Published: 00:01, 19 December 2018
| Updated: 08:58, 19 December 2018
No new council homes have been built in the Canterbury district in the last seven years, sparking criticism of the local authority’s approach to tackling the issue.
New government data covering the last three years shows construction of social housing has been non-existent in the district at a time when almost 7,000 such properties have been built across the UK.
But the city council says it was actually 2011 when it last provided new homes, in Whitstable.
Critics say the figures are “appalling” and show a “failure on all fronts” to address a housing crisis across the district.
But Canterbury City Council says it is actively pursuing ways to increase its social housing portfolio.
About 2,500 households are waiting for a council home on the authority’s waiting list.
While no social housing has been built since 2015, there have been 162 properties classed as ‘affordable homes’ constructed.
These are offered for shared ownership, or for rent at 80% of market value.
Canterbury’s Labour leader, Alan Baldock, says a radical plan is needed to provide more council homes.
“The local plan has no mention, or no plan, to build social housing whatsoever,” he said.
“There is a complete belief that affordable housing is the only housing which needs to be planned for, which I find appalling.
"The issue is that affordable housing is in this area completely unaffordable. Affordable rent is 80% of market value, which is generally £1,000 a month.
"That doesn’t help the 2,500 to 3,000 families on the housing waiting list in Canterbury.
“We live in an area with high rents and a low wage economy, which creates a perfect storm.
“But there’s no drive to make developers build social housing, and the council has been unwilling to release land or to help the likes of housing associations to build.
“My inbox every week is heart-wrenching. Most of the people on the waiting list are working people with jobs. They’re just not earning very much money.
“Closing the gap between the number of households on the list and the number of homes being built is one of the biggest challenges tthis local authority has to face.
"That needs a long-term plan and that is what this council doesn’t have.
“There are sites across the district that would lend themselves to the development of social housing.
"You could have completely re-framed the Kingsmead Development, for example, to have a lot more social housing, but from the time that was given over to the developers, it has all been about maxing out their profits.”
Canterbury’s Labour MP, Rosie Duffield, says more needs to be done to cut waiting lists.
“We have so many people here desperate for a secure home, and the council and other providers need to do so much more to stop people being left on waiting lists, or even worse, out in the cold,” she said.
“I am always championing more social housing and, while homes available for affordable rent is a positive thing, far more socially rented properties must remain a priority for all.”
The number of social rent homes nationally has dropped by almost 80% in the last decade.
Figures from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government show that across England as a whole, 6,463 homes were built last year, down from almost 30,000 10 years ago.
Canterbury City Council says its focus in recent years has been to buy back former council properties bought by tenants under right-to-buy legislation.
Such an approach has seen 47 homes returned to the register in the last three years at a cost of £10 million.
Plans are also underway to build five new council homes at Kingsmead Field and a further 10 at Herne Bay’s Beach Street development.
There has also been a £23 million investment in converting student accommodation off Sturry Road into a further 63 flats and houses.
Council spokesman Rob Davies said: “As has been well-documented, it is without doubt the case that Britain is in the midst of a housing crisis.
“Nationally, there are not enough homes generally, and there are not enough being built specifically for social or affordable rent, for people who are unable to afford to buy or rent a property on the open market. Canterbury is no different to any other area of the country in this respect, and it is important to understand this national context.
“Our approved Local Plan provides for 16,000 new homes up to 2031, but we already know this figure will rise in the next few years. It has to, if we want the district to thrive and remain a place where people are able to live and work.”
Mr Davies says there are two key reasons for no council homes being built in the last three years.
“Firstly, the land owned by the council specifically for new council housing is limited,” he said. “As a result, we would like to work with developers on the new Local Plan housing sites to build new council homes, which can be built to our specification. In addition, we are assessing many of the smaller plots of land within our current council housing areas to see whether any could be used to provide new homes.
“And secondly, our focus over the last three years has been to acquire properties for council housing, instead of building from scratch.
“There are a number of advantages to this - they offer good value, are a quick way to get additional stock and are in the right geographical locations for management and maintenance.
“We will continue to look at all options open to us to increase stock, whether that is building it ourselves, working with developers or purchasing existing housing. It is a key area of work for us.”
More by this authorAnna MacSwan