Affordable housing plan welcomed

By Danielle Nuttall and Roddy AshworthCAMPAIGNERS gave a cautious welcome last nightto plans to tackle the country's lack of affordable homes, but pleaded with the Government not to ignore the East.

By Danielle Nuttall and Roddy Ashworth

CAMPAIGNERS gave a cautious welcome last nightto plans to tackle the country's lack of affordable homes, but pleaded with the Government not to ignore the East.

Thousands of new affordable homes - possibly costing as little as £60,000 - will be built on Government-owned land under a first-time buyer initiative, it was announced yesterday.

There are also moves to provide up to 300,000 council and housing association tenants the chance to buy a share in their home.

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The announcement came days after a report revealed first-time buyers were being priced out of the market in all of the region's 21 towns.

Wil Gibson, chief executive of rural charity Suffolk Acre, welcomed the seriousness with which the Government was treating the issue, but said the new developments must be spread evenly through the country.

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“We do welcome the Government giving it more attention, but in terms of what that means, we need to ensure for the likes of Suffolk, whatever benefits are given, it's spread widely across rural counties and not concentrated in just growth areas,” he added.

“There is a lot of concentration now in terms of growth areas, which is the M11 corridor in East Anglia. If that's primarily the focus for it, it's not going to help people in Suffolk.

“If you are a key worker at Ipswich Hospital, you're not going to go to Thurrock to buy an affordable house. The key thing for us is that distribution needs to be spread all over the country.”

The proposals are at the heart of the Government's new five-year housing strategy aimed at enabling more people to get a home of their own.

Announcing the plans yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said a further 80,000 families would be helped to get a foot on the property ladder by 2010.

Anglia Housing Group, which has 11,000 homes across East Anglia and East London, broadly welcomed the move, but said new low-cost housing should not be built at the expense of investment in affordable rented housing for people in need.

Kassie Malnyk, group head of housing, said: “Extra support for those priced out of the first-time buyers market is important.

“In our region, we have found that we have to look at selling shared ownership at flexible proportions, often under 50%, especially where houses are being valued above £200,000.

“However, it is vital that any additional new housing for first-time buyers should not be at the expense of rented housing for homeless, vulnerable or other people in housing need.”

Tim Young, chairman of Colchester Borough Homes, an organisation set up to run the council's housing stock, said he broadly welcomed the announcement. “Anything that goes to address the lack of affordable housing, particularly in the Eastern region and the South-East has to be welcomed - and there is an acute shortage in Colchester,” he added.

“We need to look in detail at the Deputy Prime Minister's announcement, but on the face of it, it would seem a worth proposal.”

Simon Walsh, the Braintree District Council cabinet member with responsibility for housing, said: “The principle is very sound.

“Braintree District Council has been ensuring there are a number of affordable homes for many years and we try to get them on-stream when larger developments happen.

“So, in a sense it's not a new concept, but this will probably mean more significant numbers.

“As a district council we can only come up with so many. Although we are part way there, as with most things like this demand outstrips supply.”

Mr Prescott said successive Governments had failed to tackle the widening wealth gap, which had priced millions of people out of home ownership.

He added while house prices were 3.5 times people's salary 10 years ago, they were now six times annual salary.

Mr Prescott announced £40 million to promote sustainable communities and regeneration.

He said there would be further encouragement for the development of brownfield land, with new planning guidance to help councils release unwanted employment land for new housing.

The annual Halifax First Time Buyer Review, published last week, showed that homes in all 21 of the region's towns were unaffordable for people looking to take the first step on the housing ladder last year.

East Anglia was one of just four areas in the country to face such a problem as the average house price for first-time buyers soared to £132,543 - a 15% leap from 2003.

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