Friday, 18 July 2014

New council housing

With the exception of the announced reviews to potentially reverse earlier council decisions on care homes, flood defences and libraries, the only new initiative that the joint administration on Southend Council has formally announced appears to be its aspiration to build more council homes rather than provide housing in partnership with housing associations. Of course in part this comes from the cross party work which was done before the last election however I am sure that many of us can, in principle, support this plan by Labour cabinet member David Norman however like so many things in local government the devil will be in the detail. In particular there has been an absence of clarification as to how this is going to be fully funded and if, which I assume is inevitable, this will require additional borrowing it would seem to contradict the central belief of council leader Ron Woodley that borrowing levels are too high. There is also a concern about whether having made such investment the properties could in the future be subject to “right to buy” with its obvious ramifications. The advantage of working with a housing association is that these issues do not need to be addressed by the Council but the aspiration to provide more social housing is still addressed.However it is an interesting proposal and we will see how it develops. I have already commented on the apparent desire of cabinet members to have their pictures in the local press accompanied by policy announcements which are usually premature. In the context of housing I note Cllr Gilbert has now fallen in to this trap being pictured in front of some of our residential tower blocks and indicating a wish to see them demolished. Once again this is not a ground breaking idea and has been the subject of discussions between officers and members of the previous Conservative administration on a number of occasions however quite properly those discussions were kept confidential. It is potentially upsetting and disruptive to the occupiers of these blocks to have announcements of this kind made by a current member of cabinet in circumstances where there has been no prior consultation with them and there are no detailed plans in place or even indicative timescales or proposals as to re housing. This concerns peoples’ homes and lives and is more important than a premature newspaper headline and pretty picture!

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