Plan for nearly 100 affordable homes in Portsmouth

Council leader Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson
Council leader Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson
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NEARLY 100 new affordable homes could be built in the city next year as part of a £33.5m project to help Portsmouth's poorest families.

At a cabinet meeting on Tuesday councillors will decide whether to agree to the redevelopment of five council-owned sites across the city to become 95 affordable homes, and 135 private dwellings.

Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, the council leader, explained why the homes were needed. He said: 'Affordable housing in Portsmouth is hugely important. We are trying to make sure there are places where local families can to live and a rent they can afford to pay is really important.

'Unfortunately the council was forced to sell over 16,000 properties under the right to buy scheme which was great for the people who bought them but for the generation that followed it was really rubbish. That meant 16,000 fewer properties for local people to be able to live in.'

The sites set for redevelopment are: Southsea Community Centre, King Street; the former office and retail site, Arundel Street; land cleared following the demolition of Northern Parade Clinic, Doyle Avenue; Brewary House, Hambrook Street; and the records office, Museum Road.

The council already has permission to begin construction work at a site in Somerstown.

'The first lot we are going to build is on St Paul's Square on the site of the old community centre,' Cllr Vernon-Jackson said.

'We will be putting in 23 flats and we already have planning permission for work can start pretty quickly. I'm hoping it will be on site in January.

'But we are also looking to do more, and it will be a mixture. For example we want to provide more homes for key workers such as teachers, nurses and police officers.'

Government guidelines say rent must be at least 20 per cent below local market rents.

Mike Taylor, director of operations at homeless charity Society of St James, said it was a step in the right direction.

'We welcome anything in terms of more affordable homes,' he said.

'There are a lot of people living in poverty at the moment.

'I don't think this will have a significant impact on the city's homeless, what we really need in my view is support based services for them. But it will help with homeless families that are presented to the council and that is a good thing.

'Ninety-five is still not a huge amount of houses though. But for us it is a welcome start and it would be good if work like this could continue.'

Tory deputy group leader on the council, Cllr Luke Stubbs, was concerned about the cost of the scheme.

He said: 'This together with the cost of closing the energy company the council will have to dip into the reserves. But you can't rely on reserves for very long.

'Of course I welcome the development of affordable housing. But I do think the site at Arundel Street should be made 100 per cent affordable because when the previous administration was looking at this we were told we would be able to do a deal with the Housing Association to build on it at no cost to the council.'

The plans will be discussed at a cabinet meeting on October 9.

Councils could benefit from change in loan system

PORTSMOUTH City Council could borrow more government money for future affordable homes, following an announcement by the prime minister.

During Theresa May's closing speech at the Conservative party conference on Wednesday she said the the government will scrap the cap on the amount local authorities can borrow against their housing revenue account assets.

The amount of extra investment in housing could be around £1bn a year, but this is dependent on how many councils decide to borrow.

Housing cabinet member, Cllr Darren Sanders, said: 'We've got to see the small print.

'But it's something that councils have been pressing for, for years because it's been the main reason why councils have been held back from building the homes that people can afford and the homes people need.

'Now that's gone that gives us the best pieces of news that councillors have had in a very, very long time.

'I've already asked officers to look at what that means for the authority.'

Cllr Luke Stubbs, added: 'It is excellent news and will be potentially quite significant.  But the Lib Dems should hold off on their plans on affordable housing until they know exactly what this could mean.

'It is not immediately clear what this will mean for investment in council housing.'