Councillors ‘dismayed’ at Barwell’s restrictions

Call to lift financial restrictions to allow more council houses to be built has been rejected.

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Brighton and Hove city councillors are ‘beyond disappointed’ after housing minister Gavin Barwell knocked back a bid to increase the authority’s housing revenue account through borrowing.

Green councillors, who launched the bid for greater financial freedom, accused the government of carrying out an attack on council housing.

Council chief executive, Geoff Raw, wrote to the government last year asking for the removal of the borrowing cap on the council’s housing revenue account.

This followed a Green notice of motion at full council in October which called for the lifting of the cap and for the authority to retain more of the receipts from the sale of higher valued council housing to allow the authority to build replacements.

The council has edged very close to reaching its cap and is now exploring new methods to build social housing including the £100m joint venture with housing association Hyde and looking to set-up its own housing company to buy properties for council tenants.

Councillors warned around 80 homes a year in the city were removed from the socially rented sector because of right to buy and that ‘many more homes’ would cease to be available if the authority had to sell vacant ‘higher value’ council houses under the regulations of the new Housing and Planning Act.

The motion had been agreed unanimously by all three parties on the council but councillors have now been left “dismayed” at its rejection out of hand by the housing minister.

Barwell wrote that there were no plans to lift the cap because the policy was in line with government aims to reduce the public deficit.

He added councils would be given some flexibility over new policies requiring them to sell higher-value social housing that becomes vacant and would provided one-for-one funding for new housing.

Cllr Phélim MacCafferty, Green convenor, said national policies and council cuts meant housing was rapidly becoming an “extreme challenge” local authorities did not have the tools to address.

He said: “We are beyond disappointed that there are no signals that central government want to help the city ease our housing crisis by allowing us to borrow above the cap in the housing revenue account.”

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