Last week was probably the proudest of my time as leader of Ipswich Borough Council, as the Mayor handed over the keys to the first tenants of the new council houses in Bader Close, writes David Ellesmere, Council Leader and Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Ipswich.
Ensuring there is a supply of good quality, affordable housing is one of the most important functions of the council. Council housing is a key tool in being able to deliver that.
Yet since the 1980’s, strict Government rules have stopped councils building new council houses while the existing ones were sold off under right-to-buy. This was compounded when the current Government slashed the money available for new affordable homes in 2010.
The results are there for all to see. Lack of competition from council housing has led to rents soaring in the private sector.
The Government expected the housing benefit bill to fall by £2.3bn over the course of this parliament.
Instead it has risen by £700m. We are all paying the price for the Government’s failure to build enough affordable housing.
Things are starting to change though. Changes in the way council’s accounts are treated mean that they can now begin to build. And Ipswich is leading the way.
We completed the first new council houses in a generation at the end of last year with two small schemes at Coltsfoot Road and Whitton Church Lane.
Bader Close is a much bigger development though. 108 new council houses, the largest council house scheme in Ipswich for 50 years. When Shadow Housing minister Emma Reynolds visited she said this was the largest scheme of its type she was aware of in the country.
Last week saw the first five homes completed and let to new tenants. The remaining 103 will be released in chunks of around 20 over the coming months with the whole development finished by the end of 2015.
They are good quality houses. Well designed, good sized bedrooms, very well insulated and solar panels where possible so they’re not only cheap to rent, they are cheap to live in too.
The council houses built in the 1950’s are still very popular. Our aim was to make sure people would still want to live in these homes in sixty years time.
And make no mistake. These new homes are needed.
One of the new tenants in Bader Close was a perfect example. She and her husband were living in a one bedroomed flat. When their daughter was born they registered for a two-bedroomed property. Her daughter is now four.
After living in overcrowded accommodation for four years, she said that getting a new council house was the best Christmas present she’d ever had.
There are more than 3,000 families on the council’s housing waiting list. Nearly 1,000 families are affected by the Bedroom Tax without the smaller properties available for them to move to.
Building new houses will help but clearly we need many more.
After Bader Close, we’re already working on plans for more than 250 further council houses on various sites in Ipswich. Construction will start on 20 homes in Ulster Avenue in the New Year.
I’ve got to admit that seeing the new homes completed and lived in gives me a real buzz. It’s exactly the sort of thing that I got into politics to do.
I’d like to think that in years to come council house building will become so commonplace that the buzz will wear off for councillors. But it never will for the families who move into them.