THURROCK Council agreed the borrowing needed for it to build 200 homes a year for the next five years when it met on Wednesday (26 February) evening.
The importance of the budget meeting was highlighted by portfolio holder Cllr Val Morris-Cook’s decision to return from business in Birmingham for the votes, but for her to catch the train back before the meeting was over.
Her report on Housing Base Estimates Rents and Service Charges for 2014-15 was given by council leader Cllr John Kent.
He said: “This report asks members to agree to the borrowing required to deliver our council house building programme.
“The plans have been developed over the last year and include proposals to build at Seabrook Rise, Bracelet Close, Derry Avenue, Calcutta Square and Anton Road, marking the beginning of our growth proposals within housing to produce up to 200 well designed and sustainable houses every year for the next five years.”
Speaking later, Cllr Morris-Cook said: “We have been talking about this for some months and it’s brilliant news that we can now lever the money in to restart a council home building programme.
“What’s more, our eligibility criteria now means that in most instances people must have lived in the borough for five years before they qualify for a council home, so these new, cheap-to-run and environmentally friendly houses and flats will be for Thurrock people.”
Cllr Kent said on Wednesday: “We have brought 288 empty homes back into use, providing homes and making them liable to council tax charge – bringing in £2.2 million over six years tio the council.
“We’ve also minimised the losses from voids by reducing turnaround time to about 30 days, so even though there has been an increase in voids from around 600 a year on average, to about 900 this year, this has not cost us as much as in the past.”
He added: “The team has successfully bid for a Homes and Communities Agency grant of just over £2.5 million, and we have restructured the department to reduce the cost of managing our homes while at the same time bringing technical services back into the council and launching the biggest capital programme, Transforming Homes, seen for a long time in Thurrock.
“This has all been done within current resources and resulted in a projected £300,000 underspend for the year while maintaining reserves at £1.7 million meaning we are starting the new financial year in a reasonable position.
“There are pressures – there always are – and it is important for everyone to know the rent rise is the same as that recommended by the tenants themselves as well as colleagues on scrutiny.
“Our average rent – £85.50 – compares well across the borough and is below benefit cap levels, and we are introducing a variable rent model – so we are suggesting any new tenants who move into a property which is not refurbished will not pay the increase, but anyone whose new property has been refurbished will.”