Vision for 1,000 new affordable homes in Northumberland approved

The creation of 1,000 new council homes for rent is the ambitious centrepiece of Northumberland’s new housing strategy, which has been signed off by councillors.

By Ben O'Connell
Tuesday, 6th August 2019, 4:45 pm
Updated Friday, 30th August 2019, 3:17 am
Stock picture from Pixabay
Stock picture from Pixabay

Following this approval from the cabinet, the county council will now get to work on developing a range of programmes to increase the provision of affordable housing, both through its own activities and as part of the planning process.

Potential development sites within the council’s ownership are also being looked to see if they are suitable for affordable housing.

Coun John Riddle, the cabinet member for housing, told the meeting that given the need to follow the planning process, he didn’t want to be specific about where those possible sites are at this stage.

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Coun John Riddle, Northumberland County Council's cabinet member for housing.

“But I can assure you they will be where they are needed,” he said. “Some will be in rural areas in smaller numbers, while in urban areas, they will be in larger numbers.”

Outside the meeting, he added: “We’re determined to provide quality affordable housing for rent and make a real and meaningful difference in tackling the growing demand for homes in the county.

“The lack of affordable housing is one of the biggest challenges facing the people of Northumberland and it is a particular problem in some rural communities.

“We need to retain young people in the county to support our growing economy and ensure our communities, local businesses and services continue to thrive. To achieve this we intend to help create places where people can aspire and afford to live.”

Ageing population

Another factor in Northumberland is its ageing population, with the number of over 65s set to increase by 42.4% by 2031. Plus, around 34,000 households have at least one family member with a physical disability – half are over 65.

Therefore, the strategy also outlines plans to provide specialist and accessible housing for elderly residents and those with support or disability needs.

Coun Riddle said: “Providing housing that is well-designed for an ageing population and those with disabilities or other long-term conditions and ensuring affordability is another key priority for the council.”

It was originally proposed that the strategy would run for three years – until 2021 – but when it was discussed by councillors last month, some felt a five-year plan made more sense. The cabinet decided to split the difference and it will now be rolled out over four years.

Concerns over how it will work

When the draft was published back in May ahead of a four-week consultation period, opposition councillors welcomed the intentions of the strategy, but raised concerns about how it would work in practice.

Coun Allan Hepple, Labour’s shadow cabinet member for housing, said: “We are not sure the plans go far enough to meet the increasing demand for truly affordable homes, especially at a time when benefits are being cut and low wages make private and affordable rents unaffordable for many on the council’s housing waiting list.”

Lib Dem leader, Coun Jeff Reid, felt that ‘the aims and objectives are laudable’ but was concerned that other factors such as the North of Tyne Combined Authority and the new Mayor ‘muddy the waters and complicate things somewhat’.

Last week, reflecting on the 100th anniversary of the Addison Act, which paved the way for council house-building on a large scale, the National Federation of Builders was the latest organisation to welcome last October’s decision by the Government to lift the borrowing cap that local authorities faced when financing new homes.

It reported that early predictions, based on local-authority announcements, suggest council house-building will increase to levels not seen since 1989.

Rico Wojtulewicz, head of housing and planning at the House Builders’ Association, said: “Councils are building many more homes but remain constrained by opposing voices.

“With localism remaining a barrier to tackling the housing crisis, the Government must consider whether it has a role in deciding how many council homes get built and where.”