Page last updated at 12:15 GMT, Wednesday, 9 September 2009 13:15 UK

Go-ahead for 2,000 council homes

Housing estate in London
The Audit Commission says more money should go on renovations

Ministers have given the go-ahead for 2,000 council houses to be built across England - as a report says there is too much emphasis on building new homes.

The project, covering 47 areas, is being described as the biggest of its kind over the past 20 years.

Most social housing is now built by housing associations, responsible for almost 40,000 properties last year.

However, spending watchdog the Audit Commission has called for more focus on maintaining existing homes.

The government has announced 12 council housing projects in the Midlands, seven in the North West, six in London, six in Yorkshire and Humber, six in the South West, five in the North East, four in the South East and one in eastern England.

Housing minister John Healey said: "We have committed to use the power of government investment to help Britain through the recession.

"The boost for affordable housing will help build the homes we need and it's also a shot in the arm for the construction industry, creating over 5,000 jobs."

We reject any claims that there is too much emphasis on new house building
Department for Communities and Local Government

But the Audit Commission report says there is too much emphasis on new building and that councils could do more to improve health and educational achievement by improving existing stock.

For instance, spending £2,000 on adaptations to help an elderly person stay in their home could save £6,000 a year in care costs, it argues.

Audit Commission chairman Michael O'Higgins said: "Councils aspire to shape the communities in their area for the better.

"In tougher times, it is all the more important that councils think strategically and creatively about housing and take their housing responsibilities seriously."

'Flawed'

For the Conservatives, shadow housing minister Grant Shapps said: "There is a powerful financial and environmental case for renovating rather than demolishing rundown housing stock.

"Yet the government's flawed Pathfinder scheme is forcing councils to let rip with the wrecking ball, razing Victorian terraces and wiping out a valuable part of our local heritage."

And the Lib Dems said government policies had restricted the amount of money available for council house refurbishment.

"The Treasury has raided council tenants' rent and the Decent Homes budget, denying councils the money they desperately need to improve local housing," the party's housing spokeswoman Sarah Teather said.

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokeswoman said: "Now is exactly the right time to focus on building new homes, and we reject any claims that there is too much emphasis on new house building.

"In a recession, this is more important than ever both to meet the country's long-term housing needs, to support the construction industry and create jobs."

In March the National Housing Federation predicted that an extra 200,000 families would join waiting lists for accommodation over the following two years, pushing the total to around two million.

Distribution of new council homes and funding

Regions and local authorities Houses Grant £
TOTAL 2,021 127,298,235
EAST 7 295,057
Cambridge 7
EAST MIDLANDS 314 16,474,312
Leicester 93
Corby 70
Nottingham 8
North Kesteven 19
Chesterfield 17
Broxtowe 9
Mansfield 43
Newark and Sherwood 27
Derby 33
LONDON 322 28,577,784
Croydon 54
Greenwich 47
Hillingdon 93
Islington 46
Ealing 68
Southwark 24
NORTH EAST 226 11,750,258
Darlington 65
Durham 28
Gateshead 61
Hartlepool 45
South Tyneside 27
NORTH WEST 253 16,966,531
Blackpool 42
Bolton 17
Manchester 32
Salford 497
Warrington 30
West Lancashire 17
Wigan 14
SOUTH EAST 123 8,273,521
Ashford 25
Eastbourne 14
Oxford 58
Southampton 26
SOUTH WEST 156 10,058,206
Bournemouth 12
Bristol 46
East Devon 17
Exeter 21
Swindon 13
Wiltshire 47
WEST MIDLANDS 157 8,087,404
Birmingham 129
Sandwell 28
YORKSHIRE AND HUMBERSIDE 453 26,824,162
Barnsley 16
East Riding 275
Kirklees 36
Leeds 63
Rotherham 36
Sheffield 27


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