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Caithness News Bulletins October 2004

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Highland Council      

29 October 04
GO AHEAD FOR COMMUNITY OWNERSHIP PROGRAMME BID
The Highland Council today (Thursday) agreed to apply to join the Scottish Executive Community Ownership Programme, which commits the Council to pursuing the option of transferring the ownership and management of its stock of 15,500 Council houses to a new Highland not-for-profit landlord.

Convener Councillor Alison Magee was seconded by Councillor Margaret Davidson, Chairman of the Housing and Social Work Committee, in proposing the successful motion which will start a two year period of discussion before Council house tenants will be asked to vote on detailed proposals.

In reaching their decision, the Council agreed to make Community Ownership a standing item on the agenda of the full council in the run up to the ballot; to consult very closely with tenants and to seek to ensure that the interests of Council staff are recognised during the transfer process.

Councillor Margaret Davidson, Chairman of the Housing and Social Work Committee, said: "I am absolutely delighted that the Council has grasped this opportunity to improve the wellbeing of the Highland community and our Council house tenants by applying to join the Community Ownership Programme. The benefits for tenants are significant as are the opportunities for the Council and partners to provide a good deal and more affordable houses.

"We understand that tenants and other interested groups have concerns. I would like to assure them that we will keep everyone involved fully as we progress this very detailed process. We have already given an assurance that any transfer is based upon rents being kept affordable; services maintained or improved; and tenants retaining their existing statutory rights, including the right to buy their existing houses."

Councillor Sheena Slimon, Depute Chairman (Housing) also welcomed the Council's backing. If necessary, officials would knock on the door of every tenant to ensure they understood the issues. They would also negotiate with the Scottish Executive and the new housing landlord to ensure tenants get the best possible deal from the receiving landlord.

She said: "The extra resources we will attract by joining the Programme will help us to reduce our ever rising waiting list as well as increasing the money available to improve the houses which would transfer."

The principles to be followed in the transfer of the Council housing stock envisage that: -

  • Any receiving landlord should be Highland-based;.

  • Councillors would have up to one third of the places on a receiving landlord's board;

  • There should be local boards, including councillors, and tenant representatives, local management and local budget holding. This could be at Area or more local level;

  • Any receiving landlord should have membership open to all tenants and have tenant representation at board level;

  • There should be a visible, binding commitment to support second stage transfers of ownership to smaller community based housing organisations, where communities want to own and manage their homes;

  •  There should be a visible, binding commitment to support small scale transfers of ownership to local communities where these link with other community land ownership or management initiatives.

During the debate, the Council was advised that affordable housing supply was a key consideration in deciding whether the Council should apply to join the Programme. By joining, an additional 50 million would be available over the next five years, through Scottish Executive regeneration funding, delivering about an extra 1,000 affordable houses for rent and low cost home ownership over that period.

Another key consideration was the extent to which housing stock transfer would increase the level of investment in the current Council housing stock.  Transfer would see the Council's debt on transferred houses paid off through a combination of a capital receipt from any receiving landlord and debt write off from the Treasury. The housing debt is currently around 175million.

Transfer would allow the new landlord to invest more in the existing housing stock. Current estimates suggest investment could increase from around 12.6 million per year by the Council to 18 million per year by a new landlord. Actual investment levels will only be known following a detailed stock survey.