Thu, 03 Aug 2017
WEST Berkshire Council has been accused of “letting down local residents” as new figures show the cash-strapped local authority is failing to get anywhere near to meeting its affordable housing target.
With affordable homes desperately needed across the district, the local authority revealed in a new report that just 13 units had been completed in the final quarter of 2016/17.
The council has now admitted it will need to revise its annual completion rate if it intends to hit its affordable homes goal by 2020.
Liberal Democrat councillor Lee Dillon told members of the council’s executive committee last Thursday that the local authority had a “long, long way to go to even be half as good as it wanted to be”.
In total, 166 affordable homes were built in 2016/17, eight more than the previous year, however the council had set an annual target of 200.
This will now need to be increased to 225 in order to reach its target of 1,000 by 2020.
The council report revealed that the local authority is also missing its targets in other areas, including council tax and business rates collection, adult social care, processing benefit claims and affordable housing completions.
As a result, members of the council’s executive committee resolved to refer the worst performing areas to its Overview and Scrutiny Management Commission (OSMC) to help look at ways to improve.
Speaking at the executive meeting, Mr Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North) said: “In terms of the recommendations in the report, we’re in support for the affordable housing and council business rates going to OSMC for greater scrutiny and hopefully through that come up with solutions to improve those outcomes.
“You say they are tough targets to meet – they may be tough targets to hit, but, in particular, the affordable housing target has been missed by so far, that even if you halved that target you’d still be half way from meeting it.
“So, for me, it’s quite clear on affordable housing we’ve still got a long, long way to go to even be half as good as it wanted to be.”
In response leader of council, Graham Jones, (Con, Lambourn Valley) said: “What we want to do is to move these targets forward.
“It would be very easy for us to set targets we could hit, but it wouldn’t be stretching the organisation.
“Yes, the housing target was ambitious, but I’m quite happy to work with you to help realise that we have to accept that some of it might be down to market conditions.”
Members of the executive also heard how the council had successfully exceeded its self-set targets in a number of areas such as safeguarding children and vulnerable adults, communities helping themselves, good state of repair for roads, child protection, bin collection and street cleaning.
In total, the council hit its targets in 30 of 44 areas.
Following the meeting, however, Mr Dillon remained critical of the Conservative-led council, asking how it expects to hit affordable homes targets having even failed to secure any affordable housing units on land it had given to developers for the Market Street Urban Village.
He said: “The Conservatives are hitting targets on services that are contracted out, like bin collections, but areas where they have control are seeing them failing local residents.
“The poor performance on providing affordable housing is of little surprise given that even when they give away land that they own they don’t insist on the required level of affordable housing being provided.
“If they don't do it with their own land how can we expect developers to also step up to the fix the housing crisis?”