David Norbury investigates rents rise for 5,600 homes in Ellesmere Port and Neston
Justin Madders, Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Labour opposition leader, was in a dilemma when revealing rents had soared in Ellesmere Port by 28.5% over the past four years.
On one hand he wished to draw attention to the rise as an increase which was similar to rising gas and electric bills.
On the other, he recognised rent increases were based on a formula introduced by a Labour Government and were required as part of the business plan to improve the 5,600 council homes in the former borough.
But he told the meeting of the council’s Tory-controlled Executive: “I know the business plan requires these above-inflation increases but I added up what the rental increases have been over the last four years and it came out at 28.5%.
“That is quite a considerable amount and clearly if we tried that with the council tax we would be shot down .”
He continued:“Year-on-year above inflation increases do put more pressure on people and as you can see from the report there is talk about keeping the bad debt provision above ordinary levels.
“I think we know the impact of welfare reform and the bedroom tax has caused people difficulties.
“I accept this formula was originally introduced by a Labour Government but there were occasions when the figures produced some quite high increases and they were mitigated against.
“I do think there needs to be some thought in future as to whether these kind of increases are actually sustainable particularly when debt continues to increase.
“If you think about the cost of living and you think about other pressures on people's finances the investment is certainly welcome.
“But 28.5% over four years I think is asking an awful lot of people and we need to look at the programme in future and whether we do have to go to the limit every time.”
Executive member Cllr Herbert Manley (Con) argues the Labour government formula ‘has been working quite successfully ’.
He claims rent levels are still lower than those of many of the housing trusts in the area and added: “We are progressing with the modernisation of the housing stock in Ellesmere Port.
“We are making great inroads into that and we will continue to do so.
Cllr Manley added: “As far as decent home standards are concerned, when we inherited the properties some years ago the non decent homes numbers were quite high.
“In 2011/12 they were 47%, this year they are 35% and the level of decency is 65% compared with 53%.
“By 2016 the non decency standard will be down to 2% and the decency standard will be 98%.
“I think many of our tenants have welcomed our programme and how we have been doing the improvements not only to the outside of the houses but improvements to the inside of the homes so they have better facilities, kitchens and bathrooms as well as having windows, doors and other things done to improve their standard .”
Tory councillors on the then-new borough council were furious when consultants condemned the housing service inherited from the former Ellesmere Port and Neston Borough Council as ‘poor, no star and with poor prospects for improvement’.
At a special meeting they passed a censure motion against the old borough for their ‘mismanagement of social housing’.
CWaC decided to hand a £100m five-year contract to Plus Dane to manage the properties.
Cllr Manley said: “We are dedicated to bringing all of our properties up to an acceptable standard and with the five-year plan in place that figure (for non decent homes) has already reduced to 35% and will continue to go down year on year from now on .
“In the future we hope to see any surplus funding ploughed back into social rented, affordable and low-cost housing to help households, reduce the pressure on waiting lists and help to reduce fuel bills and fuel poverty.”
No increases are proposed for the 601 Lifeline users or in council shop rentals .
The council is planning to spend more than £54m on its council estates .