Swindon Tenants Campaign Group condemns Swindon Council’s refusal hold an open and public debate on the acute housing crisis that the town faces. In March 2013 it said it would carry out a review of its Housing Strategy by the end of that year. It committed to organising a conference as part of the consultation process. However,

  • After dithering for a year it is rushing through an 8 week travesty of a consultation of which hardly anybody is aware.
  • It has reneged on its commitment to organise a conference where the issues could be publicly discussed.
  • The consultation is not even on its website list of current consultations.
  • It is trying to avoid a discussion and vote at a full Council meeting by handing power of decision to the Lead Member. Apparently one person alone will have the final say on what the Housing Strategy for the town will be.

The Council’s own Housing Advisory Forum passed a resolution which said that Housing Strategy should be determined by debate and vote at the full Council meeting and not by a single individual, whoever they were.

Martin Wicks, Secretary of Swindon Tenants Campaign Group said:

“It’s unbelievable that such an important decision as housing strategy for the town should be taken by an individual rather than by the full Council. Not only does it disenfranchise the Councillors we elect, but it is designed to avoid an open discussion in public on the housing crisis which the town faces. Why is the Council’s ruling group frightened of public debate on the housing crisis?

It may well be because it knows that its proposals cannot possibly resolve the housing crisis. It admits that there are 800 too few “affordable homes” built in the town every year but it can offer no remedy. It is not prepared to challenge the coalition government’s disastrous housing policy which has produced a decline of 104,000 Council houses in England.

The Council’s document admits that “Households at or close to the threshold (of greatest need) will have to wait a considerable time for affordable housing or not be housed in this way at all.”

What it is proposing will make the crisis worse. It is supporting government policy to push up Council rents towards market rates by introducing “affordable rent” (AR), up to 80% of market levels.

Thus far they are only committed to building an additional 67 Council homes but with rent at AR. To pay for it they are going to convert around 140 existing Council homes to AR, with rents up to £52 a week higher (see below). Whilst the smaller homes don’t look too bad, £17 or more extra a week for homes larger than one bedroom is a lot of money if you are in low paid and precarious work. Given the demolition of 33 homes in Sussex Square that means that for only 67 additional AR homes we lose around 173 homes at Council rent.

They are proposing to put in a bid to the Homes and Communities Agency for grant for 200 more homes. If they win another bid then hundreds more of existing Council homes will have their rent pushed up by conversion to AR. A recent Financial Times investigation showed that 75% of tenants in AR homes are on housing benefit, even higher than the 66% in ‘social housing’ as a whole. This will push up the national HB bill.

At best the Council is looking to build 267 homes over 6 years. If any regeneration is involved then there could be more demolitions, so the number of additional homes could be even less.

Given that the Council has lost 107 Council homes through ‘right to buy’ in the last 2 years, the numbers they are hoping to build may not even replace all the homes we will lose through “right to buy”.”

Swindon Tenants Campaign Group has written to the Council Leader calling for the Cabinet to honour its commitment to organise a conference, to suspend the November 10th deadline until that conference has taken place, and to put whatever the final proposals are to debate and vote at a full Council meeting.

For further comment ring Martin Wicks on 07786 394593

‘Social Rent’ Affordable Rent Proposed Difference
1 Bed Flat £75.75 £81.94 + £6.19
2 Bed Flat £82.83 £101 + £17.18
2 Bed House £82.83 £101 + £17.18
3 Bed House £90.60 £121.20 + £29.60
4 Bed House £104.78 £156.92 + £52.14

 

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