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When is housing need not housing need? That is the question I am grappling with. I fear that, if the Local Governme...
When is housing need not housing need? That is the question I am grappling with. I fear that, if the Local Government Bill is enacted, housing need will be deemed non-existent in the so-called 'richer authorities'.

Despite Waverley's unprecedented numbers on the housing needs register, families in bed and breakfast and the huge demand from key workers, the ODPM proposes to prevent my council from investing in new affordable homes and achieving the decent homes standard by 2010.

The deputy prime minister is proposing to require any or all housing capital receipts to be paid to him, despite Local Government Association opposition. The bill is silent on what will happen to those receipts, although explanatory notes indicate they will be pooled to enable 'spending power [to] be redistributed from richer authorities to those in areas with a greater need for new housing investment'.

We do not know how housing need will be defined. The words imply that 'richer authorities' and housing need are mutually exclusive. In Waverley we know this is not true. With average Surrey house prices of over£250,000, how do key workers get on the housing ladder without council help?

Many councils are unconcerned and others anticipate gaining. I believe

both views may be mistaken. Debt-free councils will lose 75% of the spending power they receive from right to buy sales. Those with debt will retain spending power from 25% of right to buy receipts, but they will not be able to repay debt or earn interest with 75% paid into the central pool. How the pool will be redistributed and how councils will be compensated is still unknown.

I think it is a dangerous precedent to allow a secretary of state the power to take housing capital receipts, particularly when regulation, not legislation, will prescribe the detail. Taking and redistributing communities' assets is not part of the government's role - allocating central resources is.

Waverley's housing problems are significant for our community. Our long-term financial strategy, including our debt-free status, was endorsed by our community.

The government proposes to deprive us of our right to determine locally how we deal with problems. We might get some resources for affordable housing but it will be solely on the Housing Corporation and the ODPM's terms.

These proposals are a threat to local democracy. Waverley is co-ordinating the Capital Receipts Group, a cross-party group of 58 debt-free councils opposed to these plans.

Paul Wenham

Director of finance, Waverley BC

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