July 24 2014 Latest news:
Jon Vale, West Suffolk reporter
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Council houses could be back in west Suffolk for the first time in a decade in a bid to solve the region’s affordable housing crisis.
The pioneering new West Suffolk Housing Strategy outlines the vision across St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath for the two councils to build, buy and rent-out homes across the area in response to growing pressures on the social housing system.
The two councils, which work together as West Suffolk, are now aiming to deliver 455 affordable homes every year – almost 200 more than is currently being delivered.
It was announced on the same day new figures revealed UK house prices leapt by 9.9% in the 12 months to April, to reach a new high of £260,000 typically.
“The challenges are massive,” said Rona Burt, Forest Heath’s cabinet member for planning, housing and transport.
“What is clear is that relying purely on housing developers to meet our future housing needs is no longer the answer.
“In the commercial world you have to make sure your supply is strong enough to meet your demand.
“That is why we are looking into setting up our own housing company, to buy and rent out properties, and to invest in new-build affordable housing.”
The last council house was sold in Forest Heath in 2004, with St Edmundsbury shifting the last of its stock two years earlier.
The councils will consider loans from Public Works Loan Board to fund the projects, as well as setting up their own housing company.
This company could build on sites acquired by the council, privately renting and selling homes as well as offering some to housing associations.
It could also buy properties to build-up a portfolio that could house people that otherwise would be placed in costly temporary accommodation.
Anne Gower, St Edmundsbury’s cabinet member for housing, said: “In order to help deliver the huge numbers of affordable homes that are needed, we are going to have to act more commercially.
“We need to be more innovative, to encourage people with empty properties to bring them back onto the market, we need to look at the opportunities of working with the private rented sector, and we need to be creative in how we borrow and invest to build homes..”
The council has taken other measures to address the shortage of affordable homes, such as approving a policy that allows homeless people to be housed by private landlords.
However, the rate of homelessness in west Suffolk is above the county, regional and national average, while the numbers of people accepted as the highest priority need of homelessness almost doubled between February 2013 and 2014.
The cost of housing people in temporary bed and breakfast accommodation – generally seen as a last resort – also increased sixfold this year compared to two years ago.
The vast majority of those on the social housing register are looking for one and two-bedroom homes, with the numbers for each reaching 1,500 and 1,000 respectively for the first time in recent months.
In Forest Heath, 561 affordable homes were delivered between 2012-2014, while 332 were built across St Edmundsbury between 2008-2013.
Karen Mayhew, the chief executive at Havebury Housing Partnership, said she “strongly welcomed” the move.
“We will be keen to continue our partnership with Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury Borough Council, and look to the new strategy to address potential barriers to development, such as adequate land supply and effective planning systems,” she added.
“We want to meet the same objective - economic prosperity for the region and providing affordable homes”.
The strategy will be considered at St Edmundsbury’s cabinet meeting on Tuesday, with a three-week consultation due to start on July 16.