In The South

Government refuse Green request for money to build new homes in Brighton

Besi Besemar January 6, 2017

Housing Minister rejects request by Brighton and Hove Green Councillors’ for funds to build new homes.

Cllr Phélim Mac Cafferty
Cllr Phélim Mac Cafferty

Green Councillors on Brighton & Hove City Council are disappointed with the Government after Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell MP, rejected their alternative proposals for funding to build more affordable housing in the city.

Despite growing housing waiting lists, and limited stock, a borrowing cap prevents local councils from accessing funds in the ‘housing revenue account’ (HRA) which could be utilised to build much needed social housing.

At a meeting of full council in October, the Green Group put forward a motion asking that the government put an end to the cap in the housing revenue account, in order to allow the council to invest in new homes.

The move, which is supported by the Local Government Association, is estimated to give councils nationally access to more than £7 billion and would provide the means to build over 60,000 homes.

In a written response to the Green Group’s motion, Minister for Housing and Planning Gavin Barwell MP, said: “there are no plans to remove the caps or to re-open the HRA borrowing programme.”

Convenor of the Green Group of Councillors, Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty said: “We are beyond disappointed that there are no signals that central government want to help the city ease our housing crisis by allowing us to borrow above the cap in the housing revenue account. The Tory mantra for public services is ‘cut red tape’ yet they are committed to restricting our capacity to fund more house building. We asked for change because lifting the cap on borrowing would enable us to make a real difference – to build more homes, to generate revenue and ease the crisis in Brighton and Hove.

“Alternatives are needed because we have serious issues with housing in the city. Homelessness has doubled in the last 5 years. 88,000 residents in our city cannot afford to rent or buy without needing help or spending a disproportionate amount of their income on housing. 

“None of this is helped by the conscious political effort over the years by successive Conservative and Labour governments to decimate council housing stock, to the point where 80 homes a year in the city cease to be available as socially rented housing due to sales under the right to buy. Around the country between 2012 and 2016, while 41,000 council homes were sold, only around 5,000 were built.[4] This, plus the other cuts being imposed on councils means housing is rapidly becoming an extreme challenge which we are not being given the tools to address.

“We have proposed a solution – a solution backed by hard evidence and by the national body representing councils-  and the government have rejected it. This of course leaves us with fewer resources to build homes and avert homelessness. But it will not stop us pushing for bold solutions and for more truly affordable homes.”

The Green Group have also been campaigning for more affordable homes, and have recently secured a change which will see the cost of rent in in the new council joint housing venture with Hyde Housing lowered to more affordable rates for people on the living wage. The Green Group campaign for rents set as a measure of people’s income rather than the market rate, arguing that lower rents save taxpayer’s money in the long run by minimising the need for housing benefit payments.

Cllr David Gibson
Cllr David Gibson

Councillor David Gibson, Housing Spokesperson for the Green Group, said: “Refusing to lift the borrowing cap is part of a raft of policies designed to attack council housing at a time when it is needed more than ever. Rather than wasting billions on housing benefit for an overpriced private rented sector, the government should allow councils to borrow with grant support and build much needed homes at social rents which research shows saves money in the medium term because of the lower benefit bills.”

Simon Kirby MP

Simon Kirby MP for Brighton Kemptown & Peacehaven, said: “The Government is committed to delivering a housing market that works for everyone. In the Autumn Statement the Chancellor set out how we will invest to unlock land for housing where it is needed most, with a new £2 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund to support 100,000 new homes, and an additional £1.4 billion to deliver 40,000 more affordable homes. That means that over the course of the Parliament, the Government expects to more than double annual capital spending on housing in real terms.”