Concern over progress on affordable homes in Northumberland

Coun Scott Dickinson at a council estate in Amble built under the previous Labour administration.Coun Scott Dickinson at a council estate in Amble built under the previous Labour administration.
Coun Scott Dickinson at a council estate in Amble built under the previous Labour administration.
Labour in Northumberland is ‘increasingly concerned by the lack of progress’ on the county council’s pledge to deliver 1,000 new affordable homes.

But the Tory administration has said that there are a number of potential developments in the pipeline, but no announcements can be made yet due to ongoing negotiations.

In May, the local authority announced a goal of delivering 1,000 new council-owned homes over the next three years as part of its draft housing strategy.

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But when the strategy was finalised and signed off in August, the pledge was watered down slightly in the council’s statement to ‘an ambitious target to see up to 1,000 new affordable homes built in the county’.

The wording in the document itself is: ‘We will seek to facilitate up to 1,000 new homes for rent, including new council housing.’

The cabinet also agreed in August that the strategy should run over four years, up to 2022, following a request from some members of the scrutiny committee that looked at the strategy.

Now, Labour is asking what is happening, given that no council-owned homes have yet been delivered, at the same time as highlighting that it delivered 1,400 affordable homes, including 300 council houses, while it was in control at County Hall from 2013 to 2017.

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Coun Scott Dickinson, deputy leader of the Labour Group, said: “This year marks 100 years of council housing, but we’ll be lucky if we get one council-owned home from the Tories at this rate.

“We have 9,000 people on waiting lists for council homes in Northumberland, many of whom are trapped in the private rental sector paying over the odds with little to no rights.

“The Tories were ambiguous from the off, providing no detail about what council-owned homes actually meant for people. They need to come clean about this worrying lack of progress.”

In response, Coun John Riddle, the council’s cabinet member for housing, said: “The council is committed to improving the quantity and quality of affordable housing in the county and have set an ambitious target, as set out in the Housing Strategy for Northumberland, to facilitate the delivery of up to 1,000 new homes for rent, which will include the building of new housing by the council.

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“The housing will be of varying sizes with options for the elderly, families and for single people, with the size of the development, which will include small-scale rural developments, being designed to reflect the needs of the individual community.

“Council officers are now working to identify potential development sites, working with housing developers to deliver affordable housing through section 106 agreements in the planning process and facilitating community-led schemes, to support the delivery of affordable housing where it is most needed.

“We have a number of potential affordable-housing developments in the pipeline, however, negotiations are still ongoing so we are unable to make any announcements on these yet.

“In taking this decision, the council is acutely aware of the need for affordable housing in Northumberland and wished to take full advantage of the recent legislative changes, designed to encourage more development, including the decision to abolish the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap and enabling local authorities to borrow against their expected rental income.”

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He added: “Some new housing developments which have an affordable-housing provision within them have recently secured planning permission.

“In Wooler, 11 affordable homes are to be built as part of a wider 72-home development. A further 10 affordable homes are to be built within a 61-home development in Pegswood, while an additional 20 affordable homes are to be built at Ellington.”

Council housing case studies from other Labour councillors

Barbara Burt, from Seaton Delaval, is a Seaton Valley parish councillor. She moved into her first council house when her son was a baby, 23 years ago.

“I feel so lucky to have been able to live in a council house. It has served me and my family so well over the years and is now also home to my son’s partner and their beautiful baby too.

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“Living in social housing has not only enabled me to look after my family and my son’s family, but also the many children I fostered for more than 10 years.

“I really feel for young families now who are trapped in the private rental sector, paying over the odds for homes that aren’t anywhere near the quality of social housing.”

Robert Arckless, a former county councillor who lives on the Radcliffe estate in Amble, has lived in council housing all his life.

“I have never known anything else. Links Avenue was a great place to grow up. There was a fantastic sense of community even though none of us had much in those days.

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“Council houses are especially important in rural areas like Northumberland, given the challenges around second homes and holiday lets which push buying and renting beyond the means of many. Council homes give people the chance to stay and make a life for themselves in their local areas.

“I remember the sense of pride people had about getting their own council house, but the Tories stigmatised it and made you feel like you were a failure. Nothing can be further from the truth. People in council estates are salt of the earth and I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”

Karen Collier, another Seaton Valley parish councillor, lives in New Hartley and sometimes regrets buying her council house.

“I bought my council home so we had something to pass onto the children and naïvely thought that the money raised from the sale would go back into council coffers and into building more council houses.

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“I feel guilty that I’ve had the privilege of not only living in a council house, but have bought one when there are a generation of young people stuck in the private rental sector with no chance getting on the property ladder.

“Some of my family live in council housing and if any of them thought about leaving to go into the private rental sector, I would do my best to talk them out of it. You have a level of security in council housing you just don’t get anywhere else.”