Guest post: Greenwich’s Cabinet member for Housing Chris Kirby

Greenwich’s Cabinet Member for Housing Chris Kirby has written a guest post on future housing plans with the borough. Thanks to him for this.


Facing the housing crisis head on

As a borough Greenwich has 17,000 people on our housing waiting list and more than 800 households in temporary accommodation. Those figures are stark, but are by no means unusual in London, where the housing crisis is at its most acute.
So, what are we planning to do about it?

Since our election in May, we have been working behind the scenes to come up with a plan to deliver a radical step change in the number of socially rented homes we can deliver in the borough.

In October I’ll be publishing a full plan with proposals for how we do this, some of which I have set out below:

A new target to build 750 council homes – started on site by 2022

To reach this ambitious target, we are preparing a bid to the Mayor of London’s Building Council Homes for Londoners Fund to lift our borrowing headroom and to access grant funding. This would give us the freedom to fund and build new council housing.

A new target for Meridian Home Start to deliver 300 homes

These 300 homes would be in addition to the 750 new council homes that we are intending to build. Meridian is a key partner and will be crucial in the coming years as we seek to significantly increase the number of homes that we want to build for local people.

Explore the creation of two Community Land Trusts

Community Land Trusts are a radical way of providing affordable housing and we want to explore the feasibility of establishing two sites in the borough. In the coming months we’ll be inviting proposals and seeking to identify residents who may be interested in creating a Trust.

Continue to offer specialist housing for those who need it

For understandable reasons the debate around housing provision tends to focus on the number of new homes being delivered. But we also need to ensure that we are delivering high-quality, specialist accommodation for those who need it. So our proposals also include a commitment to continue delivering first-class accommodation for people with specialist needs.

Seek to make the private housing market accessible to local people

The housing crisis isn’t just about those stuck on social housing waiting lists – it also affects far too many people in poor-quality, extortionately-expensive, private-rented accommodation. As a borough, I don’t believe we can accept a laissez-faire attitude to people struggling in the private sector market who want to buy their own home – especially when we know that 2,000 young people in the borough have registered an interest in intermediate, affordable housing.

Planned developments in Woolwich

We need to take a careful and considered approach and – where a development would work for us – we should seek to intervene in this market on behalf of young people in the borough.

As a Labour Council we believe in council housing and we know that building genuinely affordable, social-rented homes is the only way out of the housing crisis.
But shamefully, since 2010 we have had a series of Tory governments determined to
prevent councils and housing associations from doing that, for entirely political reasons.Three policies in particular have put a roadblock in the way of social homes being built:

  • The Tories are the first government in living memory to provide absolutely no money from central government for the building of social housing – meaning that developers need to find the money to build in other ways (too often from higher rent levels, or by building unaffordable homes to cross-subsidise the dwindling supply of ‘affordable’ and social homes).
  • The government has changed the rules around the use of Right to Buy receipts:
    offering a lucky few tenants a discount of up to £108,000 off the price of a home in the borough, while – after taking a cut for central government – stipulating that councils can only spend 30% of the money remaining from a sale on providing a new home.
    As a council, we have to ‘find’ the remaining 70% of the cost of a new build home within three years, or face having to hand this money over to central government – with interest.
  • In 2012, the government reformed the rules around the financial management of Local Authority Housing stock – the so called HRA Cap. Because of the stringent restrictions on borrowing that these reforms imposed, we are prevented from borrowing against our 23,000 properties in order to build new homes.
    These are by no means the only challenges we face, but they provide some insight into the determination of the Tory government to drive down the ability of councils like Greenwich to build the homes we want to build.

I hope this helps to provide a flavour of our ambition and determination to deliver the homes our residents so desperately need and the size of the challenge that we face in doing so. On Tuesday 18 September between 1pm and 2pm, I’ll be holding a Twitter housing Q&A, so feel free to quiz me on the plans above, by using #QuizKirby.

In the meantime, you can follow me @ccakirby


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Many thanks

J Smith

I've lived in south east London most of my life growing up in Greenwich borough and working in the area for many years. The site has contributors on occasion and we cover many different topics. Living and working in the area offers an insight into what is happening locally.

    6 thoughts on “Guest post: Greenwich’s Cabinet member for Housing Chris Kirby

    • I understand that central government puts many hurdles in the way but I’m still disappointed by this plan. I’d hoped for a big jump especially from Meridian HomeStart as 300 is still very modest compared to most Labour authorities and the previous target.

      750 council homes by 2022 is not very ambitious (or starting in 2022?) and barely scratching the surface but more difficult to do with restrictions.

      I feel we are being badly let down by this government but Greenwich Council are not stretching every sinew to alleviate the issue as a Labour council should.

      Meridian should be building in the thousands annually until a government is elected that lifts council building caps. Until then every single fund and penny going used for NEW council homes in addition to Meridian HomeStart and not buying existing homes.

    • Such small ambitions in the face of the 17,000 on the council waiting list. The borough is being plastered by ticky, tacky overpriced high rise developments and builders are walking away with fat profits. It seems to me that the council is only interested in raking in s106 receipts and the council tax that all these new occupiers pay.

      I would like to know why the council is going cap in hand to central government instead of using some of the s106 money, and also why it allows private developers to reduce, or even cut, the social housing quotient by pleading ‘financial unviability’?

      The council really needs to look at radical ways to deal with the severe social housing shortage, one of which could be prefabrication providing a fast and relatively low cost build. I suggest Greenwich looks at what Lewisham did at PLACE/Ladywell – Note that the construction has a 60 year lifespan, which is more than be said for some of the new developments that are already looking dog-eared, not to mention the cladding scandal that is barely being addressed.

    • Agreed the number of proposed new builds is far below the required amount, however I applaud Chris Kirby for at least trying to pull the wool over our eyes. Its to be expected from a politician.

      Unless I am very much mistaken we need land to build housing. His post would have had more credibility if he identified the land available in the borough to build on.

      I agree there may be some discussions to be had about the funding restrictions in recent years but even if they were not apparent the availability of land is the biggest problem.

      By my reckoning the council has allowed large chunks of land to be built on by the private sector with little or no consideration for social housing. So unless he proposes to create new builds in the twilight zone (music please), I really don’t think the council can provide much more housing than is currently stated, and that’s at a push.

      Nice try on the publicity front but a complete failure on substance.

    • How can you justify refusing two major schemes after recommendation for approval ( you going to blame Tories I suppose). Those tow schemes were providing over 500 affordable homes
      The first step is to reform the planing system and speed up the process rather than reject schemes for political reasons

    • Meridian should be aiming for many more than 300 a year let alone in total.

    • The social housing shortage is a problem that could be vastly alleviated, but Greenwich in common with a lot of London councils, is intent on social engineering by squeezing out the poor and transforming areas into dormitories for those who can afford the rabbit hutch flats. Shame on a Labour council for doing next to nothing for the vast majority of its residents.


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