Three councils are looking at taking the first steps to set up an independent housing development company which will generate income by developing a range of homes both for sale and for rent in West Suffolk. The councils will use the income to help deliver services. The three partner councils are Forest Heath, St Edmundsbury and Suffolk County Council.
Cllr Sara Mildmay-White, lead councillor for Housing for the West Suffolk councils (Forest Heath District and St Edmundsbury Borough) said,
“West Suffolk councils working together with the county council gives access to more land, skills and finance, which will result in greater benefits for those looking for a home locally in West Suffolk. As far as we know, this housing development company would be the first time a county council and districts have pooled their expertise to build more homes and it is certainly among the first to involve rural councils. It illustrates the shift in mindset across Suffolk’s public sector.”
The traditional approach taken by councils in the past has been simply to sell land for housing, bringing in a one-off capital receipt. If instead the councils sell land to the housing development company, they get the receipt plus interest on any money lent to the company, the money made when the houses are sold and the on-going rental income. Added to this is the greater certainty that a site will be developed, rather than being left vacant by a developer.
Cllr Mildmay-White explained,
“This new commercial operation will help to build much needed homes in line with local demands and needs. It will deliver a mix of homes for sale and for rent as well as supplying 30 per cent of the homes at affordable rents or at prices aimed at the first time buyer. Selling and renting out homes will provide the councils with an income to support other services as Government funding reduces.”
The housing development company concept is part of the West Suffolk Housing Strategy, approved October 2014, which includes a comprehensive range of measures to deliver appropriate types of housing in the area, such as bringing empty homes back into use, closer working with private landlords and encouraging housing associations to make better use of their properties.
Cllr Mildmay-White continued,
"As local housing authorities, the borough and district councils know that the private sector isn’t delivering the amount or range of housing needed in the area. All three partners are forming this company now because housing underpins economic growth and community wellbeing; and also because there is a sound financial case.”
The matter is being discussed by a joint meeting of the two West Suffolk Cabinets on 27 October. The partners’ final decisions will be taken at Suffolk County Council Cabinet on 10 November and at a meeting of the two West Suffolk councils on 17 November.
If approved, building could start in 2016.