Opportunity to provide more affordable housing in Chichester ‘neutered’

Kevin Hughes (right) and Sarah Lishman, both Labour councillors at Chichester District Council
Kevin Hughes (right) and Sarah Lishman, both Labour councillors at Chichester District Council

Chichester District Council plans to ask the government for powers to stop people buying newly built council homes.

The issue was raised at a meeting at East Pallant House on Tuesday when members discussed the need for more affordable, council and social housing in the district.

A notice of motion was tabled by Kevin Hughes (Lab, Chichester East), who asked for a commitment to build up to 199 council homes in an attempt to make renting more affordable.

Mr Hughes said: “Affordable housing is one of the best investments a council can make.

“Not only does it create a home for a family, which is a moral duty that we have, and regular rental income for the council as landlord, it reduces housing benefits spending in the more expensive private rented sector, too.

“There is a pressing need for urgent additional council, social and affordable housing. But Chichester has a particular problem because people who work here, in a lot of cases, can’t afford to live here.”

There are 1,358 people and families on the housing register, with 42 in council-owned temporary accommodation and 18 in temporary homes which the council does not own.

Mr Hughes also asked for the definition of ‘affordable’ to be changed to that used for social rent, which is aimed at people on lower incomes.

He was supported by Richard Plowman (Lib Dem, Chichester North) who said there was there was no such thing as an affordable house in Chichester.

He added: “Where you have house prices at 14 times the income you’re never going to have an affordable house.

“At the moment the people out there are struggling. Rent is a huge part of their actual disposable income that they’re having to put out.

“I’d like to see some hope for those people.”

Mr Hughes also suggested the council should review its affordable housing targets and consider increasing the amount required in future developments to 40 per cent rather than 30.

He also raised the idea of setting up a not-for-profit Independent Housing Company.

Norma Graves, cabinet member for housing, told the meeting the definition of ‘affordable’ was set down in national planning policy and could no be changed.

Recognising the difficulties faced by local people, she said the issues of affordable, social and council housing would be looked at in the review of the Local Plan and the preparation of the council’s new housing strategy.

It was agreed that Mr Hughes’ suggestions would be considered as part of that work, while the viability of setting up a Local Housing Company would be discussed by the overview and scrutiny committee.

Members also approved a suggestions from leader Eileen Lintill that a letter be sent to the housing minister regarding stopping people’s right to buy council homes, and that a review of council land could be carried out to see what could potentially be used for social housing.

Mr Hughes was less than pleased with the outcome of the meeting, saying the ‘opportunity to give hope to the many people struggling with exorbitant private rent’ had been ‘neutered’.

He added: “The amendment that passed merely perpetuates the status quo whereby the council is in thrall to the market, which has failed to provide genuinely affordable housing, with property developers still able to dictate policy to the council rather than elected representatives being free to do what is best for their residents.”