Q&A with Cllr Emma Taylor, cabinet member for citizen services at Worthing Borough Council
Released: Tuesday, 14 June 2022
Finding ways to increase the number of affordable homes in Worthing is a top priority for Cllr Emma Taylor, the Council's new cabinet member for citizen services.
Having worked with the homeless and experienced the impact of having to stay in B&Bs and emergency accommodation herself, she is acutely aware of the physical and emotional benefits that having a permanent roof over your head can bring.
Here she talks about why the housing issue is so important to her - and explains the questions she's asking to find a way to mitigate the problem.
Q. You have now been in the cabinet for two weeks. What are the first things you've noticed about the role? Has anything surprised you?
Having been elected during Covid times I hadn't had the opportunity to familiarise myself with the town hall or meet the officers. It's been wonderful to finally meet some of the hard-working, dedicated people who have supported me in my first year. I wasn't sure how we would be received as a new administration, but everyone has been really friendly, welcoming and enthusiastic.
Q. What does the citizen services portfolio include?
Citizen services includes housing, revenue and benefits. More specifically this includes housing strategy, affordable housing provision, emergency and temporary provision, private sector housing, homelessness prevention and homeless services provision, disability and homes grants and contacts and services including help points and housing and Council Tax support.
Q. What attracted you to the housing-focused portfolio?
When I moved to Worthing in 2015 I got actively involved in homeless outreach in the town. I was blessed to meet some amazing and inspirational characters who trusted me with their stories. The more I saw and heard, the more I came to understand that many of the barriers faced were as a result of political ideologies and deep-seated inequalities that were not being addressed. I vowed at that time to get active in politics and do whatever I could locally to give a voice to those on the margins of society. I have direct experience of repossession, staying in emergency B&B and hostel accommodation and being moved on countless times from private rental properties with kids in tow through no fault of my own. To me, housing is a basic human right and I want to do all I can to help people access homes that are safe, sustainable, truly affordable and which support their physical and emotional wellbeing.
Q. The new administration has said it will create a new housing model for Worthing. What does that mean?
We believe in prioritising the need for sustainable homes to house the people on our waiting list, over the demands of external investors or those who fancy a second home by the sea! We want to build mixed communities of Council housing and private developments that cater for young and old, single persons and families. We believe that housing is a basic human right and as such will pursue a Housing First model to tackle rough sleeping, with targeted interventions to address each individual's complex needs.
Q. Worthing has green gaps to its east and west, the sea to the south and the South Downs to the north. How will you balance green space with the demand for more homes in the borough?
We fully acknowledge the need for homes in our town but are also acutely aware that we are in a climate and ecological emergency and that our green spaces need to be protected at all costs. One of the priorities in our 100-day plan is to carry out an audit on existing Council assets including buildings and land, to assess what we already have and whether it could be suitable for repurposing.
We know for example that many people are embracing hybrid working and therefore office space may no longer be in such high demand. So could any of these spaces be used for housing? We also know that high streets are changing and are keen to explore the concept of 10-minute towns, whereby all community facilities are accessible by walk or cycle within 10 minutes. Could we then make better use of the upper levels of our shopping areas?
We place high value on the importance of greening our town so that people living here benefit from clean air, diverse nature and an outlook that supports good mental health, so it's a question of striking a balance.
Q. The new ruling group has said it wants to increase the amount of social housing in Worthing. How much of a need is there for this?
We currently have over 1,500 people on our housing waiting list, with over 1,000 in urgent need. There are many who can't afford the deposit required for a mortgage or who would not pass the affordability checks for private rental properties. There is a massive disparity in Worthing between average wages and housing costs, and those who are entitled to support find that the Local Housing Allowance falls far short of local rents.
Q. Housing affordability is a problem for some in Worthing. Have you got a plan to tackle that?
We desperately need Council housing that is owned and maintained locally, where rents can be set at a rate that makes them accessible to the people who need them most. There is also a concern shared by many coastal towns that new developments are being bought off-plan by investors and that holiday lets are outnumbering permanent homes. I would like to see local people given first refusal on new homes and a limit placed on second homes.
Q. Let's jump forward in time. You've been in post for 12 months - what have you managed to get done so far?
I want us to have conducted and shared the results of an audit on Council-owned sites so that we can clearly identify the opportunities for temporary and permanent developments.
Hosted a Worthing housing conference to bring together experts from around the country to develop and outline the best model for us.
Ended the use of bailiffs for Council Tax collection, adopting an ethical debt collection service instead.
Scrapped the £5 Council Tax charge completely for those least able to pay.
And changed the portfolio name from customer services to citizen services in recognition that our service is not purely transactional and that we want to support the whole community.
Plenty to do then!
Cllr Emma Taylor
Page last updated: 25 November 2022