N E W S F E E D S >>>

Caithness News Bulletins June 2004

June 2004 Index May 2004 Index

Caithness.org News Index

Front Page Archives


Highland Councillors are being asked to consider an action plan which will tackle the lack of affordable housing to rent or buy in the area by doubling investment over the next five years to provide over 1,000 affordable new houses.

In a report to the full council meeting on Thursday 24 June, Gordon Fisher, Director of Housing, says that the Council would be eligible to receive additional funding of £50 million over the next five years through the Scottish Executive’s Regeneration Fund, which links regeneration funding to their Community Ownership Programme.

A housing needs study has identified a shortage of up to 5,000 affordable houses over the next five years. The proposed funding, he says, would allow the Council to make significant progress towards meeting the pressing housing needs of people in the Highlands and help remove a barrier to economic growth in many rural Highland communities.

The move to Community Ownership, he states, would have significant implications for tenants because it would result in the transfer of ownership and management of the Council’s housing stock of 15,000 properties to a new not-for-profit landlord.

Tenants would be fully consulted before any decision was taken. In addition the move to Community Ownership would unlock money that could be invested in improvements to the homes of existing tenants. 

The Council’s housing debt – the money borrowed to build and improve the houses over many years would then be written off. The part of tenants’ rents that currently goes on interest and repayments – totaling £17 million this year – would be released for housing improvements.

The Council considered transferring its housing stock in November 2001. At that time it decided that it could retain its housing while keeping rents affordable.

However, Mr Fisher said the proposed new investment of £50 million that the Community Ownership Programme would offer for affordable housing has led the Council to revisit the issue.
Tenants would be consulted over the next few months before the Council considered joining the Community Ownership Programme on October 28th this year.

If the Council did go ahead, there would still be further discussions with tenants as part of the development of a transfer proposal. For any transfer to take place it would need the backing of the majority of tenants voting in a ballot.

Tenants would have more direct say in the running of any new social landlord, being represented on the board alongside Council and independent representatives. The new landlord would also offer guarantees on rents, and tenants’ existing rights such as the right to buy would be protected.
The Council had raised the possibility that new models of locally based community ownership could be developed to match the needs and aspirations of people in different areas of the Highlands. This might be done through a second transfer at a later stage.

Councillor Margaret Davidson, Chairman of the Council’s Housing and Social Work Committee, welcomed the report, which is being submitted following a recent meeting with Margaret Curran, Minister for Communities.

Councillor Davidson said: “We know from our tenants that the lack of affordable housing is their main concern. The Community Ownership Programme could give us a major opportunity to invest in new affordable housing.  It would also enable improvements to be carried out to tenants’ homes which we could not otherwise afford without raising rents.”

Community Ownership
Since the 1980s there have been transfers of council housing to not for profit landlords, such as community based housing associations – including whole stock transfers in Scottish Borders, Glasgow and Dumfries and Galloway in Spring 2003.  These registered Social Landlords (RSLs) are able to offer tenants greater certainty about their houses being repaired and maintained to modern standards, and about future rent levels. Through membership of the new landlord's management committee and other mechanisms, tenants have much more involvement in the decisions affecting their homes and estates. Both council tenants and tenants of RSLs now have Scottish Secure Tenancy agreements. A transfer can proceed only if a majority of tenants voting in a secret ballot are in favour.
Through its community ownership budget, the Scottish Executive provides support to councils seeking to transfer all or some of their houses, where this represents value for money.