Kick-start for council house building

Published:  10 July, 2009

LONDON: Council house building is to restart in earnest for the first time in almost 20 years with English local authorities planning to build 139 000 homes over the next decade. 

Councils predict that rule changes announced by government last week that allow councils to retain rent from council housing and receipts from right-to-buy purchasers, rather than the money going to the Treasury, mean building is set to return to levels not seen since 1990.

Matt Nicholls, housing spokesman for the Local Government Association, said: "We could be on the verge of the biggest programme of council house building in a generation."

English councils are filing applications for £350m in direct funding provided by Whitehall. Sir Bob Kerslake, chief executive of the Government's Homes and Communities Agency, which will distribute the funds said instead of building large estates the government wants small clusters of 30 to 40 homes built on infill sites and will insist that they are indistinguishable from private housing.

"Nobody wants to go back to big, sprawling estates occupied only by council tenants," he said. "Instead, you won't be able to see the difference between council housing and private housing."

Family houses rather than two-bedroom flats will be prioritised and councils will be encouraged to use redundant land, such as sites of disused garages, instead of building on green belt.

The news follows the announcement last week that more than 1300 new council homes will be built in Scotland this year, backed by £26m from the Scottish Government. Housing and Communities Minister Alex Neil revealed the latest £9m tranche of funding, following the £17m announced in April.

The money will be spread across 17 councils and will introduce the largest council house-building programme for 30 years. The biggest beneficiary is West Lothian Council, which is receiving £3.73m to build 298 new homes.

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