Work can move forward on building hundreds of low-cost homes after councillors agreed to change the terms of an existing deal with a housing association.
Planning permission has already been granted for 346 homes at the first two sites – in Coldean and Portslade.
And after a Brighton and Hove City Council committee meeting this afternoon (Wednesday 21 October) the proposed rents are expected to be cheaper than initially intended.
The changes to the terms of the joint venture with the housing association Hyde are aimed at taking advantage of legal, financial and technical changes in government policy.
The joint venture – known as Homes for Brighton and Hove – will enable the council to bid for £14 million from a government agency called Homes England.
And officials said that it would speed up the delivery of the target of a thousand new low-cost homes for local working families.
The council plans to rent out half the homes while Hyde aims to sell the rest for shared ownership, with the changes agreed today expected to make it easier for buyers to obtain a mortgage.
The changed terms were agreed at a “virtual” joint meeting of the council’s Policy and Resources Committee and its Housing Committee.
Officials told councillors that the joint venture would be able to buy private brownfield land rather than just using council-owned sites for future schemes.
Conservative councillors questioned what they said was a lack of detail and raised their concerns about the council linking up with a private company.
Councillor Mary Mears, a Homes for Brighton and Hove board member, said that when the joint venture was set up there had been several lengthy discussions and a great deal of detail.
She was concerned about the council potentially spending £41 million of money from the council’s housing revenue account (HRA) to buy the completed homes in Portslade and Coldean. The HRA, she said, was made up of council tenants’ rents.
Councillor Mears said: “My concerns are about the estimated spend. There is no detailed business case to show what we would be spending.”
She also asked whether Homes England funding would mean that the shared ownership flats would have to be advertised nationally when originally they were meant for key workers in Brighton and Hove only.
The council’s head of housing strategy Martin Reid said that the shared ownership homes would be promoted to key workers such as teachers, police, firefighters, NHS workers and council staff in Brighton and Hove.
Conservative leader Steve Bell said that every councillor wanted to see more housing available to people on the council’s waiting list.
But he said that he would have preferred the council to have built its own homes because this would have been quicker.
The council was three years on from reaching a deal with Hyde, he said, without breaking ground.
Councillor Bell added: “I’ve never been in favour of us ever doing any deals with private companies – and I say this as a Conservative who totally believes in free enterprise.
“I believe free enterprise is there for a reason. They fund themselves. They look after themselves. They rise and fall by themselves, without anything else.
“We here now are going to tie ourselves to a private company using HRA money. We can never support this.”
Councillor Bell said that the new deal would leave the council-owned properties open to the “right to buy”.
But housing officials said that they would be out of most people’s price range and, as yet, no tenant had applied to buy any of the council’s recent new-builds.
Labour opposition leader Nancy Platts agreed with the Conservatives about the lack of detail before the meeting – and she had concerns about the right to buy.
But she said that she hoped to see a complete business case going before the two committees.
She said: “We came in on a mandate to deliver affordable homes. I use the term homes rather than housing because everyone wants a place to call home and the means to afford it without having lots of money worries.
“We welcome the commitment to continue with that goal.”
Green councillor David Gibson said that the move was a “fantastic opportunity” to get 173 homes at a truly affordable rent.
He said: “The social rents referred to are the latest government definition of social rents which is not the same as the level of rents that council tenants and many housing association tenants have.
“These rents are a fantastic improvement to what there was before. They are closer to what I would call a living rent. I’m very positive about it.”
A tenant in the new schemes could rent a one-bed flat for £107 a week rather than £148 – and a three-bedroom flat could be let for £142 a week instead of £188.
Another Green councillor, Siriol Hugh-Jones, said that the Coldean site had been cleared and that agreeing to the changes would mean “removing the logjam” to allow building work to start.
She said: “We are taking funding from Homes England that the government has provided. On the right to buy, we would all welcome the removal of the right to buy. However, in this instance, we have been given assurance.
“What we have before us will be good for the HRA, good for tenants and good for the prospect of building more affordable homes in the future.”
The Greens and Labour voted in favour of changing the terms of the joint venture deal with Hyde to enable work on the 346 flats to get under way.
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