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