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'Tale of two cities' - minister visits award-winning social housing estate while 'slums' are being built

PUBLISHED: 18:47 23 September 2019 | UPDATED: 18:52 23 September 2019

The housing minister Esther McVey with councillor Alan Waters at the award-winning Goldsmith Street housing in Norwich. Picture: Neil Didsbury

The housing minister Esther McVey with councillor Alan Waters at the award-winning Goldsmith Street housing in Norwich. Picture: Neil Didsbury

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Housing in Norwich is a "tale of two cities" with office blocks being turned into "slum properties", according to the city council leader.

New housing minister Esther McVey visited the award-winning Goldsmith Street properties in Norwich. Picture: Neil DidsburyNew housing minister Esther McVey visited the award-winning Goldsmith Street properties in Norwich. Picture: Neil Didsbury

It came as housing minister Esther McVey came to the city to visit the award-winning Passivhaus scheme at Goldsmith Street.

The social housing project has been nominated for the prestigious Stirling prize, and Ms McVey said it was "the path we need to take" for the future of housing.

But there are calls for tighter regulation on developers and more freedoms for councils to spend receipts from sales of housing stock.

Norwich City Council leader Alan Waters said: "We need a good council housing stock to help the government deal with the housing crisis.

Goldsmith Street under construction. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYGoldsmith Street under construction. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

"It is a tale of two cities. In one part we have housing of the highest quality and down the other end we are effectively building slum properties where quality is extremely poor."

Ms McVey said existing regulations on developers were adequate and office blocks should be utilised for homes if suitable.

"We are looking at what sort of homes we need for the future, and this is an exemplar. What we will not put up with is inadequate homes.

"We want to look at how best to utilise buildings and that space to live. It may be that something shouldn't be an office space any more because we can utilise that better for new homes.

The housing minister Esther McVey MP with councillor Alan Waters leaving one of the award-winning, low emission Goldsmith Street properties in Norwich. Picture: Neil DidsburyThe housing minister Esther McVey MP with councillor Alan Waters leaving one of the award-winning, low emission Goldsmith Street properties in Norwich. Picture: Neil Didsbury

"We have got to say how do we bring that all up to a standard everyone would want."

Councils are currently only allocated 30pc of receipts from sales of council housing through Right to Buy, and have just three years to spend it.

And Mr Waters said the "prohibitive restrictions" were preventing more developments like Goldsmith Street being built.

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"We are an ambitious council and have a success story here but we could do much more," he said.

"We are also losing more houses to Right to Buy than we are able to build."

Ms McVey said: "We are going to look at [Right to Buy] and see how it is best placed to work. How we get that better and how it works better is up for discussion.

"As we look to build 300,000 more homes they have got to be homes of all types. We have put money into infrastructure and brownfield sites.

"It is about how we apply that equally and equitably across all the homes that have to be built."

She added she is "looking to speed up the process" of house building but said "we have got to understand where are the niggles in that process".

She said the Goldsmith Street project was "extraordinary".

"If the technology is there then this has to be the path we need to take."

Gail Harris, cabinet member for social housing, said she hoped Goldsmith Street would be a "benchmark" for the private sector.

But she said councils were being held back from building on a wider scale.

"Only being able to fund 30pc of a development is a stumbling block, and the pressure on spending the money is really quite acute," she said.

"This is something that can be easily replicated and other local authorities can do it. We would hope this is a benchmark for the private sector."

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