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Lib Dems call on East Herts Conservatives to build council houses

East Herts Conservatives have rejected a plea from Bishop's Stortford Liberal Democrats to combat the district's homelessness "emergency" by building council houses.

At the latest meeting of the full Tory-controlled district council, opposition members Cllrs Mione Goldspink, leader of the East Herts Lib Dem group, and Terence Beckett failed to secure support for a motion highlighting the shortage of social housing available to families on the lowest incomes.

They said: "There are 2,000 families on the housing 'waiting list' and the prices being charged for so-called affordable homes are way beyond the reach of many, many people in our community."

According to the Office for National Statistics, in England and Wales in 2018, on average full-time workers could expect to pay an estimated 7.8 times their annual work earnings to buy a home. In East Herts, the figure was 12.4.

Tenants in 'affordable' housing pay up to 80% of the private market rental rate, while social housing tenancies are only 60-65%.

Cllr Goldspink said that the number of people on East Herts Council's housing register had been constant for the past five years, proving the current system was not easing the situation.

East Herts does not have its own council homes; across the district, housing associations act as landlords for those tenants not in private rental property, controlling 8,005 residential units.

Cllr Goldspink said that while the council's policy was that new developments should provide 40% affordable housing, the most up-to-date annual records showed 182 (29.6%) were constructed.

She said: "This sounds pretty good, but when you look at the totals, 63% were affordable rent, 37% were shared ownership and 0% were for social rent.

"Not one single home for social rent – we did nothing to provide homes for the people in our community on the lowest salaries. We should be able to provide homes for everyone in our community. This is a housing emergency."

The Lib Dems wanted the council to build homes on new developments like Stortford Fields and St Michael's Hurst rather than allow any slippage in the commitment to 40% affordable homes.

Cllr Goldspink called on the administration to consult councils which have built their own homes to see if East Herts could do the same.

Cllr Peter Boylan, EHC's executive member for neighbourhoods, said the council's housing register was not a waiting list and also included tenants hoping to move. Almost half of those on the list are single people or couples hoping for a one-bedroom property, rather than families.

He added that while neighbouring Stevenage and Welwyn Hatfield district councils had their own housing stock, their lists of those waiting for a home were longer. East Herts' list had remained stable despite a growing population.

Cllr Boylan said that he was not able to support the Lib Dem motion because it was too narrowly framed, but he said he had commissioned a "detailed report to best understand all options to extend the range of social housing available in East Herts".

Newly-built homes are estimated to be significantly less affordable than existing ones.

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