Original article from Kent Live
The Secretary of State for Housing pledged to build more affordable homes in Kent during a visit to Tunbridge Wells yesterday evening (September 1).
Robert Jenrick was given a tour of the town by MP Greg Clark in a bid to reinvigorate the town centre following the COVID-19 pandemic.
During his visit, the Housing Secretary spoke about the difficulties faced by young people and families in Kent when it comes to purchasing homes in the area, due to high demand and house prices.
He told KentLive: "Kent is a county with very high affordability challenges. It is difficult for young people and families to get on the housing ladder, either as owners or as renters.
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"So we do need to build more homes in the county, but we appreciate there are a lot of challenges that we need to work together, between central and local government, to overcome."
This comes after Jenrick pledged earlier this week to invest £8.6 billion into affordable housing – building 119,000 new homes across the country.
He told KentLive that the government will ensure they invest in better infrastructure to accompany the new houses, due to concerns more housing will put pressure on Kent's roads, GP surgeries and hospitals.
The Secretary of State also stressed that the government will ensure they use brownfield sites before they turn to greenfield sites – protecting greenbelt land and areas of outstanding natural beauty.
He added: "I also want to see that the new homes being built are beautiful, well designed, high quality homes, which are also environmentally sustainable.
"There is a big challenge ahead of us to make sure we meet those objectives and deliver the homes we need as a country and for Kent."
Jenrick also spoke about his plans to regenerate high streets across the country following the COVID-19 pandemic, including in Tunbridge Wells.
He said: "Tunbridge Wells is such a thriving, successful and historic community, but like many other high streets across the country, the pandemic and wider market forces have brought challenges.
"I think there's a big opportunity here for the town if we can ensure that there's new life on the high street, rich cultural offer, reasons for people to come into the town centre to see it revigorated, restored and given new life in the months and years to come."
Jenrick paid a visit to the Amelia, a new cultural hub which is currently under construction – the first step towards regenerating the town.
He was also shown around empty houses in the town centre, which are currently being used to accommodate the homeless.
The units house people when they first come off the streets and provide support for mental health, drug addiction and other issues. The individuals are then moved into the private rental sector or social housing.
The Housing Secretary is keen to see this model replicated across Kent.
He said: "Here in Tunbridge Wells the numbers of people sleeping rough on the streets have been reduced very significantly to only a handful of individuals, but we want to end rough sleeping altogether so that it is rare and when it does happen people are offered wrap-around care as swiftly as possible.
"It looked like very high quality accommodation, very well located in the centre of town, and I hope that model can be replicated elsewhere across the county."
The Secretary of State also praised Tunbridge Wells for their part in housing those escaping the crisis in Afghanistan.
He told KentLive: "We do have a duty as a country to support those people like Afghan interpreters who stood shoulder to shoulder with British troops in Afghanistan and I'm very grateful to councils like Tunbridge Wells who have already come forward and offered accommodation to them.
Jenrick said he appreciated that housing Afghan refugees will put added pressure on social housing in Kent and pledged to work with local councils to increase the amount of affordable housing built across Kent in the near future.