West Suffolk councils could create housing company to solve affordable homes shortage

West Suffolk House ENGANL00120130105142248
West Suffolk House ENGANL00120130105142248
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Councils in West Suffolk are to combat an affordable housing crisis with plans to build 455 homes a year - and could opt to run a private housing company to meet demand.

St Edmundsbury Borough and Forest Heath District Councils have drafted a range of options in its West Suffolk Housing Strategy to meet a major shortfall in affordable homes.

Between 2011 and 2031 there needs to be 18,000 new homes built to meet the needs of the growing West Suffolk population. Of this 13,585 need to be affordable housing.

While 8,000 may be met by existing planning and housing policies there remains a shortfall of 5,500.

West Suffolk also has a higher than average percentage of homelessness - 3.6 per cent per 1,000 in St Edmundsbury and 3,2 per cent in Forest heath. The rate in Suffolk is 1.9 per cent.

The two councils plan to build 455 affordable homes each year to meet the need for social housing. Current levels of new build stand at only 240 a year.

The strategy document says the council will encourage developers to build homes to sustainable and lifetime homes standards help find solutions to stalled housing schemes and look at its existing landholdings as well as ensuring infrastructure properly supports developments.

The council will need to look at new ways of providing finance for new housing. These could include prudential borrowing to provide commercial loans to registered providers and setting up a housing company which would build on council own sites and privately rent and sell homes to private purchasers or registered providers.

West Suffolk could also enter a partnership with a single registered provider thereby cutting down administration costs, offer short term loans to stalled or small housing sites and look at undertaking joint venture developments.

The strategy will be discussed by councillors at a St Edmundsbury Cabinet Meeting on June 24 and there will be a three week consultation period from July 16.

Cllr Anne Gower, St Edmundsbury’s cabinet member for housing, said: “In order to help deliver the huge numbers of affordable homes that are needed we are going to have to act more commercially.

“We need to be more innovative, to encourage people with empty properties to bring them back onto the market, we need to look at the opportunities of working with the private rented sector and we need to be creative in how we borrow and invest to build new homes.”

For more on this story see Friday’s Bury Free Press newspaper.