Massive housing changes planned

Falkirk Council could start buying homes back
Falkirk Council could start buying homes back

Falkirk Council has announced radical plans to help tackle its social housing shortage.

It could soon be buying back ex-local authority homes to add to its housing stock and ease the chronic waiting list for homes.

Currently over 9500 people are waiting for a council house in the Falkirk area – in 2011 just 1230 properties were let, with an average of 25 properties becoming available each week.

At a meeting of the council’s housing and social care committee, members opted to continue with plans to buy back 100 council houses from the market.

Councillors heard the cost of building a new home had reached £100,000 compared to the possibility of them buying back a house for as little as £50,000.

Committee convener Councillor Gerry Goldie said: “While the number of properties being bought through right-to-buy is decreasing, we still have a large gap in certain areas of suitable housing.

“This idea will go some way to help increase the availability of suitable housing that is so much in demand by individuals and families.”

Since the right-to-buy scheme was introduced by the Conservative government in 1984, with discounts encouraging tenants to purchase, Falkirk Council’s housing stock has plummeted by 46 per cent. The number of three-bedroom properties available has fallen by 60 per cent.

The plan to buy back ex-council houses was met with questions from SNP councillors, who questioned whether the scheme could be exploited and why private sector homes would not be considered.

Councillor Colin Chalmers said: “By buying back the properties, we are paying market price for properties that were sold with a heavy discount.

“I question the fairness and transparency of the scheme.”

Purchasing 100 homes by 2014 would cost between £7-10 million and a consultation with tenants and residents’ associations will now begin.

In addition to buying back homes for their current market value, Falkirk Council plans to build 86 new properties over the next three years and will use more private landlords for emergency housing.

There are already 48 private flats and houses being used to provide accommodation since the scheme was introduced last year. The council hopes to increase the number of properties to 100.

The plan has already eased the local authority’s bed and breakfast bill from £30,000 per week to £1000.

Depute convenor Allyson Black said: “It is good to see that this incentive has reduced weekly costs.

“This also gives homeless people a more comfortable environment to live in while waiting on a permanent home and is especially important for families in crisis.”

At the same meeting the committee agreed with recommendations from officers to support a restriction on the right to buy scheme.

The Scottish Government is asking for views on reforming the law in Scotland. Falkirk Council voted with an option to make further restrictions and move those already with the right to buy to a modernised scheme, capping their discount to a maximum of 15 per cent.