|Vision of the future: Council sets out housing plans
Plans for the future of housing across the borough are set to be discussed by senior councillors. Social and affordable housing, homelessness and families in temporary accommodation are all on the agenda at Wigan Council’s ’Confident Places’ scrutiny committee this week.
The council published its housing strategy four years ago but because of changes to government policy and cuts to local services, the document is now being revisited.
Cabinet lead for housing, Cllr Chris Ready, says: “It is a challenging time and we’re faced with tough decisions, including responding to the government’s welfare reforms. But there’s a lot of good news about the provision of affordable homes and our work with the private sector. I’m pleased that a record high number of our properties are rated at the top standard.”
277 new affordable homes were built in Wigan Borough in the last three years, this compares with just 59 in the previous three years. In the same period, the council has more than halved the number of households living in temporary accommodation.
Councillors will hear that there has been a continuing drive to increase the number of local social housing officially classified as decent. This was 95 per cent in 2008/9 and is now 99 per cent across the borough. The remaining few, described as ‘non decent’, mainly include those homes where proposed improvements (including updated kitchens or bathrooms) go against the tenants’ wishes but which will be actioned when the property becomes vacant.
However, councillors will hear that the income stream to the public sector which enabled cuts in the number of empty homes has been reduced. Numbers on housing benefit in socially rented housing have remained relatively stable in recent years at around 18,000 households. However, totals for those on housing benefit in the private rented sector, which were 5,860 in August 2009, are up to 8,090 this spring - an increase of nearly forty per cent.
Members will be told about the continuing slump in housebuilding in the current economic climate. It’s currently at just 30 per cent of the norm. The report notes that this is not because of the supply of land or the planning process but because of the state of the housing market and the difficulties people face raising mortgage finance. This is in line with national trends, showing the lowest peacetime new housing construction figure since the 1920s. Residents in all sectors are also currently moving home less often, at just 40 per cent of the long-term average.
“Thanks to the close partnership between officers in the council and Wigan & Leigh Housing, plus with partners across Greater Manchester, there are many success stories,” says Cllr Ready. “We’re improving energy efficiency in social housing and our borough has seen a dramatic fall in homelessness which is greater than northern and regional trends.”
The committee will hear of concerns including older housing stock, the impact of benefit reforms and the demands of the ageing population.
“This review will see us look closely at where we can best make an effective difference,” adds Cllr Ready. “The document we published in 2008 remains valid and once the current issues are included in it, it will keep our strategy relevant and effective for the decade ahead.”
The committee’s recommendations will then be passed to the council’s cabinet for final endorsement by senior politicians.