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Unease at Osborne's council housing sell-off if rural Westcountry areas picked clean

By GDemianyk  |  Posted: December 06, 2013


Councils have been encouraged to sell their most valuable property to access more borrowing

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Idyllic rural and coastal towns in Devon and Cornwall could be picked clean of council housing after George Osborne said expensive social houses should be sold off.

The Chancellor indicated local authorities should sell their most valuable property when they become vacant, and use the money to build cheaper homes.

Housing in desirable pockets of the Westcountry are much in demand, and social properties in prime locations would likely pique the interest of wealthy second homeowners.

But the move risks forcing local people on low incomes out of the area if replacement social housing was built miles away.

Devon and Cornwall boast around 26,000 second homes and have among the highest levels of second-home ownership, with part-time residents often outnumbering those permanently living in the prettiest villages.

Delivering his autumn statement, Mr Osborne said: "Councils will sell off the most expensive social housing, so they can house many more families for the same money."

The cap limiting the amount councils can borrow to build new homes will be increased by £300 million, it was announced today, to get 10,000 new properties constructed nationally.

But part of the bidding process to access the extra money will involve authorities demonstrating they have disposed of high-value property when it becomes vacant, something encouraged if it generates more housing to tackle spiralling waiting lists.

A Terasury spokesman said the plan did not just apply to London social houses commanding seven-figure  asking prices.

Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, said: "Forcing local councils to sell council houses is madness. We need more council houses and affordable homes."

Many councils in the region have handed control of their housing stock to separate housing associations, but retain an overall "strategic" responsibility.

Some in the region have already expressed doubts about the policy even if housing was moved within their own authority area.

Councillor Michael Hicks, deputy leader of South Hams District Council, an area where second homes dominate in towns such as Salcombe in South Devon, said associations its oversees are already able to sell their stock to deal with "asset management problems".

He added: "Generally speaking, the funds received through such sales are used for other social housing developments.

"We would be concerned if that process caused a movement of social housing stock from specific areas of our district."

A  spokesman for Cornwall Housing, which manages housing stock on behalf of Cornwall Council, said it is currently considering the sale of a small number of properties which are "very expensive to maintain due to their method of construction".

She added: "We don't have the high value homes which are referred to by the Chancellor, but may have some properties in coastal areas which have relatively high values.

"However, Cornwall is a very rural county with small communities in some remote coastal areas and if social housing is sold off in these areas, it is very unlikely that it will be replaced.

"This would limit the ability of some people to continue to live and work in these communities as they could not afford market housing.  The potential sale value therefore must be balanced with consideration about how housing needs in such areas may be met."

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  • toffer99  |  December 06 2013, 10:57AM

    Well nobody really thought the Tories give a stuff about anybody but the rich, did they?

    Rate   8
  • josdave  |  December 06 2013, 9:05AM

    "Housing in desirable pockets of the Westcountry are much in demand, and social properties in prime locations would likely pique the interest of wealthy second homeowners." Is this another way to get more Tory voters in the Southwest?

    Rate   8
  • BrixhamDes  |  December 05 2013, 8:02PM

    I thought that the "Bedroom Tax" was the Tory solution to Homelessness and overcrowding in the social housing sector, I cannot see the point of selling off existing housing.

    Rate   9