Decision status: Refused
Is Key decision?: No
Is subject to call in?: No
Councillor M Goldspink proposed a motion on notice as follows: “This Council is extremely concerned about the inadequate provision of affordable and social housing within the district. There are 2,000 families on the housing ‘waiting list’, and the prices being charged for so-called affordable homes are way beyond the reach of many people in our community. This Council therefore resolves to conduct an investigation into the possibility of building its own council houses once more (as was done in the past).”
Councillor Goldspink said the number of people on the housing waiting list had remained the same for the last five years. The Council did not own any housing. There was provision for developers to provide a percentage of affordable housing, but none were for social rent. Other Councils such as Cheltenham and Norwich had started building again, and there was no reason why this Council could not do so.
Councillor T Beckett seconded the motion.
Councillor P Boylan said good quality housing was the foundation for healthy prosperous communities. The Council had made a great deal of progress in identifying and meeting the needs of those requiring affordable housing, supported by policies in the District Plan and the draft Affordable Housing Supplementary Planning Document.
He said developers of all strategic sites had committed to building 40% affordable homes. “Affordable housing” comprised various types of housing, including social rented, affordable rented and low cost home ownership tenures. Eligibility was impacted by local incomes and local house prices. In East Hertfordshire, housing association housing stock currently totalled 8,005 homes, comprising social rented and affordable rented accommodation.
Councillor Boylan said the register was not a “waiting list”, but was a points based system based on individual needs. It included those who did not live within the district and those who wished to upsize or downsize. Not all applicants were families, as 49% were single person households or couples requiring one bedroom accommodation.
Councillor Boylan referred to the approaches of neighbouring authorities. He said Broxbourne and North Herts also worked with housing associations. Welwyn Hatfield had the highest numbers on their housing needs register, followed by Stevenage. These authorities were the only two districts with their own housing stock. Whilst acknowledging there were particular challenges for these two authorities due to their having some areas with significant social deprivation, such comparison did not provide convincing evidence that for East Hertfordshire to build its own council housing would reduce the number of households on its housing needs register.
Councillor Boylan said he therefore could not support the narrow format of the motion. However, to ensure the Council was able to consider a broad range of potential solutions, he had commissioned a report to better understand all options available, to increase and improve the range of social rented housing available in the district, as well as any other affordable tenures which would benefit local people. Following completion of the report, a decision would be taken on how best to take forward the options.
Councillor E Buckmaster said a further aspect was availability. The right to buy one’s home was for many people a positive factor. However where homes were owned by a council’s partner organisations, their continued availability tended to be more protected. The District Plan aimed to meet the demand for homes of all sizes and tenures. The population was increasing, yet the number of people on the housing needs register had remained stable. The District Plan provided for future demand, and there were other ways in which needs were met, such as working in partnership with the County Council regarding care homes. Although he accepted the motion was written with good intentions, he could not support it as drafted.
Councillor C Wilson said sections of the community found it difficult to meet their housing needs. Mortgages were several times the average salary, and the local housing allowance was indexed to local housing prices. If developers could not make a profit then social housing provision was affected, and if the right to buy was exercised there was no guarantee that the level of provision would continue to be sufficient. The charity Shelter recommended increasing the numbers of social rented, affordable rented and low cost homes.
Councillor T Beckett said notwithstanding the right to buy and protection of affordable housing stock, it was an option within that to negotiate land to be given to create housing stock and acknowledge there were issues. But he would encourage the Executive Member not to rule out options including the Council holding some stock.
Councillor L Corpe said there was a difference between addressing demand and addressing need. Upsizing could not be said to alleviate the numbers on the housing needs register, as it included situations where people were in unsuitable accommodation too small for their needs. The Council should not rule out the possibility of owning its own housing stock. One of the disadvantages of not owning stock was that the Council could not plan in advance. He welcomed the report which Councillor Boylan had referred to.
Councillor J Dumont said this was about actions rather than the correct terminology for referring to the housing register. There was a need to highlight the plight of a large number of families that might not join the register because the number of people on the register did not reduceso the actual number of those in need was higher. People were concerned about insecure accommodation.
Members continued to debate the motion.
At the conclusion of the debate, Councillor M Goldspink welcomed the comments made by the Executive Member.
After being put to the meeting and a vote taken, the motion was declared LOST.
Publication date: 15/01/2020
Date of decision: 18/12/2019
Decided at meeting: 18/12/2019 - Council