Redbridge housing budget passed by council

Redbridge Council’s budget for housing after failing the Government’s “delivery test” passed unanimously, but not without heated argument.

The new cabinet member for housing, announced in January this year, said the council “is going above and beyond” and plans to deliver 1,000 affordable homes in Redbridge by 2022.

The Conservative group, despite supporting the budget, argued the council was “failing to deliver” and was “one of the worst performing councils in the country”.

This year, a council-owned company Roding Homes, set up in 2019, is expected to become “fully operational” and start letting homes to hundreds of homeless residents.

New cabinet member Cllr Vanisha Solanki (Fullwell) told a full council meeting on February 25 that housing is “one of the most important aspects” of the service the council provides.

She said: “In Hainault, we have 28 affordable homes set to be completed in March, 81 in Chigwell to be completed in April.

“We continue to move residents out of temporary accommodation and into stable new homes of high quality and design. This administration is going above and beyond.”

Conservative group leader Cllr Linda Hugget (Monkhams) said her members supported the proposed housing budget but feared the council was not building fast enough.

She said: “We are concerned that the council is failing at the current time to deliver. I urge the new cabinet member to start delivering on your housing promises.

“We received £20 million in funding from the Greater London Authority to help with our housing shortage which has still not been used and, if not used soon, will have to be returned.”

In January, Redbridge Council failed the Government’s “housing delivery test” after building 1,929 homes in the last three years, less than two thirds of the amount needed according to the London Plan.

Cllr Huggett suggested the housing department may have suffered from a lack of leadership while the cabinet role was empty for months and after “experienced staff were made redundant”.

Council leader, Cllr Jas Athwal, replied that he was “disappointed” Cllr Huggett would present staff leaving “as some sort of suspicious slur” and that previous operational director, Jackie Odunoye, had simply retired.

Cllr Jyotsna Islam (Lab, Aldborough) argued the council’s poor housing record was actually caused by “the previous Conservative administration”.

She said: “Their lack of ambition to build new council homes led us to this situation. We have over 2,500 families in temporary accommodation.”

Analysis by housing charity Shelter revealed councils across England were paying almost £1 billion a year on temporary accommodation and sometimes spending hundreds per person.

Later this year, Redbridge’s new council-owned company Roding Homes, set up in 2019, will start renting to the homeless, allowing the council to spend less with third-party providers.

The council has set aside £140 million in its budget for Roding Homes, half to buy 300 properties and half to loan to the company over the next three years.

Deputy Conservative leader Cllr Howard Berlin (Fairlop) objected to Labour councillors “blaming the Conservatives”, adding his party “left office seven years ago”. 

He said: “The issues with (our) housing are design, density and location. Look what’s happened recently with Little Gearies, it’s an awful development that’s gone down very badly.”

Cllr Athwal replied, “there is no right place and there is no right design”, adding: “Wherever this administration has tried to build, he has popped up to try to create issues and rile up residents.”

Like neighbouring Waltham Forest, Redbridge Council also voted to increase council rents and service charges for its residents.

Although Cllr Judith Garfield (Lab, Barkingside) said she was “glad to see that these have been kept as small as possible”, more than half of surveyed council tenants said the increase would cause them “financial hardship”.

Council rents will rise by 1.5 per cent and a report for the council noted that “a number of residents expressed their concern about the financial pressure facing tenants at the moment”.

It adds: “Members are asked to note that for those tenants in receipt of housing benefit, their benefit should be increased to take account of the increase in rent.”

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter