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Opinion: The Council Is Working Hard To Provide Social and Affordable Housing in Guildford

Published on: 22 Jul, 2016
Updated on: 26 Jul, 2016

Guildford Housing House NumberBy Tony Rooth

Lead councillor at Guildford Borough Council for Housing and Social Welfare

Social housing has always been a difficult and complicated subject and may well have been misunderstood so here are the principles behind Guildford’s council provision.

In 2012, Guildford Borough Council (GBC) was one of few councils in the South East to retain and control its own council housing despite being required to pay £190 million to the Government in order to do so. Therefore, the council still owns over 5,000 units of social housing which is rented to local people, unlike most other local councils.

Cllr Tony Rooth

Cllr Tony Rooth

Until 2012, the borough council was not allowed to directly build new affordable housing, due to rules around housing finance set by the government.

These rules meant that the council had to pay half of the rent it received from tenants to central government. However, during this period when it couldn’t directly build itself, the council did pass a lot of funding, received from right to buy receipts, and council-owned land over to local housing associations which provided new affordable homes in the borough.

Opinion Logo 2Following the Localism Act 2011, Guildford was amongst the first councils in the country to start up a programme of direct development of affordable housing, and was the first in Surrey to complete new homes.

65 new homes for Affordable Rent have been delivered to date. A small number in comparison to the need for affordable housing, but it’s a start, and required £10 million of investment from the council as well as use of its own land.

Affordable rented homes are let to households on the council’s housing register (there are currently 2,768 households waiting to be housed) at rents which fall below the government’s housing benefit maximum for the area.

12 more affordable rented homes are under construction and 21 have planning permission and are expected to start on site in 2017.

Planning applications have been submitted for a further 178 homes, of which 82 will be for those with an affordable rent, with the remainder sold to finance the ongoing programme of affordable housing provision.

The latest statement of accounts published on the council’s website shows that the council has over £50million of reserves set aside for new build affordable housing . The council is developing future projects to spend those reserves to directly build new homes on a significant scale, on various sites which it owns.

Guildford has also taken the bold step of setting up its own wholly owned housing company. The council will use its land and prudential borrowing powers to invest in the company, which will focus on regeneration and development of brownfield sites and purchase of existing properties for the provision of mixed tenure accommodation.

Our planning policies also require developers to provide a percentage of homes on new developments to be affordable housing (currently 35%, increasing to 40% in the new draft Local Plan).

These measures alone won’t solve the housing problem in Guildford but it can be seen that Guildford’s council has led the way in looking at our housing problem from the direction of providing affordable housing.

Whatever your views on the draft Local Plan, councillors of all parties should be given credit for continuing to invest tens of millions of pounds in directly providing affordable housing for rent.

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Responses to Opinion: The Council Is Working Hard To Provide Social and Affordable Housing in Guildford

  1. Neil Langridge Reply

    July 22, 2016 at 10:27 pm

    Perhaps Mr Rooth could explain how he believes that GBC’s definition of affordable housing being at 80% of market value is realistic? If we take the salary of nurse (a typical keyworker) at a UK average of under £23,000 and an average house price in Guildford of £473,000, the numbers seem a little challenging.

    In addition, a reading of the Local Plan could suggest that the commitments by developers to build affordable housing is not strict, and can be broken without consequence.

    It would be interesting to hear Cllr Rooth’s responses on the above, especially as the council seem so reluctant to be challenged on any of the difficult questions surrounding their “plan”.

    • Mark Rostron Reply

      July 24, 2016 at 2:31 pm

      Clearly the problem is gross underpay in the public sector due to the insistence on forcing inappropriately low national pay levels on workers in a high rent area like Guildford.

      Let the market determine the correct wage and thereby help key workers to afford their own homes without dependency on state subsidy and handouts.

    • Margaret Ferns Reply

      October 21, 2016 at 11:58 pm

      Central Government doesn’t like affordable homes.

      Ipswich Council approved plans for 94 affordable homes, and had the backing of the planning inspectorate.

      However in 2014, Eric Pickles (the then Secretary of State) “called in” the application so that he could determine it himself.

      According to The Ipswich Star article of 17.6.16 the application was blocked by Greg Clark (the SS) because it did not include non-affordables in the mix.

      I can understand the idea of mixing “society” – but we need to provide decent, affordable homes, where tenants have security of tenure – but how can we provide those when we are selling off our council houses at knock-down prices, only to later see many being let out for exorbitant rents.

  2. Jules Cranwell Reply

    July 25, 2016 at 7:18 pm

    Mr Rooth says: “Our planning policies also require developers to provide a percentage of homes on new developments to be affordable housing”

    Really? The draft Local Plan clearly gives a “get out of jail card” for developers, if their accountants can argue that affordable housing would make a given scheme “not financially viable”.

    GBC is in no position to “require” developers to do anything. Why then, is it so keen to hand over much of the green belt to them? We deserve to know why.

  3. Gordon Bridger Reply

    July 29, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    Cllr Rooth is correct that Guildford has followed a commendable housing policy and its Housing Department has traditionally been well run.

    Mr Rostrum is wrong when he says that the problem is underpayment of workers: house prices have gone out of control due to insufficient houses being built and the restriction on land use – a self imposed cost to housing by having 89% in the green belt.

    While there appears to be widespread agreement that we should have a 40% affordable target it is going to be very difficult to achieve this. Reports that the council will be acquiring land to provide them sounds a sensible way forward.

    More thought needs to be given to the allocation of housing as it appears that social welfare considerations are the priority. In order to provide welfare needs and indeed all forms of social and cultural needs we must have a thriving economy and to achieve this we need housing for skilled workers.

    Our public institutions and many important high tech enterprises cannot recruit staff so the council needs to give them a high priority. We will not be able to sustain a welfare system without their skills.

    While we should not neglect welfare needs it will surprise many, not least councillors, that in a recent Office of National Statistics survey Guildford was classed as “the least deprived community in Britain”. This extraordinary accolade seems to have gone unnoticed.

  4. John Perkins Reply

    October 23, 2016 at 9:52 am

    House prices have not gone out of control due to insufficient houses being built.

    There are several reasons for high house prices and limited supply is possibly the least important.

    Why should public institutions and high-tech enterprises be given priority?

    The former are supposed to serve the people, not the other way around.

    The latter should be able to make their own way – experience in the 1970s showed the effect of subsidising “enterprise” and anyway it’s not allowed under EU rules.

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