Plan for councils to create independent housing company move a step forward

Picture - Richard Marsham'Forest Heath District Council Offices in Mildenhall ANL-151017-195936009
Picture - Richard Marsham'Forest Heath District Council Offices in Mildenhall ANL-151017-195936009

Plans for three Suffolk councils to join forces to create an independent housing company to provide new income and affordable homes in West Suffolk has moved a step forward.

On Tuesday, a joint cabinet meeting between St Edmundsbury Borough and Forest Heath District Councils decided to move ahead with plans to create the development company.

St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath would own 25 percent of the shares each, with Suffolk County Council owning the final 50 percent.

The company would act independently from the councils, paying them dividends as shareholders.

In forming the company, the councils hope to avoid the government’s ‘right to buy’ scheme so any homes built will remain in control of the housing company and not sold off cheaply.

The councils also aim for the company to bring in extra income to mitigate the reduction of their government grant. As well as paying dividends, the company will pay interest on any loans provided by the councils as well as reinvesting money from homes that are sold and rental income back into housing.

Councillor Sara Mildmay-White, lead councillor for Housing for he West Suffolk Councils, said: “As far as we know, this housing development company would be the first time a county council and districts have pooled their expertise to build more homes and it is certainly among the first to involve rural councils.
It illustrates the shift in mindset across Suffolk’s public sector.”

Although the company will eventually have its own staff, there is scope in the plans for it to initially hire services externally, including from the council.

Cllr Mildmay-White said: “All three partners are forming this company now because housing underpins economic growth and community wellbeing and also because there is a sound financial case.”

The final decision on the creation of the company will be made at a Suffolk County Council Cabinet meeting on November 10 and at a meeting of the two West Suffolk councils on November 17.