Council lines up homes buy back

For Sale signs around Harrogate
For Sale signs around Harrogate

Harrogate Borough Council could end up buying back houses it previously sold under the right-to-buy scheme, according to a report.

The lack of new affordable housing in the district has led the council to consider buying homes on the open market to use as council houses for families on the waiting list.

The proposals include buying “homes for sale on the open market or at auction, including empty property or ex-local authority stock” the report to Harrogate Borough Council’s cabinet members states.

This means the council could end up buying back properties it had previously sold at a discounted rate.

Housing officers say “there is a pressing need for new affordable housing” and it is proposed that £1million of the £1.9million raised through the right-to-buy scheme is used to purchase up to ten homes in the district.

The report said: “There is a shortage of good-quality affordable homes in Harrogate District.

“This is creating many undesirable consequences for the economic and social well being of the district.

In order to mitigate the shortage it is proposed that a programme to acquire homes for affordable rent is established.”

According to figures from the Department for Communities, 13 homes were sold by HBC between 2009 and 2014. HBC currently owns 3,684 council houses across the district, 1,725 of which are in Harrogate and the council admits fewer than one in ten people on the waiting list will be placed within a year.

This year there are 1,266 households on council house waiting lists in Harrogate, down from 2,822 in 2011/2013. In 2013 the council amended the criteria for the council house waiting list so that households with no local connection or with an income of over £60,000 were excluded.

The council demands that 40 per cent of all houses on new build estates are ‘affordable’ with a large number becoming housing association properties, however as the recession took hold and house building decreased the area has been getting fewer affordable homes each year.

In 2012/13 only 36 affordable homes were built, however this has increased and in 2014/15 80 affordable houses were completed.

Last month Harrogate councillors raised concerns about the Tory government’s election pledge to extend right-to-buy.

Ahead of the election David Cameron said: “As the most expensive council properties fall vacant, we are going to require councils to sell them off - and we’ll replace them with new affordable housing in the same area.”

This has prompted fears that councils in areas where housing is expensive, such as Harrogate where the average house price sits at £271,935 compared to the England and Wales average of £179,696, could see housing stock decimated.

Lib Dem Coun Trevor Chapman (New Park) said: “This is a difficult situation really, our concern is that there is such a shortage of affordable housing that we really must consider any scheme which would boost the supply.

Cabinet member for housing at HBC, Coun Miek Chambers (Con, Ripon Spa) said buying back former council houses was not a ‘sticking point’ for the council.

He said: “They were sold under the right to buy and may now be on the open market, it is not a sticking point. We have started our own building projects and hope to build 50 new council homes on former garage sites in the next few years.

“There is a requirement for affordable housing and we are working to address that. I admit it would be helpful for councils like ours, who rely on new builds for affordable house, to be able to push developers as people are just not building as many houses, it is a national problem.”

- Has Harrogate’s housing crisis affected you? Contact reporter Laura Hill by emailing Laura.Hill@jpress.co.uk