In the line of researching stories and keeping abreast of events in Greenwich borough for the site I’m often reading council reports.
Well someone’s got to do it.
And after a few years of doing this you notice how things are selectively left out. Reports to Greenwich Council’s cabinet are one such area. Things such as fines for littering included in reports two years ago are now absent. Two years ago the number of fines issued was falling fast, and now it’s not included in the latest report.
Then there’s information which appears selective. One such example has popped up today when reading a new report on Greenwich Council spending on housing due before Greenwich Cllrs next week.
Yet it’s not a black and white choice as presented.
Income from Right to Buy does have to be spent within three years of receipt or sent to central Government, but it does not have to be used to buy homes off the open market.
There are other options. An authority can partner with registered housing providers, such as Housing Associations, and use money to build new homes. Granted, it is limited to 30 per cent of total costs of new developments, but it is an option that this report excludes mentioning.
These rules came in eight years ago. While it may have taken some time to draw up working practices to development joint ventures, after eight years it appears very few have.
According to Social Housing,
“Between April 2012 and April 2019, 25,204 additional properties were started using RTB receipts, representing 83% of the 30,276 additional homes over the period.”
This Greenwich Council report is simply not correct to state it’s a binary choice of returning Right to Buy money to Government or buying homes off the market. That only becomes the choice if Greenwich Housing Department fail to plan homes and have a working pipeline in place resulting in the three year deadline approaching.
The Treasury currently takes a large sum for administrative purposes regardless of the three year spend deadline. Yet millions are left after their cut.
In Hackney, a “Housing Challenge” fund was launched in 2017 which sees £16m of Right To Buy income on offer to Housing Associations to bid towards. The authority expects 150 homes to be provided by this year.
Hackney Council’s Head of Housing Policy actually stated:
“I am not sure why more councils are not doing this – but it is a reflection of the good relationships we have spent years building up with associations”.
In Greenwich, over £100 million has been spent buying market homes, many at peak market prices, with little scrutiny on what is purchased and whether value for money is gained. And as Hackney state, buying existing homes does nothing to increase the net total of housing. Council’s buying existing homes also helps push out first time buyers, keeping many renting privately at high cost.
With all this known, will Greenwich Councillors enquire to departments and officers just why this information was excluded from this latest report?
Government have consulted on extending the time limit to spend right to buy proceeds from three to five years and increase the cap per project from thirty per cent to fifty per cent – but Brexit focus within Whitehall mean any progress is very slow. Greenwich Department’s may tell councillors to wait for it – but is their time to? There’s a good chance it’ll never happen, and even if it does it could be years away.
Greenwich’s Housing Department has a long history of failing to grasp the nettle during a housing shortage to increase housing provision and tackle an increase in sub-standard accommodation. Last week this site covered how just 15 per cent of estimated HMOs are licensed in the borough according to a council report – more than two years after it became a requirement for landlords to do so with fines up to £30,000 per offence with the council also able to enforce rent orders.
HMO licensing was introduced years after many other London councils and is one of the weakest forms across the capital.
Very few fines have been issued.
There’s also the issue of outsourcing parking enforcement on estates to a private company, which sees all revenue retained by the company.
And finally we have the issue of general upkeep of estates and public spaces which is one of the worst in the capital – as covered on this site many times. And when it comes to future investment for existing some area are ignored. A 20 year strategy for Abbey Wood and Thamesmead recently released, and covered this week on the site, almost entirely ignores the neglected 3,000-home Abbey Wood estate.