North East mayor hopefuls in promise to tackle 'killer' homes and 'freeze out' rogue landlords

How to solve the North East’s housing crisis is the latest conundrum to have been put before the candidates vying to become the region’s new mayor.
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Four of the six hopefuls contesting May’s historic mayoral election clashed over how they would combat a shortage of homes and deal with the widespread damp and mould problems plaguing families.

It comes after a charity warned recently that there had been a 51% jump in the number of North East households on social housing waiting lists, including more than 66,000 in the patch of the new mayor across Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, and Durham.

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Shelter has called for urgent action on a “housing emergency”, with 23,775 privately-rented homes across the wider region classed as ‘non-decent’ and 10,213 socially rented homes failing to meet the Decent Homes Standard – according to figures from 2021/22.

The North East mayoral election housing hustings at Newcastle University. Photo: NCJ Media.The North East mayoral election housing hustings at Newcastle University. Photo: NCJ Media.
The North East mayoral election housing hustings at Newcastle University. Photo: NCJ Media.

At a hustings event at Newcastle University, organised by Shelter and the North East Housing Partnership, Lib Dem candidate Aidan King promised to deliver three new building plots in every town and village in the North East and to use the mayor’s funding to make compulsory purchase orders on low-grade farmland that he would then redesignate for housing.

He said: “These housing units are killing people. Getting people out of those homes and into new, warm, comfortable, well-insulated homes is a priority. Trying to retrofit them is incredibly difficult.”

However, his housebuilding ambitions were questioned by the other candidates.

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The Green Party’s Andrew Gray claimed the North East had a “bigger quality than quantity challenge” on housing, as he set out his plans for a major retrofitting project to bring homes up to standard and improve their energy efficiency.

Independent Jamie Driscoll, the sitting North of Tyne mayor, warned that serious financial backing from the Government beyond the funding available to the new North East Mayoral Combined Authority would be needed to make truly transformational change in the housing market.

Mr Driscoll said his North of Tyne Combined Authority had commissioned a study which showed that retrofitting every home in Newcastle, North Tyneside, and Northumberland alone would cost between £8 billion and £13 billion – and that building from scratch would be over £100 billion.

He added: “It requires central government to be involved and we need to be honest about that. We need central government to write us a big cheque. It doesn’t matter what anyone here says, we don’t have the £100 billion to fix this.”

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Labour candidate Kim McGuinness committed to build more new social housing in the North East than is lost through Right to Buy, but said that retrofitting existing homes will be “massively part of the answer”.

She argued that the new mayor should be given greater control of money currently held by Homes England, as well as the power to seize properties from rogue landlords.

Conservative candidate Guy Renner-Thompson and Reform UK’s Paul Donaghy were unable to attend.

Paul Fiddaman, chair of the North East Housing Partnership and chief executive of Karbon Homes, said: “Each year for the last four years, collectively the North East housing partners have built, on average, around 1,700 new homes across the region. But with 66,000 households on council waiting lists across the North East Mayoral Combined Authority region this is just a drop in the ocean.”