Housing strategy for Northumberland leaves councillors split over timescale

Councillors of all stripes have backed the new Northumberland housing strategy, but were split over whether it should run for three or five years.

As it stands, the new strategy, which was ‘generally supported with only minor amendments being made’ during a recent consultation, will run until 2021.

But at a meeting of the county council’s communities and place committee, it was suggested it might be better as a five-year plan.

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Labour’s Coun Ian Swithenbank said given housing strategies relied on issues such as land acquisition, planning permission and building homes, five years was much more appropriate.

Coun Brian Gallacher, also pointed out the 2021 end date – with council elections to take place that year – could mean an incoming administration was left without a strategy, which was not in the interests of residents.

Officers said that the 2021 end date was simply chosen so it matched the council’s corporate plan, but it would be no problem to extend it over five years and actually gives more time until a full refresh needs to be carried out.

However, some Conservative committee members were adamant it should left as it is – although the final decision will be made by the cabinet next month.

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This meant there was an unusual situation in which opposition councillors were trying to give the administration more time to deliver on some of the pledges – such as the delivery of 1,000 new council-owned homes – but they were opposed by members of the ruling party.

As previously reported, the new strategy has three priorities:

Growing our communities – developing homes to meet the needs of residents and aspirations of the council through the provision of affordable housing;

Supporting our residents – supporting vulnerable groups and providing specialist housing for older people and those with support needs;

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Improving homes and communities – making better use of existing housing stock.

Strategic housing manager Julie Stewart conceded these are ‘quite broad and quite challenging’, but ‘came through quite strongly’ in the consultation.

Paul Johnston, the council’s interim executive director of place, emphasised this was a strategy, with a delivery plan to be drawn up later, saying: “This deals with the what, not the how.”