Cllr Holly Whitbread is the Housing and Property Services Portfolio Holder on Epping Forest District Council. She is also the Deputy Chairman Political of Conservative Young Women.
Epping Forest District Council has a strong record on delivery in relation to affordable housing for local people. In recent years we have re-introduced a district-wide council house building programme, where they are looking to build 300 new states of the art affordable rented homes by 2024. We are bucking the trend of other local authorities throughout the UK in not only maintaining our own housing stock but increasing it.
In our provision of affordable housing, we always put local people first, by ensuring they are prioritised for a council home. You have to have lived within the district for seven years to be eligible for a council property. We are continuously working to support local people who require affordable or indeed temporary accommodation. However, despite being proactive, in the current climate of the national housing crisis, we are still faced with a sizable council house waiting list, with around 1,500 people on the Housing Register.
This means that we are required to consider innovative approaches to tackle the issues we are faced with in relation to affordable housing provision.
I am particularly proud of a trial project, of six modular ‘pod units’, brought forward by the council to deliver a modern and effective housing solution for emergency accommodation for homeless people in our local area. Other forward-thinking councils have adopted a similar model.
The ‘pod’ accommodation, which is essentially a crater structure. In terms of construction, the pods are quick to assemble, comparable to a post-war pre-fab. They take around eight weeks to be manufactured in a factory and around half a day onsite to construct them. However, this is subject to availability of water supply and electricity. The craters also require less physical space, meaning that the use of a site can be maximised.
This new accommodation is based in the grounds of an existing homeless hostel in our district and provides temporary homes, for single people who find themselves homeless. This means that there is support on site if required, and residents in the accommodation live within a community people.
Having recently visited the pods I most impressed with the quality of the accommodation. They are essentially one bedroom, studio flats, which are well insulated, fitted with windows, doors, en-suite shower rooms, kitchen units, radiators, electricity and running water. They are clean, light and reasonably spacious. I was struck my their similarity to my university accommodation in first year. They are both practical and comfortable.
The use of pods is preferable to bed and breakfast accommodation for a myriad of reasons. They provide an independent living solution, which acts a good transition for people, whilst they work with the council to identify a more permanent place for them to live. Residents who live in a pod can live more independently, cooking their own food, in their own kitchen. With only one neighbour, sharing the next door pod. This certainly has a social benefit for individuals who may be experiencing a difficult time.
A further merit of the scheme is they are a cost-effective solution for the council and reduces their reliance on bed and breakfasts, which is not only expensive but not the preferable option for those seeking temporary accommodation.
I believe that this trial project is the type of initiative that we should continue to drive forward. With the need for affordable accommodation remaining high, structures that can be quickly constructed but provide high-quality accommodation are an effective temporary solution, which is far superior to bed and breakfast accommodation, which is not only expensive but sometimes undesirable in encouraging independence and a transition back into a more secure home. Although, it is clear that there is further work to be done to address the causes of homelessness and empower individuals to be able to access the private housing market. In terms of practical ways to address the existing problem with homeless, particularly in a suburban community, such as Epping Forest, this is a positive and productive step.