Council leader reveals plans for more council houses
Richard Evans, local democracy reporter
The new leader of Denbighshire County Council says he is making affordable housing his priority and plans to build and acquire new council houses.
The plans have emerged following a council report revealing around 180 households in Denbighshire are housed in temporary accommodation every year.
Shockingly, the report also revealed that one family of three even lived in a cellar.
But now leader Cllr Jason McLellan says he plans to reinvest council funds into building affordable homes and acquiring new council houses.
“Housing is something that is very important to me,” he said.
“I was Labour’s candidate for the Vale of Clwyd during the last election. I lost by 300 votes. I stood on the platform on (and spoke about) Labour’s manifesto to build 20,000 affordable, low-carbon, sustainable homes, and I want Denbighshire to have its fair share of that.
“I used to work for a member of parliament and a member of the assembly. I saw cases of people in poor housing, people in inadequate housing, and people waiting too long while they were on the housing list.
“I want us to be creative and use the (council’s) housing revenue account to acquire properties. It is a challenge building property because there is always (the question) of where they are going to go. Sometimes there is local pushback with planning applications, which is understandable. You have to find the right location.”
He added: “We want to work with social housing to provide homes for couples, small families, and single people.
“Private rents are very high because housing is at a premium. If we have more social housing there, that has a knock-on effect, and more homes become available. Housing and addressing homelessness are an absolute priority for me.
“Denbighshire does have existing housing stock, and due to changes in recent years with Welsh Government funding, we can retain rents from that to reinvest in the housing revenue account, which frees up money to build housing and improve our existing housing stock. We want to be creative around how we use that and address this issue of poor housing and homelessness.
“I will sit down with the housing officers and look at how we can use funding creatively to address these issues.”
When asked how many homes Denbighshire needed to build or acquire over the next few years, Cllr McLellan said: “I can’t give you an exact figure. We have to look at where housing is and at the waiting list, look at what we can do in terms of what’s out there on the market to acquire, what we can do in terms of working with social landlords, and what we’ve got in the pot to build. So I can’t give you an exact figure now, but those are the conversations we are going to have – and look at the targets and meet those needs.”
Cllr McLellan says he has added new responsibilities to the cabinet member for housing’s (Cllr Rhys Thomas) portfolio to specifically deal with homelessness.
Cllr McLellan said his plans were at an early stage but claimed Denbighshire’s previous regime had ‘failed to grasp the nettle’ and deal with the problem of a lack of affordable housing.
“I moved the cabinet portfolios around. So previously homelessness didn’t even sit with the chief member for housing, so I put addressing homelessness in the portfolio of the lead member for housing because the two go hand in hand,” he said.
“It is easy to blame the administration before you, and I don’t want to get into mudslinging. I think they could have been a bit more creative.
There could have been more grasping of the nettle. I look across the border in Flintshire, and over the period when the Welsh Government allowed local authorities to pay more money to build housing, Flintshire led on that and actually built council houses in that period when Denbighshire didn’t.
They (Denbighshire) looked at the existing stock and fixed what was there. That’s all well and good, but I felt the nettle should have been grasped and houses should have been built, and I want to address that in this term.”
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Well done to Cllr McLellan for being the first Welsh leader who can actually see how to address the problems we have unlike his Plaid counterpart in Gwynedd who basically lives in cloud cuckoo land thinking everything will be solved by blaming second home owners.
The decision to build council homes is partly a response to the housing shortage/unaffordability caused by the increase in second homes.