 150,000 social homes per year.

Reform UK propose to review the planning system, encourage smaller landlords into the rental markets, and restore landlords’ rights to deduct finance costs and mortgage interest from tax on rental income. 

Read more: GENERAL ELECTION: All five Morecambe candidates vow to honour Eden Project funding - Beyond Radio

GENERAL ELECTION: Morecambe and Lunesdale candidates lay out their visions for the future - Beyond Radio

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