Shropshire Star

Rural councillors up in arms over housing association's homes sell off as private rents rise inexorably

A housing association's decision to sell off more of its properties has stoked the anger of councillors in the south west of the county.

Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

The housing association, Connexus, says overall it builds more homes than it sells off but each one can be brought by local people.

But Liberal Democrat councillors say properties that are sold off in the Lydham, Bucknell, Eyton and Church Stretton area are not replaced. There is a block on developments in the Clun area because of river pollution.

Councillor Ruth Houghton, representing Bishop’s Castle said: "These properties should not be lost to the rental sector, to buy a house in Bishop’s Castle costs 11 times the average salary, rental properties such as these are essential.”

She says with rents rising rapidly in the private sector it is really important that housing associations continue to provide homes that people can afford to rent.

She said: "I have asked Shropshire Council if they would consider purchasing these properties and renovating them for rent, even if at a slightly higher rent than a social rent, as it is really important that local people in rural communities can afford to live and work here.”

Last year when the same issue arose councillors said they were receiving messages every week from people in housing need.

This year the councillors want to see progress in releasing development in the Clun area which has been blocked because of river pollution concerns.

Councillor Nigel Hartin, Shropshire councillor for Clun, said: “The environmental issues with the Clun River have been well documented over the years.

"Time after time we are told that mitigation measures are in hand but as yet nothing has materialised that enables new development to take place.

"Having already lost many Connexus properties due to their disposal policy it really is vital that sales stop and funding is found to refurbish existing properties to the required standard so that they can be re-let to local people in housing need”

The three councillors are also asking Shropshire Council to use capital funding to keep these within the housing stock to provide homes for nurses, carers etcetera who can’t afford to live in the south west.

They also want Shropshire Council to work with them and the Government to make sure this does not continue to happen and use some of the unspent £9.8 million Community Infrastructure Levy funding to keep this housing in these areas.

Chris Naylor, the Liberal Democrats South Shropshire Parliamentary Candidate - who lives in Church Stretton near two of the properties for sale - added: "It’s very sad to see yet more homes going for auction when we all know there’s a housing crisis, and in particular, a serious shortage of low-cost rental properties in rural locations.

"With high fuel costs, and inadequate public transport, families need homes in the rural communities where they work - not to have to commute miles from urban centres.

"Housing associations are of course subject to this Government's rules and funding constraints. But this seems yet another case of rules which work in the city just not being right for Shropshire’s rural villages - yet another reminder that this Government is taking Shropshire residents for granted.”

Connexus says that it must make sure that its customers’ rents are being spent in the most cost-effective and considered way.

Richard Woolley, chief executive at Connexus said: “The decision to sell any homes is never an easy one, but we must make sure that our customers’ rental income is being spent in the most cost-effective and considered way.

“Each property that is sold goes through a rigorous appraisal process and will no longer be financially viable to repair or environmentally sustainable enough for our customers to live in.

“Where properties are sold, we are working with local auctioneers to make sure those living nearby do have the option of buying them if they wish.

"We’ll also look to maximise the sale price, so we can reinvest that money back into maintaining existing viable homes or building new ones.

“Our development programme, which will see 200 new homes built each year, every year, means Connexus builds more homes than it sells.

"These are much needed homes that local people can afford, including affordable rent, social rent and shared ownership housing. This programme depends on our close working relationships with councils and developers across our operating area.

“And while we are able to obtain part funding for new homes from Homes England to contribute to the success of our development programme, funding is not available to help bridge the financial gap to help Connexus to retain social housing that is in need of major repairs. We continue to lobby Homes England to attempt to have this situation rectified."

A spokesperson for Shropshire Council said it will work with Connexus to explore what options exist for the properties in question. Progress is also being made in respect of releasing development in the Clun area.

The spokesperson said: “Shropshire Council are aware of the particular challenges faced by people needing access to affordable property across many parts of the county, including the Clun area.

"We will work with Connexus to explore what options exist for the properties in question.

"Positive progress is being made in respect of addressing the wider issues of nutrient neutrality in the River Clun Catchment area and the council are working with the Environment Agency, Natural England and Severn Trent Water on plans that would enable critical new housing developments to come forward.

“The council has and continues to secure millions of pounds of government funding to help deliver our sustainable warmth programme to help tackle fuel poverty across the county, supporting those on low incomes and those in the least energy-efficient homes in the county.

"In addition, our recently approved Sustainable Affordable Warmth Strategy 2023-2030 will set the course of action to tackle fuel poverty, inequality, and improve energy efficiency across all tenures of housing over the coming years.”