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How and why Woking is building so many social and affordable homes

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While the right-to-buy is a fantastic idea in principle, it does create a number of challenges for local authorities like Woking. 

First, the current system does not enable the council to replace the housing stock; second, of all the homes sold under right-to-buy, 60% have ended up in the private rented sector. So in order for local authorities to continue to embrace right-to-buy the system needs to be improved.

In Woking we haven’t waited for things to change and have got on with meeting the housing demand head-on. We felt it was essential to identify the core problems that affect the housing supply in the borough, of which the following three proved to be the most prominent:

  • The increase in house prices which has reduced affordability for aspiring homeowners
  • Longer life expectancy which has increasingly meant elderly people living in housing which is larger than they need and reduces the availability of family sized housing
  • The need to provide affordable housing for key workers if we are going to grow our local economy.

These might seem obvious but we have used these three unavoidable issues as principles by which to plan for Woking’s future. We have developed a number of ways to address the increasing housing need and have embarked on projects that deliver affordable and social housing.


How and why Woking is building so many social and affordable homes

Woking is building new homes for sale and rent

One very significant housing development for us was the Kingsmoor Park PFI (private finance initiative) housing project. We facilitated 371 homes in total, but crucially 224 of them were built for social rent levels and to the Lifetime Homes standard with its 16-design-feature criteria. We believe it is essential that new homes can be easily adapted for accessibility through the course of a resident’s life.

Other projects we have delivered are 32 flats for key workers built above the new fire station in the centre of town and rented out at £80 per week; the purchase of street properties through Thameswey Housing Ltd, a company owned by Woking BC, which now provides affordable homes for 440 families; a £200m investment through Thameswey Developments, to build both social and affordable homes.

We are building a guest house to provide quality, temporary accommodation for homeless families. And we have also embarked on the substantial regeneration of Sheerwater, an ex-Greater London Council 1950s estate. This will provide a total of 984 new dwellings, an increase of 408, of which 462 are social and affordable homes. The remaining dwellings are a mix of family and apartment-sized private homes for sale.

But it’s not just about building more houses and hard measure responses. It’s also about enabling people to help themselves. For example, we are working on a programme that will make it easier for people to get on the housing ladder and have also made an absolute commitment to house 12 refugee families each year for five years. 

However, this is only part of the overall approach a local authority has to take in order to achieve a successful social and affordable housing strategy. You also need to have a positive approach to improving the local economy, providing jobs and improving the infrastructure of your borough.

David Bittleston (Con), leader, Woking BC

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