Secondly I want to publish my answers to one of the questions I received at full council. The first two are from members of the public, one concerned about the issues around Northumberland Avenue shops and the second asking about ways to improve HMOs (Houses in Multiple Occupancy). I will publish these later on, for completeness.
The third was from Councillor Benson and was phrased in such a way as to really just be an attack on the Labour party. I've been told that on twitter someone has claimed that I said we weren't going to build any council houses and Councillor Benson's 'supplementary' question certainly seemed to suggest that she had misunderstood my answer (incidentally that was the theme of last night's meeting, Conservatives and Libdems being 'confused'). I've highlighted in bold for clarity where I say the council plans to build houses and to continue to own them, which is the definition of a council house.
"It is unfortunate that Councillor Benson has chosen to phrase her question in such a way, on such an important issue for all of us in Reading.
Councillor Benson may wish to rephrase her question given the data in the following graph which shows that affordable housing built under the Conservative-led administration that she was a part of in 2010-2011 built less than a third of the average achieved by the Labour administration in the previous 5 years (78 compared with the previous average of 254).
To address the substance of her question
Reading has a high level of housing need based on the fact that it is a popular place to live and work and we are a geographically small borough. Therefore I plan to look at all options for ensuring that a child born today in Reading can both afford to and want to live in our town in the future. We also need to be aware of the likely changing demographics of Reading. Our actions will include:
- The development of affordable housing where we will subsequently retain full ownership (as part of our Housing Revenue Account). The first of these is an extra care housing scheme of 40 units at the former Avenue School site on Basingstoke Rd/Northumberland Avenue, which will complete in Spring 2012. This was initially agreed in 2009, but unfortunately delayed by being frozen following the election in 2010 enabling a start on site in Winter 2010. A further small block of apartments for adults with disabilities is also being developed on the same site.
- Recognising the important role of the private rented sector in meeting housing needs for those who choose not to buy or are unable to. I have asked officers to work on options for ensuring that private rental properties are good homes for Reading’s residents, this includes Houses in Multiple Occupancy which I have discussed in more detail in my answer to a question from a member of the public earlier.
- Improving the condition of homes across all tenures. The Council’s Greener, Warmer, Safer homes scheme improves the sustainability of homes across tenures through undertaking home audits and arranging small scale, low-cost upgrades to improve safety, security and energy, waste and water efficiency. The premise of the project is that making a difference to homes and lifestyles need not be costly. Many minor changes can bring about lasting change if delivered with a multi-agency approach and when tied in to other improvements, initiatives and bids. This innovative scheme has helped improve 1,154 Reading homes. Unfortunately the funding for this scheme ends after this financial year but I will be exploring options to continue it.
- Continuing to bring empty homes back into use, prioritising interventions on those that bringing back into use will bring the most benefits.
- Addressing under-occupation - one of the biggest pressures on social housing is in relation to large family units of accommodation. This need cannot be met only via the delivery of new build units. I have asked officers to review how we can reduce under-occupation and encourage people to move where appropriate.
- New building of properties in partnership with our registered social landlord partners.
Details of these will be coming forward to cabinet and council as appropriate over the coming months.
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