Building council homes and tackling homelessness
Building council homes and tackling homelessness

A Labour Council will:

Build over 500 badly needed new homes at council rents, invest over £700,000 for organisations who work with the homeless, and boost the supply of affordable homes in the city.

Building More New Council Homes

Providing adequate, affordable and comfortable housing is an important and key priority for a Labour council. We have now identified sites for all the new council homes to be built with the £70 million devolution funding provided by Government, and are likely to now exceed the target of 500 homes we pledged to deliver as a result of this funding.

536 new council homes are proposed to be built across the city, with the largest sites being at Mill Road (116 new council homes) and Cromwell Road (118 new council homes). Roughly one quarter of these new homes are currently being constructed, or have been completed, with the remainder subject to planning permission. The figure of 536 is in addition to the 242 which have been completed under Labour since we took office in 2014, meaning we will have built nearly 800 new council homes by 2022. Most of these new council homes will be built via the Cambridge Investment Partnership, a joint venture involving the council and Hill Residential.

The Mill Road depot and Cromwell Road sites being developed will have a mix of council housing and homes for sale on the open market. We will consider, subject to market conditions and if it is prudent to do so, the possibility of acquiring several of these open market properties for the Cambridge City Housing Company, with a view to these being let for ‘intermediate’ rent (a form of tenure for people not likely to obtain social housing, but find it hard to rent at market rent levels).

Building these new homes – whilst making a huge difference to those who are on the housing needs register, and helping to offset the additional loss of council homes following the Tory-Lib Dem reforms to Right-to-Buy – should only the first step of a renaissance in council house building in Cambridge. We want to continue being bold and ambitious, providing the homes our city desperately needs and taking full advantage of the newly-acquired freedom the council now has to borrow, unrestricted against our Housing Revenue Account (HRA).

A Labour council will, therefore, aspire to build and/or source one thousand additional homes for council rent by 2030 funded by borrowing against the HRA, Right-to-Buy receipts and other sources. Roughly one-third of these (277) have already been identified following work by the Greater Cambridge Housing Development Agency in delivering the schemes now being progressed.

In addition to investing in building new homes, we want to improve existing ones. We will invest £5 million over the next few years in schemes to enhance the environment of our council estates for the benefit of existing and future tenants and leaseholders. Schemes, for example, would include new LED lighting, increased security measures for bin stores to prevent fly-tipping, planting, bike racks, etc. Need will be evidenced through local engagement with housing officers, residents and councillors.

Boosting the Supply of Affordable Homes

Your Labour council created the Cambridge City Housing Company (CCHC) three years ago as a means of providing additional homes at ‘intermediate’ rents. Any return on investment is pumped back into the company and providing council services. These properties are let out via our social lettings agency, Town Hall Lettings. It is our intention to continue to develop CCHC and, as referred to in an earlier section, add to its existing homes when market conditions allow.

We will work closely with housing associations and others in maximising opportunities to boost the numbers of homes let for social and affordable rent. We will also lobby Government to reform the calculation of local housing allowance (LHA) rates to better and more accurately reflect the rental market in expensive towns and cities, like Cambridge. The current Broad Market Rental Area calculation for Cambridge takes into account the market rent levels for not just the city itself, but those areas which surround it, pushing down the LHA rate payable. This mechanism prices people out of the city on low incomes.

In addition, we will work in partnership with neighbouring councils, registered providers and developers to build affordable homes across all types of tenure in accordance with our new joint Local Plan with South Cambridgeshire. In realising this aim, we will continue to develop a framework, using national planning policy as a starting point, to ensure viability assessments (provided by developers in requesting to deviate from providing 40 per cent affordable housing on relevant sites) are properly and fully scrutinised.

Bringing Empty Homes Back into Use

We will continue with efforts to reduce the number of homes in the city that lie empty. Over the last four years, the council has helped bring around 130 empty homes back into use. We will refine our Empty Homes Policy so it includes an aspiration to double the number of homes we help bring back into use each year, from a baseline of 30 for 2019, by 2022. We will make full use of new powers to charge double council tax on existing empty homes, and continue to offer other incentives to homeowners, like loans to help with renovations to make a property habitable. Where incentives fail we will pursue enforcement action, including Compulsory Purchase Orders.

