CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

The government must change its approach to council housing

13 July, 2017

• I WANTED to put some background on some of the figures cited for future housing investment in the light of Chalcots and our council housing generally.

While much attention during this period of cuts is focused on service cuts and reduction of day-to-day budgets, there has also been a big challenge funding investment in infrastructure – particularly schools and housing.

Simply put our investment need is almost entirely met by the council, not Whitehall, and is not enough. The detail is this: in 2013 the current Better Homes investment programme was implemented to address backlog investment need of £413million across the council’s existing housing stock of 33,000 homes.

This programme is funded by tenants’ rents and very significantly from regeneration initiatives on housing land (the council’s Community Investment Programme) enabling investment of £267million over the next five years.

Within this, our existing budget of £100million for mechanical and electrical schemes (including safety works identified by regular inspections) is fully required.

We also know there are huge demands for increased affordable housing in the borough, and the total budget for both repairs and the development of new homes currently stands at over £950million for the next 10 years. This funding is nearly all from the council’s own resources.

There is no real funding from the government. Only 2 per cent of our entire capital need (remember Camden had to self-fund £117million of local school repairs as well after 2010 cuts) is currently met by Whitehall.

Each year at every Camden budget – and at every other opportunity – we urge the government to back councils’ efforts to properly invest in council housing, by direct money and by releasing us from strict borrowing caps placed on us by the Treasury.

However each year the asks of Camden and other councils are not met. Instead we’ve had to deal with measures like the Housing and Planning Act, which still contains provisions to force Camden to sell stock and give the money to government for housebuilding elsewhere in the country.

To respond to Grenfell, we will now review and reprioritise the Better Homes capital programme in the light of the new safety assessments on every single block.

But to meet what we and other councils have to do to improve safety will require extra government investment if other housing programmes, such as housebuilding and regeneration of old estates, are not to be delayed.

For this government must change its approach to council housing and allow us the support and freedom we need to provide and invest in high quality social housing.

CLLR THEO BLACKWELL
Cabinet Member for Finance, Technology & Growth

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