Row over land for affordable housing


Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

A bid to make more land available for affordable and specialist housing for those most in need has been rejected by a council.

The opposition Liberal Democrats on Essex County Council had proposed that when the authority’s own land is up for sale, the default position should be that it should be used to deliver affordable housing and specialist housing for those with additional needs.

But counciillor John Spence said that the position would possibly illegal but also meant that it may not provide the best deal possible for the council.

Proposing the motion, Liberal Democrat councillor Stephen Robinson highlighted the fact that thousands of people on average incomes in Essex cannot afford to rent or buy the home they need.

Mr Robinson said: “Essex has a housing crisis. Not enough homes – to rent or buy – have been built for 30 years.

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“This is a clear example of the market failing to provide what is needed, so government locally and nationally need to act. Vague aims are not enough.”

Liberal Democrat leader Mike Mackrory added: “The Conservative alternative plan removes any real actions. You cannot build houses with warm words.

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“It is also essential that the council commit to delivering homes that are suitable for a whole lifetime, including when people become more frail.”

Essex Housing, ECC’s in-house property developer, was set up to help tackle the housing shortage by redeveloping empty taxpayer-owned buildings and brownfield land at risk of lying empty and drifting into disrepair.

Working with local councils and other public sector bodies including the NHS, the council is spending £42m to speed up the supply of much-needed housing, starting with 32 apartments in Goldlay Gardens, Chelmsford.

The first site to be developed by Essex Housing, the council’s former library storage warehouse has been knocked down to make way for three blocks of one and two-bedroom apartments.

Essex Housing is also currently working on another 32 homes at Waltham Glen in Moulsham Lodge, Chelmsford, and Norton Road, Brentwood, with 379 more homes in the pipeline, more than half of which already have planning permission.

Some 180 are dedicated to older people to help them live independently for longer.

Approved plans include 60 Independent Living properties at a vacant site in Hillhouse, Waltham Abbey, which will include a new swimming pool, leisure centre and GP surgery, while 60 homes are planned at a former NHS site in Coppins Court, Tendring, which closed eight years ago.

There are also plans to redevelop Colchester’s Essex County Hospital into more than 100 homes, once health services relocate to a £6.4m centre.

But Cabinet member Councillor John Spence told the meeting of the full council on Tuesday that assuming land should be used for affordable housing was wrong.

He said: “On the piece about selling off land, yes we will keep it very close to the forefront, but to make it the default position would possibly be illegal.

“Certainly on occasions, it means we do not get the best solution for this council.”

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