Ashford Borough Council’s Cabinet endorses “impressive” affordable housing plan

Published: 18/12/2020
News article entitled Ashford Borough Council’s Cabinet endorses “impressive” affordable housing plan

An ambitious and comprehensive long-term plan setting out Ashford’s aspirations for delivering affordable housing across the borough has been warmly welcomed by councillors.

The annual report detailing the priorities in Ashford Borough Council’s Housing Revenue Account Business Plan covering the next 30 years was presented to Cabinet last night (Thurs 17 Dec).

Members heard that the plan ensures a holistic approach to balancing the need to increase our stock while providing quality, energy efficient homes and sustaining tenancies. Our tenants want to call the borough home and be a part of the communities in which they live.

The Social Housing White Paper talks about eliminating the stigma attached to living in social housing. The report details how our policies will place this respect at the heart of our work liaising with, and providing for, our residents. During lockdown, construction was deemed an essential industry so work has continued as the Council’s new-build schemes are delivered.

The report details a strong pipeline of sites and a refined acquisitions programme, crucial in light of the national focus on housing delivery. Additions can only be achieved by paying meticulous attention to our finances. These are critical factors at any point in time, but in the context of the recovery phase of a pandemic, are more so.

The plan can deliver key priorities, even in the context of increased development, management and maintenance programmes – and a pandemic. The effects of the pandemic mean that national political, economic and legislative changes could adversely affect this financial position, so any projects must continue to be fully risk assessed to ensure resilience.

On track to smash last year’s affordable housing delivery target

The report sets out the work that the Council’s HRA is undertaking. After a period of pausing to reflect when the debt cap was removed, the Council has set in place a strong delivery programme and is delivering homes in great numbers – well on track to smash the target set in its affordable housing delivery plan presented to members last year.

It is seeking to capitalise on new opportunities such as in the acquisition of the New Quarter building. Following rigorous risk assessments in light of the pandemic, the Council’s development programme is fully costed and the Business Plan illustrates that it is an affordable pipeline of solid sites. An asset survey in 2021-22 will help the Council better understand the condition of its stock.

The publication of the Social Housing White Paper is welcome and it has put the focus on the fact that all residents must be treated with respect, irrespective of the tenure of their home. All of the measures included in the report are aimed at recognising that it is right that our tenants can put down permanent roots and have a voice. We will continue to provide a high quality management service that will ensure tenants comply with our rules, as we comply with those of the Social Housing Regulator.

The Council prides itself on its proven track record in this sector. Housing is a service that links the General Fund and the HRA, and officers are well aware of the role the HRA can play to mitigate pressures in the General Fund through timely provision. This report demonstrates that despite the pandemic we continue to perform strongly and run our HRA viably.

Photo showing the construction of East Stour Court in Ashford, taken in December 2020

“Ashford is leading the way in Kent”

Cllr Bill Barrett, portfolio holder for housing, said: “We are at the forefront of new-build delivery in Kent. Our proven track record of delivery, our aspirations and the way we balance our Housing Revenue Account Business Plan illustrate why so many registered providers of social housing and developers are choosing to invest here, enhancing our economy as we recover from the pandemic.

“Following a period of reflection after the removal of the HRA debt cap, what we present in this report are strong figures, with well over 360 homes built, bought or enabled in the borough since April 2019 and hundreds more in the delivery phase. These are impressive figures.

“This report also sets the tone for how we will meet our obligations under the Social Housing Regulator and how we will heed the content of the Social Housing White Paper. Quality homes and secure tenancies contribute to better life chances – as families flourish in their communities, children are more settled in schooling and family members access employment. These are aspirations we all hold dear.

“Ashford can be proud of its approach to delivering genuinely affordable housing,” he added.

Cllr Neil Bell, portfolio holder for finance, said: “This report fuses together the former HRA Business Plan report and the HRA delivery update into a much more contextual paper that gives real insight. I am content with the viability of our overall plans and the sensible, measured approach taken to development and wider corporate goals.

“In today’s volatile financial environment, an affordable, sustainable Business Plan that can repay its debt, despite significantly increased delivery and new Government initiatives is excellent news. Such a solid financial footing and awareness of our future expenditure expectations will help as we look to deliver and maintain much-needed homes in the years ahead.”

Cabinet accepted a number of recommendations, including noting the progress in delivering affordable housing in the HRA and temporary accommodation; agreeing the updated HRA Business Plan, financial projections and priorities; agreeing that the Council will no longer issue five-year fixed-term tenancies, offering only secure tenancies following the successful completion of an introductory tenancy; agreeing to cease the Ashford Promise, an initiative that was meant to make tenants more aware of their tenancy conditions but, which the report indicates, has not been successful; and noting plans for future housing delivery, which presents projects under way or in consultation phase.