>> 14 February 2011

Peterhead North & Rattray councillor and Aberdeenshire Council SNP Group housing spokesperson Anne Allan has welcomed the investment being made in Aberdeenshire’s housing stock by the Scottish Government.

Cllr Allan was speaking during last week’s debate on the Housing Revenue Account Budget during consideration of Aberdeenshire Council’s Budget for 2011/12.

Speaking during the debate in Woodhill House, Cllr Allan said:

“I would like to take this opportunity to highlight key areas for action in the next 3 year period. For the last two years this Council decided, in the light of the recession, not to implement the full council house rental increase as set out in the 30 year Business Plan. The proposal we have here today, to return to the use of the Housing Business Plan principles and assumptions, is understood as an important aspect of ensuring a good standard of housing and services for the future.

“The full review of the 30 year Business Plan for Housing – as reported in December 2009 – is a critical document in terms of the Council’s ability to provide and improve its housing service and to meet its strategic priorities. Continued investment in the Council’s housing stock must be a high priority and I welcome the ability to invest in order to meet the Scottish Housing Quality Standard by the 2015 target.

“The Scottish Government recognises the importance of building up the council’s housing stock, lost through Right to Buy, and has led the way by providing incentive funding for new council house building. While Aberdeenshire has been successful in all three bids for this funding, with over 150 houses now either completed or on site, it is very clear that more housing is needed to meet the sustained demand. With a current waiting list of over 7400, every effort must be made to identify opportunities and to access funding made available.

“I therefore welcome the recent announcement by Housing Minister Alex Neil of yet another tranche of funding, and hope that Aberdeenshire can once again access some of the funds being made available for socially rented housing in Scotland.

“Equally important, in these times of economic difficulties, is the ability to guarantee rent levels for three years at an affordable level. Although national local authority rent levels for 2011 -12 are not yet clear, our current (2010 -11) average weekly rent level compares well, being approx £4.50 below the national average (£52.14 and £56.87 per week).

“While a key objective of Aberdeenshire Council, along with all social landlords, is to meet the Government’s 2012 homelessness target, it is clear that much more than new house building is needed and I welcome the work being undertaken to promote and develop various actions to prevent homelessness. Strategies to prevent families becoming homeless will, over time, ease some of the burden on our allocations system and free up more homes towards reducing the Waiting List.

“The cost of fuel continues to be a critical issue for many of the residents of Aberdeenshire and the recent success of the Council in gaining grants for home insulation is a positive step towards reducing fuel costs along with our carbon footprint. The cost of fuel, particularly for heating, must be given due consideration when we are planning on replacing existing heating systems in order to prevent our tenants falling into the economic trap of fuel poverty.

“To help the building industry during the recession, we have moved some projects forward, leading to higher levels of expenditure on stock improvement than originally proposed. However we accept this as being a high priority and an investment for the future. The need to meet the SHQS by 2015 is understood; it is important to ensure that we continue to do our best for our existing tenants and maintain our properties to a high standard for those who will follow them.

“The role and input of our tenants and other service users is vital in ensuring the best and targeted use of limited resources and I trust that efforts will continue to be made to achieve high levels of tenant satisfaction with the services provided. I pay tribute to those tenants who give of their own time to run local tenant groups, act as Local Tenant Voices, and attend focus groups, seminars and Tenant Events.

“Our housing officers work closely with our tenant representatives on joint working groups, and I would extend my thanks to them for that and for the help and advice given to myself and my fellow councillors.

“While the performance of the Housing Service is often good, I am aware of the significant pressures being placed on the Housing Business Plan. However, with the proposals we have here today, I look forward to the continued success of the Business Plan during these difficult and uncertain times and continued progress towards meeting the Homelessness and SHQS targets, ensuring a good standard of housing provision and services for the future.”

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