The Reverend Rees’s highly regarded Cabinet Member for Housing has sensationally QUIT the council. Paul “Wolfie” Smith resigned from Rees’s cabinet on Tuesday and also QUIT as a councillor to take up a lucrative £90k (plus bonus) a year position as Chief Exec at Elim Housing Association. The resignation leaves the Reverend without a majority at Bristol City Council.
According to social media, Wolfie was a great champion of social housing and has had some success over the last few years getting homes built and tackling homelessness. However, over the last year some increasingly erratic policies have emerged from Wolfie’s housing department where Jez Sweetland, who runs the Bristol Housing Festival and happens to be a prominent member of the Reverend’s Church at the Hope Chapel, Howells has become increasingly influential.
Harebrained initiatives emerging from Sweetland have included a plan to build 173 IKEA chipboard homes on the verge of the A4174 Airport Road and another madcap idea to build ‘Hope Rise’. Tiny modular flats for young people over the car park at St George Park. This week the council even started a queue jumping ‘super tenancy’ opportunity for these properties, directly offering a shared council home to applicants in exchange for voluntary work with vulnerable young people. A plan that is unlikely to comply with law.
Wolfie’s department also announced their intention last month to create the slums of the future. They will house 200 homeless people and families in the shoddily converted Parkview office complex in Hartcliffe. Homes that do not meet national space standards. The owner of the flats, Caridon, are also one of the country’s most notorious slum landlords.
Has Wolfie thrown in the towel? Has he quit while he was ahead? But how ahead was he anyway? Despite all the promises of council housing from the Rees administration and Wolfie’s regular assurances that his projections to meet a manifesto promise of 2,500 homes, 500 affordable, a year were ‘on target’, the stats say something quite different. In March 2016, there were 27,402 council homes in Bristol. By March 2020 there were 26,833. A net reduction of 469 council homes.
Of course, Wolfie can’t be held to blame for the Tory ‘Right to Buy’ policy, which has led to this reduction in council homes. But he can be blamed for spending four years delivering half-arsed market solutions and supporting timid private sector responses to the city’s housing crisis. These solutions have simply failed to deliver and were never going to deliver the quantity of council homes required to turn around a housing crisis.
Wolfie can also be blamed for entertaining Sweetland and his weirdo ideas for the last few years. The evangelical nutter is now left free to dominate the show with his Victorian Christian charity message and fill the city up with his cheap shit housing for the poor and vulnerable.
Are we in more of a housing mess than when Wolfie started?