This is a letter published in the Swindon Advertiser today.
In the lead up to the Great Leader’s conference speech we were told to expect, in the words of government Minister Damian Green, nothing less than “the rebirth of council housing”. An excited media was predicting “under the PM’s housing plan, ministers will join forces with housing associations to build hundreds of thousands of new homes” (The Sun).
However, instead of the hundreds of thousands we discovered that May’s “plan” might add up to 25,000 “affordable homes” over 5 years. That is, 5,000 a year. At that rate it would only take 240 years to produce enough homes for the 1.2 million households on the waiting lists, always assuming nobody else was added to the list in the meantime.
The extra money available for “affordable housing” was only £2 billion, compared to £10 billion for Help To Buy. According to a Tory Party press release the £2 billion “could” be used to produce 25,000 homes for social rent over 5 years. On the other hand it might not. A statement by the Department of Communities and local government referred to rents “affordable to local people” rather than ‘social rent’.
The government had previously banned councils from charging ‘social rent’. Even though it has now said they can bid to build such homes, the government is not even prepared to allow all councils to do so. This will only be allowed in areas of ‘greatest need’, the criteria for which are unknown.
How will this “plan” impact on the housing crisis? It would not even replace those council homes lost to Right To Buy. Sales are currently running at more than 12,000 a year in England. Since 2010 more than 60,000 have been sold. Government policy is destined to increase sales with its proposal to force councils to sell off their ‘higher value’ homes to raise money to compensate housing associations for the extension of RTB to their homes. The receipts will be stolen from councils and handed over to housing associations to compensate for the difference between the discount price and the market value.
Under the Tories councils have built less homes than they have demolished. From 2010-2016 there were 20,300 council homes demolished but only just over 10,000 built. No wonder there has been a decline in the number of council homes by 174,000 under the Tories.
If the ‘estimated’ figure of 25,000 homes are built they won’t, in any case, all be council homes because as May made clear councils and housing associations will have to bid for grant.
There certainly needs to be a rebirth of council housing, though a genuine one rather than this sham. Only a large scale council house building programme can address the endemic housing crisis. This could be started if the extra £12 billion available was provided for councils to build social rent homes. Yet this government, despite lip-service to “a new generation of council housing”, is not prepared to provide grant to councils so that they can begin to build social rent homes on a large scale. Moreover, it is responsible for the continued decline in the number of council homes that local authorities own.
Secretary, Swindon Tenants Campaign Group