Fears for Uttlesford council housing stock after government plans revealed


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A government plan to force Uttlesford to sell off almost all its general housing stock, including homes only just built, at knock-down prices, has been challenged by Conservative councillors and the Conservative MP for Saffron Walden, Sir Alan Haselhurst.

Councillor Julie Redfern, the head of housing for the district, has written in concern to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, and Sir Alan has taken up the matter with Brandon Lewis, Minister for Housing. In the Housing Bill, due for its first reading in October or November, the Government proposes to force local authorities to sell off all council housing over a certain value, as soon as it becomes vacant.

The most likely purchasers will be private landlords, it is believed.

Cllr Redfern says the district would have to sell 45 per cent of its homes as they became vacant. “This is almost all of our general needs stock. We would be left with nothing but our sheltered accommodation.

“We would also lose the ability to house people from our waiting list if we are no longer able to re-let the majority of our properties as social housing when they become void.”

She addsedthat this means 1,285 homes would be lost. “Ironically, this includes properties we have only just built.”

The plan has been thought up to finance the sell-off of housing association homes. The Government wants these sold at 60 per cent of their value. However, as a charity, housing associations cannot legally do this. So the Government has said it will make-up the money by selling off the best council homes – at give-away prices.

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The housing and homelessness charity Shelter has said more than 22,500 council homes in the East of England could be sold on the private market.

Shelter says it will be impossible for these homes to be replaced because there is a £2billion plus deficit between the selling prices and the cost of replacement.

Councillor Howard Rolfe, leader of the Uttlesford District Council, said: “We are concerned about the impact on Uttlesford and not just on Uttlesford. We may well act collectively as councils in Essex. This has implications for the supply of council housing and we are urging the Government to reconsider these suggestions.”

Sir Alan told the Reporter: “It might work in other places, but there are some difficulties for Uttlesford and other councils in rural areas where it might work perversely. Julie Redfern and the council’s officers want to protect and defend their district.”

Asked if he thought an exception might be made for Uttlesford, Sir Alan replied: “Why not? The legislation hasn’t been passed yet and there could be conditions and exemptions which might be thought appropriate.”

The Mayor of Dunmow, Councillor Barrie Easter said: “It was wrong to sell off council houses years ago without replacing them. If they hadn’t been sold, we could house some of the people on the waiting list now.”

Councillor Milan Milanovich, deputy mayor of Dunmow and a member of Residents for Uttlesford, said: “This will eliminate social housing as we recognise it in this country. We are unusual in Uttlesford as one of only 300 local authorities who still have housing stock.

“We have working people here on low incomes who cannot afford to buy or rent at market values. These people will be forced into private housing where their rent will be subsided by housing benefit, going straight into the pockets of private landlords. Next thing, the benefit will be cut and these people will be forced into taking two or three jobs just to keep a roof over their heads.”