We’ve beaten right to buy, claims County Durham housing association

A County Durham housing association says it has helped overturn the loss of social homes through Right to Buy for the first time since the 1980s.

Right to buy was introduced by the Government in 1980 and has been dogged by controversy ever since for its role in depleting the nation’s stock of social – predominantly council – housing. It was revamped by David Cameron’s Conservative-led coalition government in 2012, with the promise that homes sold would be replaced on a one-to-one basis, but this never materialised in practice.

In County Durham, the policy has seen the loss of thousands of homes that would otherwise have been available for future tenants to rent, but Believe Housing claims it has managed to “buck the trend” across the majority of the county for the first time thanks to an “innovative” construction programme.

The housing association says it is now on course to complete more than 125 new “affordable” homes in the 2019-20 financial year, with Right to Buy sales running at just under that level.

Work already committed for the 2020-21 financial year should see Believe Housing’s newbuild programme “comfortably” outstrip right to buy sales, with further growth in the pipeline, it said.

“For nearly 40 years housing organisations have been grappling with the aftermath of right to buy, with a reduction in the number of homes we can provide to those who need them most. But now, for the first time, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel and begin to really tackle the housing crisis,” said Bill Fullen, Believe Housing’s chief executive.

“This turnaround to building more affordable homes than are being lost is a really important crossroad for housing in County Durham. It’s taken many years of hard work to get here, but it’s work that will mean that scores more families in communities across the area will have access to an affordable and secure home.”

According to Believe Housing, the change in fortunes is the result of a £70 million investment in constructing new properties. The programme, unlike many others, has been designed to focus on smaller sites where shorter turnaround times can be achieved. A mix of family homes and wheelchair adaptable bungalows are being built, with work on nine sites currently underway. The approach also has the benefit of creating new homes in a wider range of communities.

Fullen added: “Our construction programme is different from most in that we haven’t only been interested in the raw numbers; we’ve been working with local communities to help decide what is best for the long term. That’s why we’ve chosen to build on so many smaller sites and develop our work organically, which is really paying off. It’s the kind of approach that only a not-for-profit housing association can take.”

Construction has been gathering pace since the 700-home programme was launched in 2017. Already communities including Bishop Auckland, Crook and Rookhope have seen the construction of new homes, with work underway in Bowburn, Peterlee and Seaham too.

Around 45 sites will receive new homes by the time the current programme is completed in 2022.

Many of the homes being delivered have received funding from the Homes England Affordable Homes Programme. Believe Housing is backing the Northern Housing Consortium’s #OurNorth campaign calling for the government to expand the support offered for affordable home construction in the North of England.


Main Image: Bill Fullen, chief executive of Believe Housing, at one of the organisation’s recently completed developments in Crook.


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