Thousands of former council tenants have a new landlord today after the North-East’s largest local authority sold its last 18,400 homes to a new independent group.
Durham County Council sealed the £114m deal with the newly formed, not-for-profit County Durham Housing Group (CDHG) late last night (Monday).
Supporters say the historic transfer will pave the way for £800m of investment in the homes over the next 30 years and the £80m construction of 700 new properties within the next seven, plus the cancellation of the council’s remaining housing debt of £130m.
CDHG chief executive Bill Fullen said there was an opportunity to create something “really significant” in County Durham, while council chief executive George Garlick said communities across the county would be regenerated.
CDHG now owns and manages 18,400 homes across the former Wear Valley, Easington and Durham City districts.
It comprises three new landlords, or Community Benefit Societies – Dale and Valley Homes and East Durham Homes, previously Arms-Length Management Organisations (Almos) responsible for managing council-owned houses, and Durham City Homes, previously an in-house council service.
It went ahead despite delays and a government deadline having been missed.
Sites for the new homes have been identified, mostly around existing estates, but details have not yet been released.
Mr Fullen said:
“The results of last summer’s ballot told us that tenants wanted to see change and that’s exactly as a group what we set out to achieve.
“I want people to say that they are proud to call Durham home and that doesn’t just come from bricks and mortar.
“It’s about improving lives beyond the garden gate and I’m confident that by working with Dale and Valley Homes, Durham City Homes and East Durham Homes we can achieve this together.”
Mr Garlick added:
“The completion of the transfer allows for millions of pounds to be invested in current social housing as well as building new homes, helping to regenerate communities across the county.”
For more information, visit countydurhamhousinggroup.co.uk
Durham City Homes can now be contacted via durhamcityhomes.co.uk, 0800-068-0013 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dale and Valley Homes’ and East Durham Homes’ contact details remain unchanged.
Council houses in other areas of the county have already been transferred to landlords Cestria Community Housing, Derwentside Homes, Livin and Teesdale Housing Association.
Last night’s (Monday) deal was signed hours before the Conservatives pledged to extend the right-to-buy to 1.3m housing association tenants.
Source – Northern Echo, 14 Apr 2015
Plans to revive rural communities by spending £5m on building new council houses have been criticised as having a high risk factor.
A lack of affordable homes has been identified as a contributing factor to young people moving away from Yorkshire Dales communities – and has prompted a campaign by leader of Richmondshire District Council, John Blackie, to provide cheap new homes and jobs.
Schools across Richmondshire have reported a fall in school roll figures, so house building has been proposed as a means of persuading families to stay in the Dales.
Cllr Blackie has organised a conference for key partners including the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, housing associations, local enterprise partnerships, and health and education representatives, to take place at Tennants, Leyburn, on Wednesday, November 19 from 9am.
But Cllr Fleur Butler, leader of the Conservative opposition group on the council, said the £5m proposal was a huge risk to council tenants, whose rent feeds the fund.
She told the full council meeting that she was concerned the council would be taking on more debt when cuts still had to be made and she felt more work should be done to work with existing landlord partners.
“To spend £5m from the housing revenue account will put enormous risk on to our tenants whose rents must rise should the council’s proposed own social landlord company fail to repay its debts,” she said.
“Why isn’t Cllr Blackie instead working better with our registered social landlords? What evidence does he have for partnership failure, and why on earth should we go down the route of being our own landlord, when we already work with several?”
Cllr Blackie said the greater risk was to lose young families in our rural and deeply rural communities – and that he did intend to continue to work with social landlords.
“We are intending to take the decision to authorise Richmondshire District Council to return to the role it occupied for many years as a provider, by purchasing in the housing market, or builder of council houses.
“The Government has relaxed its stand on councils across the country legally doing this, and we have funds available to finance the programme.”
Cllr Blackie confirmed the funds would flow from a £5m borrowing facility within the housing revenue account.
“This is a really important issue and on November 18 the council’s corporate board will debate the proposal,” he said.
Cllr Butler said she was not completely against the idea of the council building its own stock, but first wanted to examine why so many people were leaving the Dales.
Source – Northern Echo, 23 Oct 2014
RENTS for 18,000 council tenants in South Tyneside are to rise by an average of £5.50 a week, it has been revealed.
However, there was better news for residents in the borough as South Tyneside Council boss, Coun Ed Malcolm, revealed that Council Tax bills are to be frozen for the fourth consecutive year.
