Falkirk councillors approve bold housing plan

Falkirk Council intends to make good use of Scottish Government funding to provide more affordable housing
Falkirk Council intends to make good use of Scottish Government funding to provide more affordable housing

Council chiefs are planning to provide nearly 3000 more homes at an affordable rent within the next five years.

The target is key to the latest Local Housing Strategy (LHS) covering the period 2017 to 2022 revealed this week.

Town hall experts predict 591 homes will be required in Falkirk every year up to the end of 2021 to meet need and demand.

The annual breakdown estimates 219 will be needed for social rent, 81 at below market rent, 109 for private rent and 182 for owner-occupiers.

The priority aim is to increase housing numbers across all sectors by a total of 2955 by then to deliver key priorities including providing housing and support to vulnerable groups, tackling fuel poverty, energy efficiency and climate change and improving housing conditions through new build projects and making better use of existing stock.

The previous LHS, which ran from 2011 to 2016 built 928 new homes, including 188 specialist housing properties. In that time, 240 empty homes were also brought back into use and 300 former council houses bought back by the council and made available for rent.

Funding and finding suitable land for new building will have an impact on its ability to meet the demand, but the promise of £33.3 million affordable housing grant from the Scottish Government to be paid over the next three years has allowed the council to ‘raise the bar’ and should give the ambitious programme a flying start.

The ‘buyback’ scheme introduced by the previous Labour-led administration which has seen 300 homes taken back into council ownership already will be continued by the SNP leadership.

An additional 270 properties have already been identified for possible purchase.

The private sector also has a part to play.

Under the terms of the council’s Affordable Housing Policy, developers building 20 houses or more are required to provide a proportion as affordable housing.

They will be expected to work in partnership with the council and make a contribution.

By 2024 the arrangement could provide 763 houses across the district.

Stuart Ritchie, boss of corporate and housing services, presented the 146-page strategy to Falkirk Council’s executive ahead of it being submitted to the Scottish Government for approval.

He told councillors: “Delivering affordable housing is priority number one.”

Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn said: “This is a significant document and the result of a massive amount of work on the part of our officers.

“The supply of affordable housing is key. Social housing is still the tenure of choice and that is unlikely to change within the lifetime of this strategy.”

Housing convener Gordon Hughes said: “I think we can describe the strategy as effective.

“The government has allocated £11.1 million a year for the next three years and this will give us an opportunity to deliver good news to the community.”