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Council home purchase is a useful sticking plaster but more work needed on housing crisis

The Royal Borough of Greenwich council has recently announced the intention to purchase 199 homes in Greenwich Millennium Village from the major housing developer, Taylor Wimpey.

Greenwich and Bexley Green Party cautiously welcomes this policy in response to the chronic shortage of council homes, with a surplus of people languishing in temporary and emergency accommodation.

Although it’s a very large investment — above £50 million — we acknowledge that it is a reasonable action to take, given that the housing crisis is costing the council nearly £1 million per month in hotel rooms for temporary and emergency accommodation.

Greenwich and Bexley Green Party encourage reflection upon missed opportunities that could have alleviated this crisis. For example, had the council required a higher level of social housing from developers in recent years, or had made greater efforts to collect reasonable amounts of Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) monies to invest in new social housing, then the problem would likely not have developed as much as it has.

Proactive measures in housing in the past could have reduced the impact of the housing shortage now.

While this purchase is welcome, buying houses from major developers does not by itself solve all housing issues in the borough.

In particular, it doesn’t directly tackle the issue of housing affordability within the private sector. The Green Party’s approach to affordability would involve measures to try to stabilise house prices and rents, ensuring a gradual and managed real-terms decline in house prices until they are below four times the average incomes and reachable for ordinary working people.

Moreover, buying properties from large developers on their terms means that the council may inadvertently compromise on its sustainability aspirations. By securing housing from major developments which are built to optimise profit margins, the council runs the risk of housing people in structures that are less environmentally friendly and ecologically sustainable than they could be if they were built by the council themselves.

Putting pressure on developers to meet the highest Passivhaus standards for new homes remains a key milestone that this Labour-run council needs to achieve.