Council homes set for new era

SHEFFIELD’S 42,000 council houses could be taken back into public ownership from 2014 if tenants give the go-ahead in a secret ballot.

Sheffield Homes took control of housing in 2004 with the job of carrying out a £600m upgrade of every property in the city under the Decent Homes programme.

The contract runs out in three years. Labour councillors will next week say they favour the city council regaining control.

Coun Harry Harpham, cabinet member for homes and regeneration, said the council had two main options: “One is to take on a new arms-length organisation like Sheffield Homes but after looking at the situation in depth we think the best option is to bring the housing stock back into council control,” he said.

Tenants would be consulted in the next few weeks with an independent ballot by the Electoral Reform Society in February. “We will take close notice of what the tenants tell us and if they so choose a new arms-length organisation will be set up. But legally the final decision must be taken by the council itself.”

Changes to funding rules mean Sheffield will suffer an estimated shortfall of £217m over the next 30 years. Officers believe it will be easier to bridge the gap through in-house cost-cutting measures.

Coun Harpham said Labour felt taking back control would be more democratic. “We will build upon what Sheffield Homes has been doing well, and it has 5,000 homes still to upgrade.”

Lib Dem shadow Cabinet member Coun Alison Brelsford said her party favoured not recommending a specific option but letting tenants decide.

Hazel Deakin, of the Lindsey Tenants and Residents’ Association in Parson Cross, said: “There needs to be less red tape. A fresh start may be just the thing we need.”