A south London borough is to set up its own housing development company, building private rented homes as well as affordable housing for local people. The move is one part of a three pronged strategy by the council to get housebuilding going at a faster rate in the borough.
Alongside the development company, Sutton will also start building its own council housing; and it has already launched an initiative to work with the private sector to encourage housing developments locally.
The initiative echoes moves being taken elsewhere in the country, which are seeing councils and local authorities moving to play an increasingly proactive role in housing provision. Birmingham councillors recently approved a feasibility study into the creation of a development company to build open market homes for rent, on the council’s own land. And in Manchester, the city council recently announced it will work with Abu Dhabi investors who already own one of the city’s football teams, to develop sites for housing.
In London and the south east, Sutton is the first authority announcing an active move into development. But it is not alone in seeking to speed up the provision of private rented homes in its patch. Last month, Wandsworth borough approved a project at Nine Elms that will see private housebuilder Bellway deliver open market rental apartments, albeit reserved for local people. In Wandsworth’s case, the deal was made via planning agreements rather than a direct financial intervention.
Sutton says it is going back to building homes directly for the first time since 1989. It has promised a variety of council and open market homes, in a variety of sizes, with rental only open to people who have had a connection with the borough for the previous two years. It is hoping to deploy council borrowed funds at low rates, and bring forward development sites that have been stalled for a variety of reasons.
“There is a huge demand for new homes that isn’t being met in our borough and we are determined to do something about it,” said councillor Jayne McCoy, who heads Sutton’s housing, economy and business committee. “We want to build new council housing and new private housing with a social purpose at its heart. It will give people more choice and a greater chance of getting on or moving up the housing ladder.”
“By being involved in the development of new homes, we can stipulate that they are only for Sutton residents and make sure there is a focus on the housing we want such as family homes, rather than expensive studio flats. We can also ensure high standards of development, generate funds to reinvest in housing and create new employment and training opportunities in the construction sector. It shows what a council can do, despite ongoing government cuts.”
Sites have already been identified for around 140 of the proposed council houses, with Sutton planning a search for development partners this summer. And it says its work to encourage the private sector, under the banner Opportunity Sutton, has already helped bring forward 644 new homes across three sites.