Council breaks new ground

ANGUS Council is using money saved through restructuring its housing division to secure millions of pounds that will go towards forming long-term partnerships with developers (writes Chester Cornford).

Councillor Jim Millar said the plan is a first for Scotland and believes it could soon be replicated throughout the country.

Funding for the proposal has been secured by reducing the senior management budget by more than 50%.

A report put before the council’s strategic policy committee last month outlined the plan to divert a saving of £243,000 towards new-build projects by using the cash to unlock 3.2 million pounds in one-off prudential borrowing that will go towards affordable housing planned in partnership with private companies.

The report points out that the annual saving is available throughout the duration of the current spending review period and could be regularly diverted towards the council’s housing revenue account which is largely self-sufficient and not reliant on government grants.

Millar said early discussions with developers and architects have been positive and many were keen to do business.

He said: ‘This initiative will see the council invite local developers, landowners and landlords to submit proposals for building new affordable homes in Angus within a framework that aims to meet identified housing need, offers real value for money and fits with the current local plan.

“We looked at the how the National Housing Trust worked and we thought we could deliver something that is a bit more flexible.

“It may well be the funding mechanisms for every development will be entirely different in each case and address the individual needs for a particular area.

“We can access the funding from April 1 but there are people coming to us already with proposals.

“This is a real first for Scotland, no one else is doing this yet, and if it proves to be successful other local authorities may decide to follow suit.”

The councillor, who works at the Scottish Parliament as aide to Tory shadow housing minister Alex Johnstone, is hopeful the council’s ‘open door policy’ will trigger new developments while helping to ease the region’s acute affordable housing shortage and boost the local construction industry.

He continued: “Angus receives the lowest Government funding for housing in mainland Scotland and the recent budget announcement will make the shortfall worse.

“It is clear that days of large subsidies for affordable house building are gone and this proposal offers our private sector partners an opportunity to bring forward news, innovative and modern ideas which have partnership, value for money and a long-term commitment to affordable homes in Angus at their heart.”

Councillor Millar hopes the initiative will be assessed by a third party at a later date to judge its merits and whether it could be an option for other authorities.

He added: “If you bear in mind that the housing budget was slashed by 45% and then again by 19.3%, it’s clear the days of large per unit subsidy are gone and I think we really need to look at what we can do for ourselves now.

“It’s not just about building houses, it’s about getting us through the recession, it’s about creating jobs and training opportunities for people in the construction industry.

“There is a huge danger that people who leave the construction industry won’t go back to it.

“What we want to do is keep money in the local area and boost the local economy”.