Friday, 10 February 2012

Investing in more council housing in Cornwall

At yesterday's scrutiny meeting we discussed the shortage of council housing in Cornwall. There are more than 23,000 people on the housing waiting list, of whom 430 have a local connection with Launceston.

The changes to the way council rents are collected means that Cornwall Council has a lot more control over the system. We also have the ability to borrow more money and, because of the low rate of interest that the council pays, it makes sense to borrow almost up to the limit and invest this money into our current housing stock and new building.

That's why the cabinet member has today announced a new strategy for investment in housing in Cornwall and it's very welcome - at least in concept. What we need to do now is to understand better what it will mean in detail.

One of the key concerns will be the balance of investment in making the existing houses better compared with building new properties. Many of our council houses need work on double glazing, out of date kitchens and bathrooms and providing modern heating systems. What should be the relative priorities for this work compared with getting people off the waiting list and into a home for the first time?

The second issue is the type of new properties that can be built. All too often the new social rented homes are one and two bedroom flats and houses. Whilst these would satisfy most demand, there is a stand out need for larger houses. There are currently 24 families with a connection to Launceston waiting for a four or five bedroom property and only nine 4 bedroom properties available in our town, all of which are currently occupied. Other providers are especially unwilling to build these larger social rented houses and so the burden will fall on the council to make sure they are available.

But the council will only ever be able to build a small proportion of new social rented houses. Most will come from housing developers and the level of affordable housing they are required to build as part of the deal for their planning permission. Cornwall Council is meant to be moving towards a requirement for 50% of all new houses being affordable across most of Cornwall and 40% in the biggest towns. But developers are not even being asked for this level at the moment and the new strategy talks about achieving roughly 20%. I think the Council needs to get tough with developers to make sure that they contribute their fair share to reducing Cornwall's housing waiting list.

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