By Cllrs Jane Streather and Stephen Lambert
There are few things in life more important than a safe, secure and warm home to live in. That’s why it’s vital to remember that the reported ‘’housing crisis’’ isn’t just about homes – it’s about people. People who, in some cases, are struggling to find a roof over their heads that meets their needs at a price they can afford.
Labour-run Newcastle City Council has ambitious plans to help address this issue – 19,000 homes by 2030. Labour councillors know that if the city is to fulfil the authority’s aspirations for inclusive prosperity, we can’t rely on the private sector or traditional models of council housing. Instead the council is adopting an innovative approach to building more homes.
Working with partners in both the private and social rented sector the council is making the best use of public land, so that together the city can deliver the high quality housing to meet the diverse needs and aspirations of all Newcastle residents. And we’re already seeing the benefits of this approach.
House construction across the city has increased every year since 2013 with over 1,000 built in the last financial year – the highest in any year for 30 years! Newcastle Council directly contributed to seven out of 10 of these homes and were responsible for all of the 300 plus affordable homes built in the last year. According to Shelter, the national housing charity, in a new report ‘Slipping through the loophole’, Newcastle is outperforming other major English cities when it comes to building affordable homes.
Through delivering mixture tenure schemes, the Council is helping to create ’inclusive communities’ offering affordable homes for sale and for rent including bungalows for older residents.
However, the Labour authority recognises that even mixed developments like these don’t meet everyone’s needs. That’s why we’ve made housing options that include additional care and support such a high priority.
Prior to 2014, there were only two modern extra care developments in the city. But since then we’ve added another four schemes with more in the pipeline. Similarly, we’re delighted that residents have moved into the Tree Top Village in Walker located in the east end of the city. The unique combination of high quality luxury accommodation, community areas and retail and leisure facilities is bringing the best of ‘’age exclusive living’’ to the city.
The council has also unveiled ‘Extra Care Newcastle’ to make it easier for people to find out about what we have to offer. In the last 12 months the housing offer for adults with learning disabilities has been rolled out, to mirror people’s desire to move away from shared accommodation and a home of their own. Four core and cluster bungalow schemes have been completed.
Despite these achievements the city isn’t complacent. There’s more to do to beat the housing shortage, particularly for those who require extra care or support to live independently. £11.8m has been secured from the Government’s Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) to deliver up to 450 new affordable houses. This investment grant, which was the biggest awarded to any council in the North East, acknowledges the city’s pioneering approach and will be used to deliver shared ownership properties, rent to buy projects and specialist housing.
The Conservative government may have failed to rise to the challenge of the housing crisis but in Newcastle, Labour councillors know that housing is a real priority for many with different needs. But we aren’t resting on our laurels. We’re constantly examining new ways to make the best use of resources and central government could learn a lesson or two from bold ideas like our Annuity Lease Back Model to attract private investment in to the provision of affordable housing.
As well as building new homes we want to make effective use of existing housing stock in the city. An empty home is a wasted resource that can quickly become an eyesore that brings no benefit to the owner, neighbour or immediate locality. Our Empty Homes Team take a pro-active stance to identifying empty properties and helping owners to bring their unoccupied homes back to life. So far 600 homes have been brought back into use – three of which have been empty for over 20 years!
When it comes to a place called home an old-fashioned one-size model won’t do in second decade of the 21st century. Homes for sale in a range of sizes, designs and locations, shared ownership and rent to buy schemes as well as affordable homes for rent and supported housing for older and disabled residents are all part of our ambition to make Newcastle an even better place to live.
Jane Streather is Newcastle Council Cabinet Member for Housing and Public Health
Stephen Lambert is a former chair of the NW Newcastle Housing Committee.