Homelessness in Peterborough could grow fears councillor

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Steve Lane, Werrington First councillor:

I was homeless when I first came to Peterborough in 1984, due to a European adventure that went wrong.

The Lane family lived below the poverty line but in a very short time, and with thanks to Peterborough City Council, we were soon on the path to recovery with a roof over our heads.

Fortunately for us, times were different in those days, and Peterborough’s house building was in full swing. The council gave us a new council house in Werrington. The property was an empty shell, but we had no problem with that, just being so grateful that help was available when we needed it most.

I know that everybody’s circumstances are different, but these days most problems would probably be due to welfare reforms and a greater tax burden on landlords who are pulling out of the market.

It is sad to say that regardless of reasons for anyone being at risk of becoming homeless, we may soon witness a growing number of cries for help. I worry there may be more problems for the council resulting from the roll-out of the Homelessness Reduction Act. There may be the potential for further budget pressures with additional claimants because of the responsibilities under the Act.

The total homeless households in the city grew to 328 in 2017, but my concern is it could get worse before things get better.

However, the council is already acting by considering a number of options to ease this burden, and at this stage, I must congratulate the Leader, Cllr Holdich and the Cabinet Member for Housing, Cllr Hiller, and their officers, for taking the lead on seeking a solution from other local councils’ experiences. This news offers hope that there may be a change in the wind through plans to improve the current level of temporary homes in Peterborough.

Over the past few months they have been looking at effective ways of providing affordable homes in terms of cost, quality and speed of construction. They have acknowledged that as the fourth fastest growing city in the country, the need to build new homes is an urgent one, but to meet this demand the council may have to take a step back in time. The thinking seems to be that to provide homes for the needy with the urgency it deserves, we need to learn from the post-war era when prefab homes helped to solve the country’s housing crisis.

I feel the quick fix for Peterborough may be something similar, although today they are better known as modular homes - houses built off-site, then transported to a location and assembled there. They are proving to be increasingly popular and offer a number of benefits including being cheaper and quicker to build than conventional homes. A factory-built home will also suit the city’s standing as an environment capital because the production line precision means the homes will be extremely airtight, which improves their energy efficiency.

A growing number of local authorities up and down the country are going down this route, and it is becoming clear that from industry to policymakers, there is growing interest in off-site-built housing as a possible solution to the UK’s critical housing shortage. The industry appears well-placed to create a new revolution in social housing, and with the right choice for Peterborough, that business growth could help to pave the way for job-creation at a much-needed time for the working population. Could the answer be closer to home than we realise? Only time will tell. Frankly, I believe that any deal for Peterborough needs to be created as soon as possible, because if we don’t do it quickly then there are others waiting to pounce, and foreign firms will pour in and we’ll have lost a local industry. There are many reasons to keep ahead of the game. There is health and wellbeing, housing and employment, amongst others, but to kickstart anyone’s chance of improving their lot the council must be in a stronger position to get the ball rolling.