Unwittingly, perhaps, but the brains trust in charge of the council’s housing policy – led by Alison “Nothing To Declare” Butler – have gone out and demonstrated quite how inadequate their over-development policy with house-builder Brick by Brick has become.
At the end of last week, the council issued a press release to crow about how it had acquired and refurbished two large family homes in the south of the borough, on Foxley Lane and Chaldon Way.
After renovation and conversion, that’s five homes more provided to house families in the borough than Brick by Brick has managed to deliver in three years, and all at a fraction of the multi-millions spent by the council’s house-building arm.
The three-bedroom house in Coulsdon and four-bed Purley private homes had been vacant and derelict for years. They have now been renovated and extended to become one four-bedroom property and another of four two-bedroom flats.
The council had been in negotiations over the Foxley Lane house since 2013.
The refurbishment cost £100,000 and, according to the council press release this week, “the property is now due to be home to four households moving from council temporary accommodation within the coming weeks”.
In contrast, Brick by Brick has yet to complete a single new build. The company, which made a trading loss of more than £1million in its first full year of trading, is using public land and properties, financed by the council, in an effort to build 1,000 homes, of which, according to Butler, 50 per cent are supposed to be “affordable”. Yet according to Brick by Brick’s own figures, fewer than 40 per cent of the builds it has in its pipeline are going to be “affordable”. None will be for social rent.
Of the refurbished house in Chaldon Way, Coulsdon, the council says that it took “three years of complex negotiation” (who knew that offering to buy an unoccupied house ever needed to be “complex”?), and that “last year the owner agreed to allow the property to be renovated by a council-approved registered social housing provider, Cromwood Social.
“Now the house has been extended to become a four-bed property that will be let to a family in council temporary accommodation. The renovation was made possible by a combination of a £25,000 council grant and a £145,000 loan from Cromwood, which will be repaid over the next 10 years through rental income.”
The idea of taking unused private housing stock and putting it to good use is hardly original, yet this demonstrates how more effective, and immediate, it can be in terms of delivery than imposing ugly and intrusive new-build schemes on neighbourhoods, often against opposition from existing residents. In the case of both the renovated houses, the dereliction and decay of the buildings had become an issue for neighbouring properties.
The council is known to have briefed more than one firm of estate agents in the south of the borough to actively seek properties to buy, which might then be used as council homes. Katharine Street sources suggest that the council has made available a multi-million-pound fund for such purchases.
In the case of the houses in Purley and Coulsdon, Abdus Saleh, the project manager at Cromwood Social, said: “We are constantly exploring opportunities to work closely with London councils with a view to providing bespoke housing solutions.
“We believe resurrecting empty properties around London could provide a valuable source of new homes for councils. Cromwood Social has recently launched a £2.5million Empty Property Resurrection Fund for our projects across the country, which is testament to this belief.”
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