New Conservative Administration to invest in building new homes and renewing tired estates
Cllr Andrew Schrader
Chairman of Housing & Estate Renewal
On June 22nd, I chaired the inaugural meeting of Basildon Council's new Housing and Estate Renewal Committee. Since taking office in May, I have been working hard with officers, and my colleague Cllr Stuart Sullivan (the man who holds the purse strings), to produce a report in fairly short order.
As I told the Committee, the brief that I set officers was, basically, that I wanted to be able to announce the most ambitious programme of estate regeneration the world has ever seen. This, predictably, solicited much cynical scoffing from Opposition members but, if you are not going to at least aim high, what is the point?
The report that went to Committee, as I freely admitted, did not by any means represent the summit of our ambitions for the Borough but it does set us down the right path.
When Andrew Baggott offered me this job, I made it abundantly clear to him that my absolute top priority would be estate renewal; to tackle the Not Forgotten Estates and invest in making our estates ‘Safe and Sound’ (and that is what we have named the programme).
Basildon Conservatives have committed £40 million over the next four years to tackle some of the issues facing our estates. It is going to be an awesome task and I am under no illusions that we will not be able to do everything we want to do but I am determined that not being able to do everything should not be an excuse for doing nothing. The funding will kick in next year but I have been able to wring £1 million out of Stuart so we can kick off the work this year.
Conservatives have a good track record in this area. It was a Conservative Administration that previously delivered the Decent Homes programme, which invested £67 million in home improvements throughout our housing stock (including new kitchens, bathrooms, etc). Through Safe and Sound, we will address the wider environmental issues that plague so many of our estates and thereby improve the quality of life for our residents. My aim is to deliver neighbourhoods any of us would be proud to live in.
Another thing I am adamant about is that the programme will be delivered in full consultation with residents, to ensure it meets their priorities and deals with the issues that matter most to them. I am liaising with ward councillors, recently met with the Tenant and Leaseholder Panel to discuss the plan, and will be visiting estates myself to speak with residents and see the problems for myself.
These are not just 'our' estates, first and foremost they are the residents' estates, and it is their priorities that should guide us in all we do.
We’ve not thrown the baby out with the bathwater – the existing Estate Improvement Programme has not been junked and improvements to the Felmores Estate will be first off the blocks, now that Covid restrictions are easing, and we will be progressing proposals for Brooke House.
Basildon Homes for Basildon People
As Conservatives, we remain committed to providing Basildon homes for Basildon people, both through the Council's Housing Revenue Account (HRA) House Build Programme and through our wholly-owned company, Sempra Homes. Through Sempra, we will support local people to take their first steps to home ownership and through the HRA, we will continue to increase the supply of new social housing to meet the demands of our Homeseekers’ Register.
We already had 234 new homes in the pipeline and I will increased that by another 200. I should stress that these will be dispersed across the Borough - not concentrated into a single new housing estate, as some media outlets incorrectly appear to have assumed!
We will also put further investment into our existing housing stock to ensure Basildon homes are of a good standard, fully meeting the new Building Safety Regulations, as well as making them sustainable as part of our commitment to the Net Zero Carbon agenda - £500,000 per year over the next four years, starting this year.
We recognise that last year was an appallingly difficult year for many of our residents, not least for our housing tenants, many of whom lost their income and have struggled to pay their rent and other bills (not helped, I feel bound to say, by the above-inflation rises in social rents imposed by the former Administration). Moving forward, we will continue to focus on prevention and early intervention in dealing with rent arrears and, working with partners, will ensure all residents have access to appropriate financial support and debt advice. Beyond that, we will also be providing £300,000 a year for Discretionary Housing Payments to help those who are struggling and next year we will be limiting rent increases to 0.5% rather than the 1.5% hike we saw under the last Administration.
I am pleased to say that the above measures were voted upon and unanimously endorsed by the Committee. So, now the hard work begins.