The details emerged from the local authority’s budget plans for the coming 12 months in which it needs to find another £18m worth of savings.
That is made up of a £9m reduction in Government funding and another £9m in other areas – particularly services for the young and elderly.
Savings need to be identified out of a revenue budget – made up from government funding and Council Tax payments – of £148m for 2014/15.
Despite the pressures, the council is committed to spending almost £5m improving borough highways and footpaths.
It is pushing ahead with selling off council buildings which are regarded as being “surplus to requirement” – with profits re-invested in capital programmes.
As a result of a Council Tax freeze, the owner of an average Band C property in the borough will pay an estimated £1,290 for the year from April.
Meanwhile, council rents will increase by 6.8 per cent, which is in line with Government guidelines.
That would mean the average weekly borough rent, which currently stands at £78.34 over a 48-week period, rising by about £5.50 – which still represents the lowest level in Tyne and Wear.
It’s estimated the hike will add an additional £4.7m to the council’s coffers.
Coun Malcolm, the council’s lead member for resources and innovation, today pledged that “no one would suffer” as a result of the budget proposals he has overseen.
There was also a commitment that job losses at the council will be less than in previous years – with more than 1,000 posts shed since 2010.
He said: “Even though we have had £18m of budget cuts to find this year, I’m confident that this budget will mean we can still provide services to anyone who wants them, anyone who needs them.
“No one will suffer because of this budget. As a Labour council, we remain committed to social justice.
“The key message is that is that we are continuing to get funding reductions, we’ve got nine per cent less core funding and we still have the standstill financial pressures on top.
“We’re going to be freezing Council Tax for the fourth consecutive year and that means we will have the third lowest in the North East, and we remain committed to our ambitious regeneration of the borough.
“We face £18m worth of savings in the year ahead. The days of salami-slicing budgets are over.
“We’ve looked at integration, working with partners in the private sector, the public sector and the voluntary sector on Adult and Social Care.
“The council has a lot of buildings which have passed their sell-by-date and I think we can work more efficiently by redesigning the town hall and have the majority of staff transferred there.
“Then we have the community hubs which will provide a majority of services under one roof.”
Coun Malcolm added: “There will still be job implications but we will endeavour to keep away from compulsory redundancies.
“Because we are redesigning services there will be redundancies but we envisage there will be less than in previous years. We are also putting substantial investment in highways and pathways and increasing amount of money going to Community Area Forums by £50,000.”
Merv Butler, branch secretary of Unison South Tyneside, said: “Jobs-wise, next year we are hearing that there will be a little bit of respite in terms of a large number of job losses.
“But there are still going to be job losses in the area of business support and the merger of some other services together.”
Source – Shields Gazette 05 Feb 2014
A GOVERNMENT minister has been challenged to a face-to-face meeting with South Tyneside councillors concerned at the impact the ‘bedroom tax’ is having on borough citizens.
> Good luck with that. The Jarrow marchers in the 1930s walked the length of England to London, only to have government ministers refuse to meet them when they got there.
South Tyneside Council chief executive Martin Swales is to write to Tory MP Kris Hopkins, the current housing minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government, calling for the meeting.
> Make him come here.
It comes after a motion expressing concern over the scheme was carried unanimously at a full council meeting last week.
The motion – signed by ten South Tyneside councillors – stated that the tax ‘discriminates unfairly against the poorest in our society’ and welcomed a commitment by Labour Leader Ed Miliband to ‘repeal this draconian legislation’ if the party returns to power at next year’s General Election.
> Given Labour’s other plans for the poor, I should wait a while before we all start cheering (and voting).
A total of 2,770 council tenants in South Tyneside have been affected by the tax, which has seen a cut in housing benefit for households with one or more bedrooms deemed to be spare.
Nationally, one in three council tenants affected by cuts to housing benefit have fallen behind on rent since the policy took effect in April, according to figures from the Trades Union Congress.
Since March there has been an £81,000 rise in South Tyneside council rent arrears, with the total amount owed to the local authority now standing at £1.8m.
The motion stated: “South Tyneside Council notes with concern that 2,770 council tenants have been affected by the bedroom tax.
“The council believes that the bedroom tax discriminates unfairly against the poorest in our society, and that by forcing residents to leave their homes can lead to instability of close-knit local communities and neighbourhoods.”
> Suprisingly ( or perhaps not…) they don’t seem to have connected the above with the rise in begging on the streets in South Shields, reported yesterday.
Source – Shields Gazette, 21 Jan 2014