MONMOUTHSHIRE County Council’s plan to massively boost the number of homes available for social renting has been questioned after it opted out of developing a site itself.
The Labour administration which formed the ruling group on Monmouthshire County Council following May’s election wants up to half of a potential 2,200 homes planned for the next 11 years in the county to be affordable, with 68 per cent available for social rent.
The council doesn’t have its own housing stock and ahead of the election Labour had promised to establish a housing company to build on publicly-owned land. It also said it would end the sale of council owned sites.
But last month the cabinet agreed to sell an undeveloped piece of land next to Caldicot Comprehensive School to a housing association, when the previous Conservative administration had intended to use the land as a ‘test site’ for developing its own housing.
The plan agreed by cabinet last month will instead see the site sold to Monmouthshire Housing Association, though all the homes will be available for social rent and the council hopes to be able to nominate tenants.
But the failure to follow through on the council developing the site has been questioned by opposition councillors.
The leader of the council’s Independent Group, Councillor Frances Taylor, has also said the Labour cabinet should explain why it has broken the manifesto promise not to sell council land.
The Magor West member said: “There should be an explanation of why the administration are already, only five months in to a five-year term, departing from their manifesto pledges – no more asset disposals.
“Effectively, the decision agrees to dispose of the asset without many of the key factors being determined. We have a new administration and I am interested in the tone and the approach from the outset.”
When it was agreed to use the site for council housing, in December 2020, it was intended to develop 14 houses.
The number of homes Monmouthshire Housing Association will build is yet to be decided and that will also determine the amount it pays for the site.
Cllr Taylor claimed there had been a lack of scrutiny ahead of the October decision to sell the site and how the decision fits with the council’s ambitions to boost the availability of homes for social rent and eventually develop homes itself.
Those concerns are shared by Green Party councillor Ian Chandler who said: “I do believe that in order to achieve the scale of affordable housing needed in the county, the council does have to trial different models of delivery. I’m concerned that the council has not fully explored all the options for the Caldicot site and has not followed through on its agreed policy.”
The Llantilio Crossenny member, who sits with the Independent Group, voted at a scrutiny committee for the cabinet to reconsider the issue, he said so the reasons given for the sale are recorded in its decision making.
However the bid by Cllr Frances to force a rethink failed as the committee, by a majority of six to two, accepted the decision after cabinet member Sara Burch explained why the council no longer planned to develop housing at Caldicot itself.
The councillor said when she took the cabinet role she discovered work on establishing a housing company hadn’t progressed, and is currently on hold as the authority doesn’t have a ‘pipeline’ of sites suitable for development that would be needed to establish a company and justify the costs involved.
But she told the committee building new homes at Caldicot couldn’t wait for her to bring forward a proposal for the council to “directly provide housing”.
She said: “Registered social landlords are better placed to deliver the new build affordable homes at the pace we need and there is an urgency.
“We have 2,200 households in housing need on the housing register of which 802 wish to live in Caldicot and we have too many households in bed and breakfast and temporary accommodation at great cost to this council and huge impact on their wellbeing.
“I took the pragmatic view that a more effective way to bring forward homes on this site is to work in partnership with a registered social landlord.”
Cllr Chandler said he still believes the administration must give more thought to how it can ensure a supply of affordable homes.
“Their proposal in this instance might be appropriate, but a more transparent and robust options appraisal is needed alongside a plan for how alternative models will be developed in the coming years,” he said