“Those who need it most” will be the people who suffer most from a council’s plans to abandon its home building projects, according to one councillor.
Spelthorne is a Surrey Borough and its main town is Staines-Upon-Thames. Epsom and Ewell Times occasionally publishes reports about other Surrey districts as they enlighten issues all Councils can face and contrast with experience in the Borough of Epsom and Ewell.
Rising interest rates adding £360million to the cost of developments, increased construction costs and reduced building heights have all contributed to the shelving of the council’s projects.
It means Spelthorne Borough Council is likely to halt projects to provide affordable and social housing and homes for key workers in the borough, where there are nearly 4,000 people on the housing register.
The authority had plans for developments at Oast House and Thameside House in Staines, as well as at the White House in Ashford and Benwell House in Sunbury.
Those developments will now be stopped “to protect the council” from the increased costs.
Meeting documents show the council’s group leaders had decided it was not appropriate for the council to “directly bear the risk and additional financial exposure” from increased borrowing to deliver the schemes.
Ashford North and Stanwell South Councillor Sean Beatty (Labour) said his ward was not only one of the poorest in the borough, but in the whole county. He described it as “extremely galling” that whether in the short, medium, or long term the people who would suffer would be those who needed housing.
Cllr Beatty told a meeting of the council’s corporate policy and resources committee on Monday (September 11) that the only people that would build social housing would be the council. He added that in his experience “very, very rarely” would private providers build social housing. He told the meeting: “It really concerns me that the people in Spelthorne who need it the most, are the ones that are going to suffer the most.”
The council will look at various options for the planned schemes, which could include selling the sites or progressing them with other providers. But councillors were warned that the less risk the council took on in each development, in handing over to a private developer, the less control they would have about how the final projects turned out.
Councillor Howard Williams (Independent Spelthorne Group, Staines) questioned how the council should approach the issue. He said: “I don’t think the residents of Staines would be very impressed if we sold the Oast House site to a developer only on the basis that they can shove 15-storey buildings in there and we walk away with the least cost to ourselves.”
Councillors heard it was unlikely to be a “one size fits all” approach, and each site would be looked at in detail, to have options presented to the committee and to council. But the authority’s chief accountant, Paul Taylor, gave a stark warning about the rising interest rates on government-backed loans, as well as the lower heights of projects going through the planning stages that he said had wiped £70million of revenue out. He told councillors: “We must take action now to protect the council.”