Plans to buy back previously sold council houses “for inflated prices” and a new right-to-buy scheme, that includes housing association properties, were two things in the report that left Cllr Paul Sparks “absolutely staggered”.
A full town council meeting was considering Wealden Council’s draft housing strategy for 2017-20. Other members shared Cllr Sparks’ concerns about the contents of a report which he described as being “excellent and extremely well written”.
Cllr Sparks, Liberal Democrat, Uckfield North, made the point that local authorities lost a huge amount of housing stock when the right to buy scheme was introduced because councils were stopped from replacing the stock they lost.
Cllr Sparks said: “That was the start of a major housing issue for this country and I was absolutely staggered when I read this report to find that right to buy is now being extended to housing association properties.
“The way that is to be funded is that Wealden Council has to sell its most expensive homes.
“Obviously the most expensive homes are the larger homes which means Wealden are now going to lose the four and five bedroom houses in their housing stock. Absolute madness in my eyes.”
He said the Wealden report showed 1012 people were currently on the council’s waiting list – “an enormous number”.
And the greatest demand continued to be for one-bedroom properties, which followed an issue raised by the town council for quite a while that single homeless people did not have anywhere to live within Wealden.
“These poor souls are, at best, sent to Eastbourne in bed and breakfast or, at worst, going along the Kent coast. How are they meant to rebuild their lives on that basis? Goodness only knows.”
The report goes on to talk about the need to plan new housing to meet the needs of an ageing population, and people with physical disabilities, mobility problems or learning disabilities.
Cllr Sparks said: “That screams out to me bungalows. We need to be building bungalows.”
But he asked, when was the last time a new bungalow was built in Wealden, and how many bungalows were included in plans for the Ridgewood Farm development in Uckfield?
He said: “I can tell you it is probably a neat zero.”
Stop ‘wriggle room’
The report talked about increasing the percentage of affordable homes on sites of five or more homes from 30% to 35% which Cllr Sparks welcomed but, he said, developers should not be given “wriggle room” as in the case of Ridgewood Farm where they argued they couldn’t afford 35% and Wealden had agreed 15%.
Cllr Sparks said: “At the stroke of a pen we lost 200 affordable homes. That was absolutely the wrong thing to do.
“Most of us when talking about 1,000 houses coming into Uckfield were not overjoyed but at least we thought we were going to get 350 affordable homes.”
Cllr Sparks continued his analysis of the Wealden report saying the icing on the cake was the bit where the council said it was planning to buy back council properties purchased through the right to buy scheme.
“So now we’re trying to reverse it, to buy them back at a considerably inflated price to what they were sold at.”
He urged town councillors to support the 35% figure for affordable homes without wriggle room; to argue for the inclusion in the policy of one-bedroom homes for single homeless individuals and to encourage some bungalow development to meet changing needs and to encourage downsizing.
Cllr Helen Firth, Conservative, Central Ward, said the problem with building bungalows was that people then turned them into houses.
“It’s the same with three bedroom homes, people converting them to four and five bedroom houses. That doesn’t help the situation, especially in Uckfield. When people start extending them nobody can afford to buy them.”
Cllr Firth said she was totally against the sale of council houses to subsidise housing associations in a right to buy scheme.
Cllr Duncan Bennett, Trust Independent, New Town, said there would be a problem in restricting people’s freedom to do what they liked with their own homes.
He added that more and more people were living with their parents until a later age, in their 30s and beyond, because of the problem they had in getting on the housing ladder and that was why homes were being extended.
Cllr Bennett said: “This is a very difficult balancing act and I don’t think we are able to come up with a solution to that here.”
Councillors agreed the points made by Cllr Sparks should be included in feedback from the town council to the district council about the draft housing strategy.
Councillors present at the meeting included:
Town mayor, Cllr Louise Eastwood, Trust Independent, Uckfield North
Deputy town mayor, Cllr Duncan Bennett, Trust Independent, New Town
Cllr Mick Dean, Trust Independent, New Town,
Cllr Keith Everett, Independent, Ridgewood
Cllr Helen Firth, Conservative, Central
Cllr Donna French, Trust Independent, Uckfield North
Cllr Jackie Love, Trust Independent, Uckfield North
Cllr Barry Mayhew, Independent, New Town
Cllr Paul Meakin, Liberal Democrat, Central
Cllr Ian Smith, Independent, Ridgewood
Cllr Paul Sparks, Liberal Democrat, Uckfield North
Cllr Diane Ward, Trust Independent, Central
Mr Daniel Manvell, youth member
Apologies for absence were received from:
Cllr James Anderson, Trust Independent, Uckfield North
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