Council fears for affordable housing plans

Concerns have been raised about the pressures an extension to the Right to Buy policy will place on social housing in the county.

Tuesday, 1st March 2016, 10:03 am
Updated Saturday, 5th March 2016, 4:13 am
Barley Rise, the new affordable housing development by Four Housing in Berwick.
Barley Rise, the new affordable housing development by Four Housing in Berwick.

Northumberland County Council’s cabinet believe the proposal could put their plans for the future provision of affordable housing in jeopardy.

Under proposed ‘Right To Buy’ legislation, which is part of a new Housing and Planning Bill currently being considered in Parliament, the Government plans to give housing association tenants the opportunity to buy their own home. They could get a discount of up to £73,000 – an option previously only open to council tenants.

To compensate housing associations for having to sell their houses at below market value, councils who own and manage housing will be required to sell their ‘high value’ council properties as they become vacant and transfer the proceeds over to the housing associations - a move councillors say will place extra pressure on an already heavily subscribed housing waiting list.

The Government has promised that for every housing association home sold under the scheme a replacement home will be built.

Council leader, Cllr Grant Davey said: “I think the policy has been ill thought out and is illogical. Together with other local housing authorities and the Local Government Association, we have raised our concerns with the Government.

“It is difficult to see how the proceeds of the council house sales will be sufficient to compensate the housing associations and the likely high cost of building like-for-like replacement homes. The new homes promised under the plan can simply not be met through the sale of council homes alone.

Cllr Davey added that the policy was counterproductive:

“The policy would choke the supply of new homes across Northumberland at the very time we are battling a severe housing shortage,” he said. “Far from helping families onto the housing ladder, it will leave access to an affordable home further out of reach for many families.”

Cllr Allan Hepple, cabinet member for housing, expressed his concern that the policy would lead to a reduction in social housing.

“If this legislation is approved we are in very real danger of seeing housing associations withdraw from social housing provision in future and this will impact heavily on our ability to meet the housing needs of our community,” he said. “ Councils too are unlikely to build new homes.”

He added: “While we support the principle of Right to Buy, selling council-owned housing to compensate housing associations for discounts they have to offer, is unfair to those councils, such as Northumberland County Council that have retained their own housing stock and offer good services to their tenants.

“The lack of affordable housing is one of the biggest issues facing young people and families in Northumberland. This policy could lead to a further shortage of affordable rented housing especially in rural villages where three and four bedroom properties which are available to rent are incredibly scarce.”

Northumberland County Council continues to exceed its targets when it comes to providing affordable housing. Last year, through permissions granted and its own council house building scheme, 502 new affordable homes were completed.

Although local councils are still waiting further detail about what will be classified as ‘high value’ and whether this will vary from area to area there are real fears the proposed legislation could put plans for the future provision of affordable housing in jeopardy.