Concerns over affordable housing in Rothbury

Councillor Steven BridgettCouncillor Steven Bridgett
Councillor Steven Bridgett
Rothbury’s county councillor wants to be kept in the loop on potential new affordable homes in his area, but claims ‘it’s like getting blood from a stone’.

However, the council administration says that meetings have taken place to keep Coun Steven Bridgett informed and that the authority ‘is actively seeking to identify and secure sites for affordable-housing development’ in Rothbury and elsewhere in rural Northumberland.

In the wake of the council’s pledge of 1,000 additional affordable homes across the county, Coun Steven Bridgett said he put forward two proposals which could deliver council housing in Rothbury – one involving a land swap with the Northumberland Estates and one in the centre of the village which would be suitable for homes for older and retired people.

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He claims he has since been chasing the senior leadership, not just councillors but officers, for months and months, but is struggling to get any updates.

“Part of me wonders if the council is able to meet its pledge, but part of me is wondering if they are actually willing,” he said. “It’s great to stand up in the council chamber and say you are going to build 1,000 council homes, but there has been no information forthcoming.

“If they don’t want to pursue council housing in my division then come out and say so, don’t string me along for months. I’m happy to sign a non-disclosure agreement if it’s an issue of commercial sensitivity.

“I remember Coun Jackson (council leader) always criticising the previous administrations for a lack of transparency and openness, but having experienced all three (Lib Dem, Labour and now Conservative), this one is by far the worst.”

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Coun John Riddle, the cabinet member for housing and planning, said: “The council is actively seeking to identify and secure sites for affordable-housing development within Rothbury and other rural towns in Northumberland as part of its commitment to provide more affordable housing in Northumberland.

“We have had meetings with ward councillor Steven Bridgett to keep him informed about potential affordable-housing developments in his ward.”

Coun Bridgett also has concerns about an 18-home development in nearby Thropton, where the section 106 legal agreement as part of the approval has secured three of the houses for sale at discount market value.

He said that even with a 30% discount, they will not be affordable to local people, but that the developer is happy to provide an off-site contribution instead. “It’s a bad deal for the people of Thropton,” he added.

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On this issue, Coun Riddle said: “We have also negotiated with a developer of 18 new properties in Thropton for three of the houses to be sold at 30% below the market value.

“This has worked very successfully in other parts of Northumberland, providing affordable homes to buy for local people who cannot afford the full market value. As part of granting planning permission, the homes remain affordable and are always resold at 30% below market value.

“We have listened to Coun Bridgett’s concerns and, in the unlikely event the Thropton homes do not sell, we have written a conversion clause into the s106 planning agreement.

“This will mean the developer can sell them at market rate and will pay a monetary contribution to the council which will be used to pursue affordable housing in another location, with the first priority being the Thropton and Rothbury area.”