Council putting its money behind belief in affordable housing

Date: Monday 24th July 2017

Sir, I read with interest your story (Herald, 15th July) about Eden Council’s consideration of buying affordable housing to provide homes for people in housing need in the district.

As an elected councillor appointed by the council to be a director on the board of Heart of Cumbria Ltd., I am required by the council’s own rules to absent myself from that part of the meeting when discussions about the company take place.

This means that I am not in a position to correct in the meeting comments which perhaps might not be correct. It is therefore necessary for me to help inform readers of some of the factual background to the very important issue about securing affordable housing for people in need in Eden.

The council was given the opportunity to buy affordable dwellings that will be built by Persimmon. The dwellings will be of the same construction as those which Persimmon will be building for sale on the open market. The implication that somehow people occupying affordable dwellings would have a lesser standard is just not true.

The council believes in affordable housing and it is only right that it puts its money behind it and makes provision for dwellings to be provided to meet local housing needs. This is what is proposed here.

The rules that the council has to comply with in owning houses are such that it is easier for technical reasons for the dwellings to be owned and managed by its wholly owned company, Heart of Cumbria Ltd. The council will borrow the money to pay for the dwellings or use its own resources and then lend that to the company.

The company will pay a commercial interest rate to the council so taxpayers are not subsidising it. Rents charged for the dwellings will be similar to those charged by other local housing associations and lower than those charged for market rented housing. The company business plan makes provision for this.

The suggestion by a councillor that the company might hike the rent for these affordable dwellings is an affront not only to my professional integrity but to that of my boardroom colleagues.

Two years ago in Eden some of our towns and villages suffered severe flooding on four occasions, resulting in more than 400 residential properties being flooded. This meant that residents had to seek alternative accommodation as a matter of urgency. We have a waiting list of 900 families. We need affordable housing to meet the various requirements.

Personally, I have asked members of the Liberal Democrat group and Independent group to join the board of Heart of Cumbria and work with the company to provide affordable housing, but they have refused.

If it were not for the Conservative group putting forward three of its members to sit on the company board then we would not be able to progress with purchasing these much-needed houses.

This should not be a political issue. It should be one where all elected councillors work together with one accord — to provide housing for people in need.

Heart of Cumbria Ltd. is a vehicle to help make that happen. We will do what we can as a company to work with the council as well as make it happen. We hope that all political groups on the council will help and not just leave it to the Conservatives. Yours etc,

JOHN OWEN

(Chairman, Heart of Cumbria Limited)

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