Westminster: Council leader pledges to ‘double’ affordable housebuilding with lifting of borrowing cap

Westminster: Council leader pledges to ‘double’ affordable housebuilding with lifting of borrowing cap

Westminster Council’s “affordable” home building programme could be increased to at least 4,000 new dwellings when the government lifts its restrictions on local authorities’ freedom to borrow for building, Westminster leader Nickie Aiken has said.

Speaking on the Sunday Politics London yesterday, Aiken described Westminster’s current plans to “deliver about 2,000” new affordable homes “by 2023” as “the largest council home building project for a generation” and that the Prime Minister’s announcement during her speech to the Conservative Party conference last week that the cap on council borrowing will be lifted means “we’re going to double that, so we’ll be looking at another 2,000 at least.”

Conservative-run Westminster’s current target is 1,850 “affordable” homes by 2023, many of which are planned as part of the redevelopment of the Church Street area in the north of the borough, east of Edgware Road. The regeneration scheme there received permission in December to build 1,750 dwellings in all, of which “more than half” will be “affordable,” the council says. However, existing homes will be demolished to make way for the new. The Church Street masterplan report mentions the “reprovision” of 306 of them (see page 12).

In February, one site within the Church Street scheme area, adjoining Marylebone Station, was given the go-ahead for 171 new homes, including 43 new social rented home and 19 for “intermediate rent”. Fourteen of the 43 for social rent are to be part of the re-provision of those to be lost elsewhere. In August, approval was given for a further 77 new dwellings across three separate sites. The council said that 35% of these would be “affordable”, comprising an unspecified mix of “affordable” types, including “intermediate homes for key workers” and social rented units.

Aiken has reportedly been speaking at council meetings about upping the council’s affordable target since before May’s council elections, but without setting out in detail how they would be paid for. However, a lifting of the borrowing cap is likely to create substantial scope for Westminster to raise housing finance, due to the very high value of its “prime central” portfolio.

Responding to Aiken’s comments on Sunday Politics London, Councillor Adam Hug, leader of Westminster’s Labour Group, said he “warmly welcomes” the government “finally adopting Labour’s policy” of raising the cap, although he added that “we await what strings the Treasury attaches”. Describing Westminster’s track record of building the social and “genuinely affordable homes” as “abysmal”, he said it is “imperative” that new, additional funding should be focussed on addressing overcrowding and Westminster’s temporary accommodation backlog rather than the “higher-end intermediate homes that Westminster often focusses on.”

Last month, Westminster announced that it is bringing its “arms-length” housing organisation CityWest Homes back in house following a critical report it commissioned in response to a number of concerns raised by residents.

Image: Church Street market. Watch Nickie Aiken on Sunday Politics London via BBC iPlayer from the very start of the programme. 

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