Making Renting Fairer for Private Sector Tenants

Nearly one-third of the city’s households are privately rented out to tenants. We believe tenants deserve security of tenure, with rent controls and stronger safety legislation that a future Labour Government is committed to. Meanwhile, in Cambridge, we have implemented the extension of mandatory licensing for Homes in Multiple Occupation which came into effect last year, and will continue to encourage landlords in the private rental sector to deliver safe, well-managed energy-efficient homes that are of a good standard, and tackle those who do not.

We will consult on the expansion of property licensing to cover more privately rented homes in the city.

Tackling Homelessness and Rough Sleeping

Homelessness has always been an issue in Cambridge but, as is the case nationally, it has become more acute over the last couple of years. A combination of rising rent levels fuelled by high demand, together with Conservative-Liberal Democrat welfare “reforms”, have contributed towards a rise in homelessness in Cambridge and across the country.

No-one should sleep rough or be homeless in our city, and we are strongly committed to helping prevent and alleviate it wherever it occurs. The council has a dedicated team in its Housing Advice and Support section that works closely with highly-valued and important organisations like Jimmy’s and Wintercomfort, among others, providing a joined-up approach in tackling homelessness. The council provides grant funding of £720,000 per year to these organisations to aid their work.

We also have delivered initiatives such as:

  • The creation of a new “Housing First” programme for the benefit of long-term rough sleepers, a scheme we will look to expand including with additional offers of accommodation;
  • A dedicated street-life partnership group with agencies set up to help rough sleepers into accommodation;
  • Creating Street Aid, a charitable fund that has raised over £50,000 since it was created, helping vulnerable people get off or stay off the streets with small grants;
  • A dedicated homelessness prevention officer with a specific remit towards prison and hospital leavers;
  • Continuing using the council’s social lettings agency (Town Hall Lettings), set up to provide shared accommodation for single homeless people;
  • A Single Homelessness Service that has housed over 450 local people since its inception, and
  • Providing a ‘Housing Benefit Plus’ scheme which tops-up local housing allowance rates to those assessed to be most in urgent need, allowing them to meet the cost of renting privately.

A Labour council will take stock of our work to-date and commit to undertake a review of its strategic response to rough sleeping. Our review should consider how best to achieve the twin objectives of ensuring a bed is available every night for every rough sleeper, and to end street homelessness in Cambridge by, at the very latest 2025, two years before the Government’s own target.

Planning for Sustainable Homes, Jobs and Infrastructure

We will implement the approved joint Local Plan with South Cambridgeshire which sets out how to best accommodate the needs of a growing city and Greater Cambridge area to 2031 whilst keeping intact what makes our city special. We will engage with the community on options for the next Joint Plan.

The council led efforts in a successful joint bid for £227 million of Government funding to help develop the north east fringe of Cambridge, situated at the current wastewater recycling works near Cambridge North rail station. This project will unlock over seven thousand new homes of varying tenures – at least 40 percent of which will be affordable – and provide thousands of new jobs in a sustainable location that will be well connected by public transport. Labour is committed to building a significant number of council housing units on city land included in the project.

A Labour council will continue to ensure that new council housing meets rigorous and tough design, low carbon and sustainability standards as set out in the Cambridge Sustainable Housing Design Guide. All new council homes will be adaptable and accessible for people with limited mobility. And, as a minimum, 2 percent of new council housing developments will conform to wheelchair accessible standards, rising to a minimum of 5 percent in developments of over 20 homes. We will continue to persuade Cambridge developers to adopt these standards, standards which goes beyond national requirements. We restate our previous commitment to requiring biodiversity and long term sustainability plans for all larger development sites. We will also adopt the improved planning “Quality Charter” being developed by the Combined Authority.

We reaffirm our commitment to putting forward formal planning guidance on strategically-important new residential and commercial sites, setting out how they can be developed to appropriate parameters. This includes land north of Cherry Hinton, the Grafton Centre area and area plans for Mitcham’s Corner and other parts of the city. A Labour council will continue our policy in not allowing speculative student developments with no identified end users, by tying student accommodation proposals to established and existing educational institutions.

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