We should be talking about Lib Dem Councils Building new homes 

One of the achievements of Lib Dem controlled  Councils  has been a focus on building social and affordable housing – but it’s not one the Party has made much of. Given that access to housing is one of the key issues in our society that seems a  pity.

In York for example the Lib Dem run council is focused  on increasing the number of  affordable homes  – 447 have been delivered in the last 3 years – and the numbers are increasing year or year. The Council is planning to have delivered  no less than 600 affordable  homes in it’s 4 years term and to have done so while protecting the local Green Belt.

Even better many of these are being delivered to ‘Passivhaus ‘ standards meaning that they are  much  better for the environment.

In Kingston we are doing something most Labour councils say is impossible – building new council  housing – and new housing build to the highest environment standards. .As the Portfolio Holder for Housing , Clr Emily  Davey says -“providing homes which meet our residents needs is a priority for us.”

In nearby Sutton, the flagship Lib Dem Council is about to debate a plan for  its council owned ‘St Nicolas Centre ‘ site which it bought last year,  this plan  would  deliver  new retail  and commercial  space  and 400  new homes  – continuing Sutton Council’s great history of delivering housing.

In Portsmouth the Council has a two pronged approach. One one hand they are buying back council housing lost through Right to Buy and on the other they are  building 1,000 new Council homes.

What all these Lib Dem initiatives  have in common is a willingness to innovate and a commitment to building new homes: they are an excellent demonstration of what our Councils can achieve – we should as a Party be talking more about them.

* Simon McGrath is a councillor in Wimbledon and a member of the board of Liberal Reform.

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  • Building new social/council housing is indeed an achievement, but “Affordable Housing” is a misnomer. Defined as housing being sold/rented at less than 80% of market value, it is still not affordable for the vast majority.

  • nigel hunter 2nd Nov '22 - 3:32pm

    We do not ‘blow our own trumpet laud enough nation wide .It is time we did.These examples should be advertised throughout the country.I accept ‘affordable’ is a dubious word, but it is a start.The rent for these houses can be reduced if the tenants are on some sort of housing benefit.That way the rent can be affordable to the tenants. Young couples or families could occupy them.In time as income rises full rent can be paid.I trust that 80% value is the price of the house, as built BEFORE housing benefit is applied. That can allow the tenant to pay the rent and ,in time, rise in income to pay the full rent.It is a matter of being innovation and creativity to get around hurdles.

  • Lib Dem controlled Cheltenham Borough Council also has a good record of developing new social and affordable housing, and is working on a development of carbon-neutral social housing.

  • David Garlick 3rd Nov '22 - 10:45am

    Agree entirely and a vote winner with many.

  • Totally agree. Here in Chelmsford we can’t build our own council houses (not all councils have housing companies) but we have partnered with a local housing association to build 12 houses for social rent on land we owned. And many of them are the 3/4 bed houses that we so desperately need for homeless families.

    As you know Simon, I’ve been advocating for more inclusion of our fantastic local govt base in policy and media – and we have got better at communicating between MP’s and councils, but we still need to do more. There’s a great story to be told about LibDem councils actually competently doing all the stuff we are calling on the government to prioritise through national legislation

  • Be interested to know the total number of new homes built over the same timescale in these local authority areas, to put the social homes into context.

  • Peter Hirst 3rd Nov '22 - 1:30pm

    Social housing building should depend on demand. This will vary. The challenge is to fit it into our national house building programme. Perhaps we need stricter legislation to ensure all large developers of residential properties are told what percentage of their properties will be for social occupation, that the rent or mortgage is credible and structures are put in place preventing houses being sold until this is guaranteed.

  • Jason Connor 3rd Nov '22 - 3:05pm

    I am a council tenant myself, any others on here? The local Labour council of my inner London borough is also building council housing at pace. Some of these environmental measures like ASHPs will have a significant impact on rents as they are hugely expensive as well as council housing in streets with houses worth up to £1m where rents in social housing are so much higher due to the alignment with the rateable value of properties. I agree they should be built on brown field sites, not green belt. It also helps to have blocks with green spaces and more trees planted nearby. What is disappointing is the number of usually high rise private developments being built with minimal social housing given the go-ahead by local authorities.

    I also believe there should be more council housing for the over 50s, very few are purpose built for this age demographic, people with disabilities/long term health conditions not just the one size fits all approach. I would also like to see more council housing offered to people who work in the public sector eg NHS etc where in London private rents are so high this would help many people on lower incomes in these professions.

  • Peter Davies 5th Nov '22 - 10:50am

    The next few months (probably years) are going to see a fall in house prices and probably a spate of repossessions. It’s going to increase the need for social housing but it is also going to create an opportunity. Councils could buy suitable existing houses (including many that were built as council houses) renovate, insulate and add them to the council stock. This would be faster, greener and in many cases cheaper than building from scratch.

    It would also take into account that in many areas, the stock was built when household size was typically much greater. The brownfield sites that come up could then be used to fill the actual shortages such as flats for commercial rent (especially for the young and childless) and sheltered accommodation good enough to tempt owner under-occupiers into downsizing.

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