Shropshire Star

Pressure piled on housing association over sales of homes in south west Shropshire

A housing association has defended itself after coming under fire from concerned councillors for putting 'affordable' rented properties up for sale in south west Shropshire instead of refurbishing them.

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From left are Councillors Heather Kidd, Ruth Houghton and Nigel Hartin.

Lib Dem councillors in the south west of the county criticised Connexus Housing Association over their latest tranche of proposed sales including properties in Lydbury North, Lydham and Clun. Bishop's Castle has also been affected by the policy.

Councillor Ruth Houghton, who represents Bishop’s Castle, said she receives emails every week from people who are in housing need and the area cannot afford to lose any homes.

Housing developments are restricted in the River Clun catchment because of phosphate pollution, which means there are no new properties coming on stream to replace those that are lost.

“We can't afford to lose any homes," said Councillor Houghton. "They need to be refurbished instead of being sold off because we can't get the replacements locally.

"It is a critical issue for jobs and communities."

The councillor added: "Whilst I accept that to bring these properties up to standard may be costly, disposal decisions are eroding the available social housing stock in this area where there is significant demand.

"I receive emails every single week from people in housing need. New builds are limited and reinvesting the proceeds elsewhere in Shropshire does nothing to help people living in rural areas.”

Councillor Nigel Hartin, who represents Clun, added: “This steady erosion in the number of affordable homes rented by this housing association and its predecessor in rural Shropshire has been going on for years.

"Although housing associations were originally set up to provide affordable homes for communities, they seem to have lost interest in providing affordable homes for residents of our part of the world. Many of these properties have been left empty for over a year before being added to the disposal list.”

Councillor Houghton added: "My colleagues Heather Kidd, Nigel Hartin and I have spent a lot of effort speaking to Connexus. We were promised by the chief executive that our communities and ourselves would be consulted of further sales. That has simply not happened."

“We have a serious affordable homes shortage in the Clun and Bishop’s Castle areas made worse by Natural England enacting a stop on house building because of the amount of phosphates going into our rivers.

"I would strongly urge Connexus to reconsider selling these properties and instead refurbish them for rent. If they have to be sold then the sale should be limited to local people and not put up for auction in London as they tried with a property a few years ago.”

The housing association's chief executive said selling properties is a last resort and they have to bear in mind that their money comes from tenants' rent.

Richard Woolley, chief executive of Connexus said: “Connexus will only sell properties as a last resort once all the options that would bring them back into use have been exhausted.

"We never take the decision to sell a property lightly but must look at what’s best from a value for money perspective for our customers.

"Refurbishment costs are covered from the rental income we make, and that money must be spent in a sensible way. If this isn’t possible, then we may sell properties in very small numbers. Where this happens, we do everything we can to find a buyer that lives locally.

“When it comes to viable work on our existing homes, we are investing heavily.

"This year will see the organisation spend around £14 million, bringing thousands of homes up to a modern standard and making them more energy efficient as energy bills continue to rise.

“And while it’s always disappointing to lose any properties, our development programme means we build more new affordable homes for people in the local area than are lost through sale.”

Connexus has more than 10,500 homes across Shropshire and Herefordshire. Its website shows 79 new homes either recently completed or nearing completion in sites across Shropshire including Telford, Ludlow, Church Stretton, Broseley, Dorrington and St Martin's.