200 affordable new homes for the Borders

A number of council owned sites in the Borders that have failed to sell on the open market could be used to build affordable and mid-rent homes.

Since transferring their housing stock to Scottish Borders Housing Association, Scottish Borders Council gave up owning and building homes, but with the number of new houses being built in the region dropping from 1113 in 2007 to 231 in 2011, and a shortage of affordable houses, they have had to become more inventive in how to approach the region’s housing problem.

The council is now looking at commissioning a new house building programme - the aim to build 200 new homes over the next three years.

When councillors met in Kelso’s Tait Hall on Wednesday, they were being asked to give SBC officers the authority to prepare a final business case which will see them investing money raised from second homes Council Tax to cover the money they would have raised had they sold the land where they propose building the houses.

Reporting to councillors, housing strategy and services manager, Cathie Fancy said: “It would be in the council’s best interests to develop a number of currently surplus sites for affordable housing.

“There are a number of potential sites in various locations across the Borders which are currently being marketed and are appropriately located in areas where demand for affordable housing exceed supply.

“It is now considered that these sites could be redeveloped to provide affordable housing thus generating capital receipts which could be financed using the second homes Council Tax.

“This mechanism would use the second homes Council Tax to purchase sites from the capital programme, freeing up land for development.”

The council is proposing going into partnership with Scottish Future Trust, creating a limited liability partnership which would be 99.9 per cent owned by the council. The Scottish Futures Trust’s role would be to monitor the project on behalf of the Scottish Government who would be providing £17 million via the Public Works Loan Board.

It will give the council the option of creating a housing revenue account or alternatively it could sell on the houses to a Registered Social Landlord such as Berwickshire Housing Association or even sell the houses on the open market.

Talks have already taken place with local house builders to let them know of the council’s plans and give them a fair opportunity to bid for the construction work, which in turn would help the local building trade and the region’s economy.

The plan is based on a mix of social rent and mid market rental homes: social rent - 80 two person flats, 80 three bedroom houses and 40 four bedroom houses; and mid market properties - 80 two bedroom two person flats and 120 three bedroom houses.

This would go some way to fill the current need for affordable homes, an additional 103 a year, as well as giving more options for people to downsize and avoid the bedroom tax trap.