Uttlesford’s social housing set for £15m cash injection

A CASH injection of £15million is to be pumped into building more council houses over the next five years.

Uttlesford District Council is to add to its existing stock of 2,800 homes by agreeing to use the money to clear a growing waiting list of 1,300 people.

Finance chief Cllr Robert Chambers said the move was unlike any other seen in the last 20 years.

“Our council housing is in good condition compared to most other authorities but we intend to make it even better than it is now,” he said at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday evening.

Portfolio holder for housing, Cllr Julie Redfearn, added that the council had “big plans to use the money” and said sites were being looked at in addition to the houses already built in Leaden Roding, as well as plans to revitalise Mead Court in Stansted.

“It is really exciting for us and we are actually one of the first council’s to build our own council housing. But we are only scratching the surface of what is needed,” Cllr Redfearn said prior to the meeitng. “We will never be able to build enough houses to satisfy the waiting list because we don’t have the money to do that.

“The truth is market housing brings with it affordable housing - one doesn’t come without the other - and that’s why building new homes is important.”

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The cash has been made available thanks to last year’s decision by the council to take on a debt of £88m in return for the ownership of its housing stock.

The money, a loan from the Public Works Loan Board, will be paid back over a 30-year period.

But as no capital sum is to be paid during the first five years it has freed up £15m to spend on updating the council housing stock, which would not otherwise have been available under Government control.

It comes amid frustrations voiced by potential Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Saffron Walden, Mike Hibbs, about the way cash from the New Homes Bonus grant had been spent in previous years.

He believes the money should go towards building more council houses for young people.

“If we are going to be bribed to build more houses by the Government then money from the New Homes Bonus should go towards building more social housing,” Mr Hibbs said.

“We should be challenging Uttlesford District Council to spend it on affordable housing because it’s impossible for young people to buy a property in the area.”

The district council’s finance chief, Cllr Robert Chambers, said the council was addressing the need for more social housing now that it had taken control of its own stock from the Government – but was cagey about the possibility of using the NHB to support it.

He said spending the New Homes Bonus on social housing would be something the authority would consider if it were to see a continued growth in its reserves but cautioned about the need for the grant to make up for a 42 per cent drop in core funding over the last three years.