County wants to keep its housing stock

FLINTSHIRE councillors have voted to try to retain the authority’s 7,500 council houses rather than hand them over to a trust or housing association.

County council officers will open negotiations with the Welsh Assembly after councillors voted by 38 to eight to fight to keep its housing stock.

This was despite warnings the move would not be viable under existing regulations and would be risky with a massive cash shortfall to bring the houses up to scratch.

Flintshire will be the first of the 22 authorities in Wales to try to negotiate drastic rule changes to secure more money from the Assembly.

For the past 12 months, a panel of seven tenants, seven union representatives and seven councillors has been poring over facts and figures relating to the future of the authority’s housing stock.

They voted to hand over the properties to a ‘social landlord’ – either a housing trust or association.

But the council overwhelmingly rejected the recommendation.

The county faces an estimated bill of £126m to bring the 7,500 houses, flats and pensioners’ bungalows up to the Welsh housing quality standard (WHQS) by the 2012 deadline set by the Assembly.

Council leader Aaron Shotton described the vote as the most momentous ever taken by the authority.

Like every Welsh council, Flintshire has to present the Assembly Government with a 30-year housing programme showing how it can finance the improvements demanded.

But councillor after councillor slammed the current system. They claimed it was ‘unfair’ and ‘not a level playing field’ which is forcing councils to opt for balloting tenants to accept transferring council houses to a ‘social landlord’ – a trust or housing association.

Councils keep only 25% of the proceeds if a council house is sold. Social landlords can keep 100%.

Any rent set above Assembly guidelines means councils keep only 40p of every £1 in rent – social landlords would keep 100%.

To achieve the quality standards, Flintshire is £280m short over 30 years.

Acting housing boss Neal Cockerton said: ‘It is the officers’ collective professional advice that the option to retain the housing stock is not viable or achievable under the current legislative and funding framework available to the council.’

Officers acknowledged it was feasible if the rules were changed.

Liberal Democrats Ray Dodd, David Clayton and Robin Baker questioned why Flintshire believed it would wrestle concessions out of the Assembly when no other Welsh authority had succeeded.

Retention of council houses risked tenants getting poorer service and staff redundancies, they claimed, and felt it more democratic to put the issue to a vote of tenants.

But Cllr Terry Renshaw said the council also had a duty to the 5,500 people on its housing waiting lists.