7 Feb 2014

Tories' housing strategy fails to impress


St Albans Council's new housing strategy was examined last night (6 February) by the cross-party scrutiny committee. The strategy set out three "key priorities" for housing, but it was what the strategy didn't say that left councillors on the committee intrigued. The strategy report also revealed the full scale of the failure to build enough affordable homes in the district.

I asked what the other aspects of the strategy were, beyond the so-called "key" ones, but officers were only able to say that other elements might be added to the strategy in the future. There is almost no mention at all of the importance of improving the housing we have, in particular making it more energy efficient. That would reduce bills for tenants, and make their homes more comfortable. It might even give the Council scope to increase its income from rents, in return for the savings in energy bills.

Councillors were also left to wonder how many new Council properties or so-called affordable homes might be provided. The strategy report shows that 4,000 affordable homes were supposed to be provided in the 20 years to 2013, but in fact fewer than 1,500 were actually built.

This is an appalling failure by successive Conservative and Lib Dem councils to look after the needs of lower-income residents. And there's no sign that this situation is going to improve any time soon.

35% of all new builds in the district are supposed to be affordable. In other words, available at 80% or less of market price. In 2011 I discovered that nobody knew what proportion was actually provided, despite this target. I won unanimous support from fellow councillors for the true proportion to be worked out and regularly published. However, housing officers were still unable to tell me last night what that figure is.

The scrutiny committee made several recommendations to the Cabinet, to improve the new housing strategy.