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Camden is only London borough to increase council housing through Right to Buy

Cllr Theo Blackwell at the new council housing development in Lismore Circus, Gospel Oak. Picture: Nigel Sutton. Cllr Theo Blackwell at the new council housing development in Lismore Circus, Gospel Oak. Picture: Nigel Sutton.

Friday, August 29, 2014
10:58 AM

Camden is blazing a trail for social housing as the only borough in London to have built more council homes in the last two years than have been sold, according to new figures.

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Since 2012, Camden Council has started building 205 new council homes, having offloaded 139 of its properties to tenants in the same period through the government’s Right to Buy scheme, first pioneered by Margaret Thatcher in 1980 and re-launched by the current Conservative government in 2012.

The investment has led to a net gain of 66 council homes in Camden over the last two years.

Meanwhile, Barnet, Haringey and Westminster councils have sold more than 500 council houses between them and built not a single new home through Right to Buy.

The figures have been seen as an endorsement of Camden’s flagship scheme to boost social housing by selling out of date and underused council-owned buildings to generate money to invest in new homes, schools and community facilities, known as the Community Investment Programme.

Cllr Theo Blackwell, Camden’s cabinet member for finance and technology policy, said: “Tackling the housing crisis is residents’ number one concern.

“Camden is leading the way in London and England in building quality new council homes for rent. Thirty-one per cent of all council house starts in London are in Camden.”

Camden is currently three years into the 15-year Community Investment Programme and hopes to raise £300million to build 450 new council homes that will be offered to people on the council house waiting list.

But Cllr Blackwell warned that despite the net gain in housing over the last two years, private landlords were exploiting the Right to Buy scheme.

“Right to Buy is not going to solve the borough’s housing crisis,” he said. “It just means there are fewer homes to house people on the ever-growing housing waiting list.

“A fifth of the Right to Buy homes in Camden are landlords charging extortionate private rents and often people living there are being supported by the taxpayer.”

The Right to Buy scheme allows council tenants who have lived in council homes for five years to buy their property from local authorities at a discount of up to £102,700 in London.

The government requires councils to use receipts from sales to build new homes within three years.

Cllr Blackwell said the scheme was “good for those families that are able to do this” but stressed that Right to Buy takes money away from local authorities.

“Central government loves Right to Buy because it gets three-quarters of the receipts,” he said.

“We build the homes through borrowing, and the receipts from the sale of homes get distributed in a ratio of one part to the council and three parts to central government.”

Housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis said “critics of Right to Buy are enemies of home ownership” and insisted the policy was “increasing housing supply and reducing waiting lists”, despite the damning London-wide figures.

A Westminster Council spokesman said Right to Buy receipts would be used to “deliver 91 new affordable homes in a scheme that is due to begin early next year”

A Barnet Council spokesman said the authority was “committed” to building 40 news homes, funded in part by Right to Buy receipts, by March 2016.

A Haringey Council spokesman: “We are currently considering the best way to invest receipts from Right to Buy sales in projects that will bring forward more affordable housing in Haringey.”

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