Letting housing association tenants buy their homes at a discount will be disastrous for rural communities, according to a leading academic.
Government plans to extend the “right to buy” will make an existing housing shortage worse, said Professor Mark Shucksmith, Director of the Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal.
And the problem will be particularly bad in rural areas – where house prices are highest, he said.
But the policy was welcomed by North East MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Conservative MP for Berwick, who said funds raised from the sell-off would be used to allow councils and housing associations to build more homes.
It comes as a senior civil servant criticised the policy, which was one of the Conservative Party’s flagship manifesto promises during the general election campaign.
The Government is to extend the right to buy their home at a discount, which currently applies to council tenants, to 1.3 million housing association tenants.
But Lord Kerslake, the former head of the civil service who was the most senior official at the Department of Communities and Local Government until February, has warned that the plan will do nothing to address the housing shortage.
He said: “I think it’s wrong in principle and wrong in practice, and it won’t help tackle the urgent need to build more housing and more affordable housing in this country.”
Under the Conservative plans, 1.3 million tenants in housing association homes in England will be able to buy their properties at discounts of £77,000, or up to £104,000 in London.
Ministers say housing associations will be compensated with money raised by forcing local authorities to sell off their most expensive housing stock as it becomes vacant, ensuring that the affordable properties which are sold are replaced.
However the proposals have been widely criticised by housing associations, with many threatening to sue the Government if they are forced to sell.
Prof Shucksmith said:
“There is already a shortage of affordable housing, especially in rural areas where there is little social housing.
“Rural house prices are on average 26 per cent higher than in urban areas, and the ratio of house prices to local earnings is even worse.
“Disposing of housing association stock, at great cost to the taxpayer, will make the impact on rural communities much more serious.
“We are already seeing those on low and medium incomes, and especially young people, priced out of small towns and villages across the UK. With housing association properties sold off, and unlikely to be replaced in any substantial quantities, the wealth divide in rural communities will deepen even further.”
And he said the policy would hurt employers, by driving the staff they need out of rural areas.
“With rural areas becoming increasingly socially exclusive, local businesses – from farms and shops to accountants and software developers – will find it even harder to attract the young, skilled, ambitious people they need.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 03 Jun 2015
With pressure mounting to reverse a decision to axe free transport for students, Northumberland County Council has agreed to hold an extraordinary meeting in Morpeth next week.
Angry parents and opponents of the Labour administration at county hall have been urging the county council to reverse its decision to reintroduce transport charges for students over the age of 16.
They say it discriminates against parents in the north and rural parts of the county and that the consultation was inadequate.
They have also been highly critical of county council leader Grant Davey for avoiding a meeting to raise the concerns.
But an emergency meeting has now been called. It will take place at County Hall in Morpeth on Friday at 9.30am.
The motion to be debated has been put forward by Conservative group leader Peter Jackson.
He is requesting the suspension of the decision and the introduction of a new consultation process.
Mr Jackson said: “The leader of the council Grant Davey can run but cannot hide from the electorate.
“He has been doing everything in his power to avoid public accountability. Labour have made a huge mistake with this teenage tax and we are asking them to revisit this decision which will be discussed at an extraordinary meeting of the council.”
But Mr Davey, leader of the council and the Labour group, accused the Tories of playing politics:
“The extraordinary council meeting could end up costing the council tax payers over £40,000, which is a very expensive way to play gesture politics after their own government has raided Northumberland’s budget to the tune of £130m.
“It’s cynical, hypocritical and it goes to show that local Tories would rather spend than save money.”
Protestors met senior county council officers on Wednesday to express concern about the lack of engagement with the public.
Leading protestor Allison Joynson said: “Whilst I appreciate the officers taking the time to meet with us, and the fact that finally a dialogue has begun, it became quickly apparent that the Labour administration is not prepared to seriously consider revisiting this discriminatory policy.
“It was evident from the discussions that the council had no real appreciation of the huge impact on the people of Northumberland especially those from rural areas.”
The county council voted to scrap its free transport scheme for pupils over the age of 16 last month in a move which will save £2.4 million.
From September 1 students will pay the full cost where public transport is available, or £600 a year to travel on council contracted school transport.
Council bosses say they were forced to bring back charges as they have to remove £32m from the authority’s budget in 2014/15 and a further £100m over the next three years.
But furious parents in the rural north of the county say their children are being penalised for staying in education, and are calling on the administration to change its mind.
The pressure group opposing the plans has already staged a demonstration outside the Duchess Community High School in Alnwick and has circulated a petition demanding a rethink.
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 05 July 2014