May 11, 2007

Grant loss blamed for growth of BNP

Lack of cash for social housing has helped far right’s cause in Barking & Dagenham

The abolition of the grant that helped councils fund new homes fuelled dissatisfaction that has led to the rise of the British National Party, the director of housing at Barking & Dagenham Council has claimed.

David Woods said the scrapping of local authority social housing grant had contributed directly to community cohesion problems.

And he told Inside Housing that local authorities now needed to reposition themselves as home builders if they were to tackle resentment effectively.

‘There has been a fall off of social rented units being built in this borough and their availability to people and that’s a great source of dissatisfaction,’ said Mr Woods. ‘The local authority social housing grant would have helped us stave off a lot of these problems; it’s a significant factor here.

‘We would like to start building new council houses. We want to get back to the position we were in a few years ago with social housing grant, where we were building between 400 and 500 social rented homes a year.’

The number of people on Barking & Dagenham’s housing register has tripled to nearly 9,000 in the last five years. Frustration with housing waiting lists, coupled with misconceptions about how housing is allocated, is widely attributed to the BNP becoming the council’s second largest political party.

‘The mythology that we’re trying to fight around here is that government investment in housing is all for asylum seekers and immigrants,’ Mr Woods said. ‘All local people see is their housing needs not being met. They see the housing register increasing, they see their sons and daughters who seven or eight years ago used to get access to low-cost housing through the council, not being able to do that any more.’

When the council had social housing grant it was treated as the funder of homes and delivered what the community needed, he said. The council now plans to form a series of asset investment vehicles in order to regain control over social home building. It will form a local housing company with partners, in which it will have a share of around 20 per cent.

The company will borrow money against the council land it builds on and the council will retain the freehold. Its brownfield sites have an estimated value of around £400 million.

‘We’re looking at how we can use this fantastic asset, our land, to get value for our local communities,’ said Mr Woods. ‘In the past, the government has encouraged us to realise asset value; it was always about stripping things from councils.’

Abigail Davies, principal policy officer at the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: ‘A lot of councils really felt the loss of the [social housing] grant, particularly those who used it to particularly good end.’

But she warned councils needed to wiseup on how they use their land.

‘A lot of local authorities have sold or are under pressure to sell their land for a market return,’ she said. ‘[The asset investment vehicle] is a good idea, because it’s a long-term thing. It’s not about selling off the family silver, it’s about making an investment.’

Inside Housing

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