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Target of just 50 new council houses a year does not go far enough, East Suffolk Council committee says

Calls have been made for East Suffolk Council to double the number of council homes it builds each year after councillors deemed current targets were not ambitious enough.

East Suffolk Council’s 2020-24 housing strategy features a target of 50 new council houses to be built each year, let to people on the council’s waiting list at affordable rent rates.

But the authority’s scrutiny committee last week agreed that did not go far enough.

CGI image of the new 61 homes scheme by East Suffolk Council on the former Deben School site in Felixstowe. Picture: East Suffolk Council (51475025)
CGI image of the new 61 homes scheme by East Suffolk Council on the former Deben School site in Felixstowe. Picture: East Suffolk Council (51475025)

It has recommended that the cabinet authorises a business case to be drawn up exploring additional cash, staff or resources to facilitate building 100 or more per year.

That would likely be funded by borrowing through the Public Works Loan Board, with rental income from the additional properties helping to pay back the borrowing.

Liberal Democrat councillor for Southwold and Reydon, David Beavan, has previously called for that number to be increased, and suggested work alongside other registered providers to help up the numbers too.

He added: “If we borrow to invest we get a return. I should imagine we have a 30-year return [time frame] so expect to get the money back in return from the capital on a project, so if we do invest that should be a good thing.”

Cllr Beavan said that at least half of the current 4,000 on the waiting list were “definitely in need”.

Data presented to the committee showed that the authority had struggled to meet targets, with just 24 anticipated this year, but forecasts based on existing planning permissions or positive pre-application feedback indicated that would climb to 66 next year and 86 the year after.

It was recognised that Right to Buy where people could buy their council property meant numbers of council homes could easily go down, while shortages of labour and increasing costs in the construction industry, as well as the Covid-19-enforced delays, had all hit ambitions.

Committee chairman Stuart Bird, Conservative, questioned whether the 50 homes per year was 'really challenging or ambitious enough', and added: “We recommend that cabinet consider a substantial increase to the council house building target and for cabinet to consider facilitating that with significant resources, be that financial resource or staff resource.”

It is not yet clear when the matter will go to cabinet, but work is to begin with council officers and Conservative cabinet member for housing, Richard Kerry, to look at the issue.

Cllr Kerry stressed that the team was small and would not be able to develop plans for more without additional resources, and stressed that there were no ambitions to develop market housing.

Council housing schemes can come from a range of areas, such as developing land already owned by the council, buying areas in need of regeneration, utilising developer financial contributions for affordable homes or buying existing homes.

The recent planning permission for the former Deben School site in Felixstowe represents a regeneration scheme, and could act as a flagship proposal for future developments.

However Andy Jarvis strategic director for the housing team, said that the authority has 'pretty much used up most of the land we have got, so we are having to acquire land now'.

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