Bristol election candidates clash over rent controls and building new council housing

-Credit: (Image: Alex Seabrook)
-Credit: (Image: Alex Seabrook)

Two candidates for Bristol Central clashed over rent controls and building new council housing in an election debate. They argued over the best way to tackle the housing crisis during a hustings organised by Acorn, the community union, held on Tuesday, June 25.

Only two politicians took part, Carla Denyer, the Green candidate, and Nicholas Coombes, the Liberal Democrat candidate. Two candidates were invited but didn’t attend, Thangam Debbonaire, the current Labour MP, and Samuel Williams, the Conservative candidate.

Meanwhile, two other candidates were not invited, but one did attend and sat in the audience. Acorn said they chose not to invite Robert Clarke, the Reform UK candidate, nor Kellie-Jay Keen, of the Party of Women, due to “time constraints”.

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However, at the start of the event Mr Clarke did offer to take part. He said: “As you’ve got some empty seats, I don’t mind coming and sitting up there.” But the host responded with a laugh and asked if he “wanted to pretend to be Thangam Debbonaire”.

Mr Coombes, a chartered town planner and newly elected councillor, said the Liberal Democrats would push for proportional representation, invest in carers, re-join the EU single market, stop water companies from dumping sewage in rivers, and decarbonise the energy supply. He said his party would build 380,000 new homes each year.

He said: “I’m not a professional politician. I’m a chartered town planner and I specialise in energy and transport infrastructure. Only an hour and a half ago, I was doing my day job working on the development of an offshore wind farm.

“I want to use this expertise to fight climate change and to get Bristol moving. I was recently elected to Bristol City Council, winning the seat from the Conservatives. We’re campaigning to rejoin the European single market, to fight climate change and to reform our political system.”

Ms Denyer is the co-leader of the Green Party and a former Bristol councillor. She said the Greens would push for renters rights, a nationwide home insulation programme, compassion towards refugees and a £15 minimum wage. Corporations and the very wealthy would also “pay their fair share” in taxes, to raise money for a massive investment into public services.

She said: “Let’s be real, Labour are going to form the next government and Starmer says that his party is all about change. But looking back at the U-turns and broken promises, are they offering the real change that you want to see? I’m here to make the case that we deserve better … putting pressure on the incoming Labour government to think bigger and act bolder.”

They were questioned on rent controls, getting more social housing built, improving energy efficiency in rented homes, and stopping prospective tenants from having to bid against other.

Ms Denyer said: “I have long campaigned for rent controls. We need to give local councils the powers to introduce rent controls in areas where the market is overheated, as it is in Bristol. When I moved to Bristol, I rented a one-bed flat for £600 a month. A one-bed flat is now worth double that, easily. And yet incomes have clearly not doubled.

“But rent controls on their own aren’t the whole solution. We also need to create more affordable housing, and the Greens have a policy of creating 150,000 new social homes a year from a mixture of building and buying off the market.”

Mr Coombes added: “The solution is to build more housing. I was worried you weren’t going to talk about building more housing at any point there, but that’s the root of the problem. There isn’t sufficient choice, the lack of competition drives up rents, and means that landlords can get away with poor quality.

“The answer is to build hundreds of thousands of new homes each year to drive down the value of housing to buy, and create more availability to rent, which means that tenants can choose between landlords rather than the other way round. That should drive down rents and increase quality.”

The Liberal Democrats are campaigning to change the rules around compulsory purchase orders. This means councils would be able to buy land at its current value, rather than a much higher potential value, saving money on social housing construction projects.

Meanwhile the Greens are calling for councils to receive much more government funding, and reduce restrictions on borrowing. This would allow councils to spend much more money on building new social housing.

Speaking after the hustings, Mr Clarke, the Reform UK candidate, said he offered to take part before the event took place, but was not offered a reason why he wasn’t invited. He added that Reform would tackle the housing crisis by cutting immigration.

He said: “I called up and said I’m happy to come down. They didn’t offer for me to sit on the panel, but I’ve come down because I’m on a learning curve about many different subjects. I was born in Bristol and I’ve seen a lot of the changes. When I was a young person, I was squatting all over the town. Housing has become extortionate in this city.

“In my view it has a lot to do with corporate capital moving in. It absolutely has to be said that immigration comes into it, which is something that people here are far too scared to address. Between 2021 and 2036, the official figures say we’ll have another 14 million coming to our country.

“If this were a large country, then we could probably accommodate those people. But that’s not going to happen on a small island. I'm very much anti-globalist. A lot of policy comes from the World Economic Forum, which bypasses Westminster. It’s the same with the UN.”