There have been plenty of critics of the Policy Exchange proposal to increase the supply of social housing by selling expensive voids and the using the proceeds to build an increased number of replacement homes. Confusingly the critics have sometimes said that this is quite reasonable but is happening anyway so everything should be left as it is – others saying that to apply the policy would cause social devastation.
Among the critics is Cllr Mike Jones, a Conservative councillor (a Conservative councillor) and the leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council. He says:
"We desperately need more housing and councils want to play their part in building more affordable homes. Councils are also constantly looking to ensure their assets best serve the needs of the local
population. Where appropriate, this can include selling properties to pay for the building of new ones.
"These are decisions that should be taken at a local level by councils who best know the value of their housing stock and the extent and type of housing needed in their area.
"While selling off expensive stock to pay for more new homes may be sensible in some parts of the country, in other areas it could risk driving out key workers and undermining councils' efforts to ensure that the demographic makeup of towns and cities is conducive to a vibrant local economy. In addition, we need to make sure people living in affordable housing can access jobs, education and other opportunities to avoid concentrations of unemployment and disadvantage."
In fairness to Cllr Jones these may not be his real views. His statement was as Chairman of the Local Government Association's Environment and Housing Board. The LGA has to make its statements into a lowest common denominator – to reflect the view of councils (such as mine and Southwark) that sell off expensive council properties when they are vacated, and those that don't. So the words were probably written for Cllr Jones by the LGA's desiccated calculating machine seeking to reconcile the views of all members who pay it a sub.
On the other hand the figures for Cheshire West and Chester Council are not encouraging. For 2009/10, the last year for which they have sent a return, they only sold four vacated social properties.
The council owned 5,637 homes at the last count. In the north west the median house price is £126,725. There are 18.3% of social properties in the region – some 103,100 – worth more than this median. Given that property prices in the Cheshire West and Chester area are much higher so will be the average value of social properties.
The Policy Exchange estimate is that for high value social properties the turnover is 3.5% a year. So perhaps Cheshire West and Chester are reletting about 100 homes a year that on the Policy Exchange criteria they should be selling. Yet they only sold four – and judging by the capital receipts those were not high value properties. It sounds more likely they were properties of a low value in need of costly repairs.
So it would appear that there is a policy of never selling high value vacant properties by Cheshire West and Chester Council. There is no threshold above which they are not relet. No matter what the multiple of families that could be housed by a property being sold and new homes built. Just one family wins the jackpot. There are 16,079 families on the waiting list in Cheshire West and Chester. Cllr Jones should consider if he is really "constantly" looking to ensure properties are sold where "appropriate" so that "assets best serve" residents – in particular those 16,079 households on the waiting list.