Council house increase calls rejected due to expense of retrofitting

East Suffolk Council's cabinet says it needs to focus on making the existing 4,500 council homes net carbon zero 

East Suffolk Council's cabinet says it needs to focus on making the existing 4,500 council homes net carbon zero - Credit: East Suffolk Council

Calls to consider upping the number of new build council homes in East Suffolk have been rejected as a result of cost pressures on work to retrofit existing properties.

East Suffolk Council has a target of 50 new council homes per year, but the authority’s scrutiny committee in September asked for that to be reviewed by commissioning a business case to double that to 100.

That recommendation was rejected by the council’s cabinet on Tuesday night, as its programme of upgrades to the existing 4,500 council homes to make them net carbon zero was the focus.

And it is not yet clear how much of the Housing Revenue Account pot of funds would be needed for that work.

However Richard Kerry, Conservative cabinet member for housing, stressed that refusal was only for the time being.

East Suffolk Council cabinet member for housing, Richard Kerry

East Suffolk Council cabinet member for housing, Richard Kerry, stressed refusing a business case for an increase in the number of new build council homes was for "the time being" - Credit: Paul Nixon/East Suffolk Council

“I understand the aspiration for East Suffolk to commit to building additional affordable housing units but there are a number of other factors we need to consider before we can produce a business case such as the one requested by scrutiny committee,” he said.

“In July 2019 East Suffolk Council voted unanimously to step up its positive work on the environmental issues to tackle the issue of climate change.

"As part of this work East Suffolk Council needs to consider the energy efficiency of its 4,500 Housing Revenue Account-owned properties.

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“The level of work and investment required in this is not yet fully understood. The work is underway to try and understand the true scale and costs of this issue, however it is without doubt going to be a considerable expense.”

The cabinet said the expense and officer time spent on preparing a business plan for increased council housebuilding the cabinet would then reject would not be productive.

Conservative chairman of the scrutiny committee, Stuart Bird, said that producing a business plan would “quantify the impact and costs of increasing the target” and said the housebuilding target should be “challenging and ambitious”. 

Councillors welcomed the plans for the 61-home redevelopment of the former Deben High School site in Felixstowe to include 42 affordable, but Labour councillor Mike Deacon said there were 400 families in Felixstowe waiting for those homes.

He added: “We owe it to those families across the district to at least look into a business plan to solve the problem."

David Beavan from the Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent group said: “You can’t trust the Conservatives to keep their promises. The cabinet member for housing promised five years ago to increase the council’s social homes from 4,479 homes to more than 5,100 by 2023. There were less, at 4,457 in March 2020.”

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