This week we learnt the unwelcome news that Barnet Council has bought a number of homes in Peterborough to let and manage as temporary social housing for their homeless families, writes leader of Peterborough City Council, cllr John Holdich.
As council leader this is immensely frustrating as it will place additional demands on our schools, health services and other resources. It will also lead to increased pressure on the the first-time buyers market.
What’s more, as Barnet Council bought the homes through its housing provider Barnet Homes, it has no legal obligation to tell us about its plans. And as yet it hasn’t - we only know of its intentions thanks to the Peterborough Telegraph.
Interestingly, we have since learnt that officers at the London borough did agree to forewarn and engage with us during a meeting in May to mitigate what they saw as a potentially unpopular decision. Unfortunately, this never materialised.
The issue we face is that Peterborough is now seen as a low cost housing solution for many London Borough councils. Suitable homes in the city can be picked up at a fraction of the cost of a similar property in London. Sadly, the trend for London Borough councils looking for cheaper temporary accommodation for its residents elsewhere is a national trend which shows no signs of slowing down. This was something we were fearful of when the properties on St Michael’s Gate were bought by social housing provider Stef & Philips last year, and one of the main reasons we agreed to lease the homes to use as temporary accommodation for our own residents in housing need. Although there were some people who disputed our prediction that another council would use these homes, the decision by Barnet points to the fact that our assumption was likely true.
We will now be contacting Barnet Council about its intentions, not least so we can start to plan for the extra residents this decision will create and the additional pressure on our services.
We will also be asking our MPs to raise the matter in Parliament, as a change in national legislation is the only way we can prevent other councils from using the city as a low cost option for its housing problems.
I was pleased to learn this week that members of the Planning and Environmental Protection Committee have agreed to recommend to Cabinet a deferral of the process to agree a new Local Plan.
The decision was made following the announcement of a new government consultation document which proposes a new way of calculating an area’s housing need.
Planning officers think that the new methodology could demonstrate that the housing need for Peterborough is less than that currently identified in the Local Plan, maybe by as many as 2,000 homes. It will likely mean one or more sites as recommended being removed. Officers now need time to consider the consultation document and will report back in two to three months’ time.
I was quoted in this newspaper last week as saying I would not support the plans to build 2,500 new homes in countryside north of Castor and Ailsworth. I hope that this announcement means we can look again at whether this site should be included in the Local Plan.
Our Trading Standards team was in the limelight last week, after scooping a national award for its efforts to keep households safe. The team won a trophy at the annual awards celebration, held by the Association for Public Service Excellence.
The team has achieved some key victories, including securing a 34 month sentence for an illegal puppy trader and seizing more than 120,000 counterfeit or illicit cigarettes. Well done to all in the team.
Lastly, I’d like to say thank you to all those who volunteered their time at the weekend at St George’s Community Hydrotherapy Pool.
Volunteers included councillors Irene Walsh, John Peach and Mayor John Fox, as well as the St George’s Community Hydrotherapy Pool’s friends group, Inspire Peterborough, RAF Wittering and Serpentine Green Shopping Centre to name a few.
Thanks to all your efforts, a whole skip load of rubble has been cleared and the car park is almost ready for resurfacing.
This is the final piece of a £45,000 refurbishment by the city council to revive this much-needed community asset which benefits those with a disability, long-term health condition or rehabilitating following an operation or injury.