How Nottingham Labour is tackling the housing crisis – and wants to do more

Linda Woodings

In May 2015, Nottingham Labour stood for election on five key pledges, one of which was a challenging commitment to build 2,500 new homes that Nottingham people could afford to rent or buy. Four years later, after significant efforts, we have managed to build 2,293 new affordable homes and we have 534 more in the planning stages.

Achieving this meant that Nottingham City Council embarked on the biggest new council house building program in a generation: over the last four years, we’ve built 523 new council homes. The political focus we placed on meeting this target means we have created award winning quality developments in partnership with our ALMO, Nottingham City Homes and they are now one of the top social housing builders in the UK.

Of course we wanted to do more, but two issues prevented us from doing so:

  1. Councils are still only allowed to use right to buy receipts to fund 30% of the cost of a scheme. The remainder must be funded through borrowing on the Housing Revenue Account, which until last year was limited by central government.
  2. Councils are only allowed to spend the money on a very narrow range of housing types and it cannot be given to Nottingham City Homes to support them with the costs of homes they are building to own for themselves.

Our council was one of many that called on the government to remove the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap in 2017. A year later, the government finally listened and it now acknowledges that councils are essential in tackling the UK’s housing crisis.

Areas with high demand like Nottingham are now finally able to get on with building the new homes that local people need. Crucial to solving the UK’s housing crisis is ensuring that we build a mix of council homes, aspiration family housing and bungalows. The lifting of the HRA borrowing cap now allows us to achieve this in the numbers we need.

Last year, we adopted a new housing strategy – ‘Quality Homes for All’. This set out our vision for housing delivery: we will support the provision of family housing; encourage self- and custom-build housing; protect existing family homes from conversion to other uses; provide a strong policy framework for houses in multiple occupation; encourage purpose-built student accommodation. Today, we’ve launched a set of new design quality framework documents, two of which cover housing and street design. These are intended to help developers by giving them clear guidance of our local expectations.

In our manifesto for 2019, we’ve committed to build or buy 1,000 council or social homes for rent. To meet this target, we have a pipeline of council development sites and any land sold has a development clause to stop land banking. If construction doesn’t start on site within a reasonable timeframe, we have an option to buy back the land. We also intend to acquire homes from the secondhand market or purchase from small private developments.

We bought 50% of a housing development company, Blueprint, which specialises in the development of sustainable homes. We’ve improved our relationship with registered providers who have built more than 400 of our new homes.

The challenges of building within Nottingham are the same as many other cities. Many of our available sites are smaller brownfield areas, which can need expensive remediation, so the build cost per home is higher.

A further challenge is our aim to become the first carbon neutral city in the country, reaching this target by 2028. We need to do more to improve the energy efficiency of our older housing stock. We’ve fitted 1,366 council homes with solar panels and have grant funding to do more, but we also need to commission housing with high levels of energy efficiency in order to meet our target.

Another success was that we managed to make the case to government to get a selective licensing scheme introduced last year. This scheme covers 90% of the city’s private rented homes and our new Safer Homes team is actively enforcing decent basic standards in rented homes. Significantly, the team has been instrumental in preventing many illegal ‘Section 21’ eviction notices – especially those issued after requests for repairs by tenants.

We’ve called on the government to stop S21 ‘no-fault’ evictions and provide better rights for renters. I hope the recent announcement of a review is a genuine acknowledgement of the misery that short-term tenancies can inflict on families – and not simply a cynical move in advance of the local elections.

Our promise to deliver 1,000 more council houses has risks, one of which is Right to Buy. Nottingham Labour has joined in the chorus of concern about the RTB scheme. Our city has lost 24,000 council houses and is losing more than one home a day – we estimate that 40% are now in the hands of private landlords, which has pushed up rent levels.

We’re proud of what we’ve achieved in Nottingham over the last four years but we desperately want to do more. Labour’s housing policy sets out a robust plan to fix the broken housing market. A general election and a change of government can’t come soon enough.

This piece was commissioned by Tom Copley, who is guest editing LabourList today.

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