Buying Peterborough estate for the homeless ‘makes complete financial sense’ - council leader

St Michael's Gate
St Michael's Gate
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On Monday we announced plans to purchase 72 homes on St Michael’s Gate in Parnwell, writes leader of Peterborough City Council Cllr John Holdich in his weekly column.

It’s a decision we thought long and hard about, after being offered the chance to buy them by current owners Stef and Philips, but it’s one that makes complete sense financially and for the people of our city in housing difficulty and I will tell you why.

Firstly, it allows us to continue offering these homes as temporary accommodation to people in need for many years to come. The alternative would be more expensive bed and breakfast accommodation which doesn’t meet our aspiration to offer everyone their own front door. Since we agreed to lease the properties in 2016 we have been able to provide temporary accommodation to almost 400 families at St Michael’s Gate.

Secondly, it makes good financial sense and immediately saves the council money. Owning these properties rather than leasing them saves £600,000 a year.

Thirdly, if we didn’t choose to buy these homes, someone else would. Perhaps another council with a housing shortage as severe as ours looking for somewhere to place their homeless families, or a developer wanting to redevelop the land.

I understand that councillor Shaz Nawaz, leader of the labour group, has commented about the fact we are paying above the valuation price for these properties. It is true, we are, but for the many good reasons stated above.

We respect and understand the valuation, but we also know that a property’s real value is in fact what someone will pay for it.

Councillor Nawaz has also recommended that we should have bought these properties back in 2016. I’ve got news for him - we never had the chance! The first we knew about them was when we were offered them for rental by Stef and Philips three years ago.

I am pleased to say that we are also setting aside money to install new windows for the residents. Over the past year we’ve made a variety of repairs and modernisations, including new boilers and heating systems in all homes, paid for by the Local Enterprise Advice Partnership (LEAP) fund.

Providing enough homes for everyone in our city has been one of our biggest challenges in recent times, because of the steep and sudden rise in demand. But our homeless strategy is working - we no longer have to house homeless families out of the area and the number of families in B&B accommodation has been reduced from 146 in September 2018 to 73.

But if we don’t act now to purchase one of the largest sites used for temporary accommodation in the city, we risk losing the ground we have worked so hard to gain in recent times.

Last week I spoke about the shock and sadness that myself and many local people have felt following the collapse of city-based travel firm Thomas Cook. Those feelings have been bettered somewhat by the incredible reaction and support of the community.

Several firms have pledged all manner of free support including taxi companies, hairdressers, recruitment agencies and Peterborough United FC.

We will be doing all we can to support affected staff members, signposting them to other jobs and places where they can get help and support.

Yesterday, our partners Opportunity Peterborough held a Jobs Fair at the Town Hall specifically for Thomas Cook staff.

The event was well attended, with 88 exhibitors offering jobs and advice. There was a steady stream of people attending all day and a real upbeat atmosphere.

I remain fully confident that many of those people who have lost their jobs will have transferable skills and will be an asset to other companies in our city.

I have always been a great supporter of apprenticeships and as a council we do all we can to signpost people to opportunities that are available locally.

Apprenticeships offer on-the-job experience along with study and many placements prove to be the foot in the door people need to make progress in their career.

Apprenticeships are not just for manual industries, areas include business administration, customer service, and childcare. You can also start an apprenticeship at any time of year.

Another important thing to note is that apprenticeships aren’t just for young people, at the council there is a 63-year-old taking on an apprenticeship!

The council’s preferred apprenticeship training provider is City College Peterborough, which recently won Apprenticeship Provider of the Year Award at the Peterborough Telegraph’s first ever Apprentice awards night.

I would like to say a big well done to the team there, this accolade is testament to all their hard work.

For information visit www.citycollegepeterborough.ac.uk/apprenticeships/