Council launches £4m housing company

Opening Doors launch at Dorset County Council in Dorchester.

NEW HOMES: Coun Tim Yarker, West Dorset housing portfolio holder

Councillors have backed ambitious plans to help tackle housing shortages in West Dorset by building a mix of new homes.

These will include open market sale, shared ownership sale, open market rent and affordable/social housing for rent.

Members of West Dorset District Council’s Strategy Committee approved a recommendation to set up a Local Authority Trading Company with initial funding of £4m from council reserves.

This funding will be used to operate the business, acquire sites and fund development.

The move is part of the council’s innovative Opening Doors campaign, which aims to seize the initiative and meet housing need at a local level when faced with a lower number of active developers than can typically be found in larger urban areas.

It comes 25 years after the district council transferred its housing stock to the then West Dorset Housing Association in 1993. That organisation has since become Magna Housing.

The council recognises that local housing associations do a great job but the area still needs more housing provision with 1,620 people on the council’s Housing Register.

The new company will:

Target areas of need that are not currently being served by the locally based housing developer

Work with community land trusts to deliver smaller sites

Acquire new land as well as developing the council’s own

Acquire sites that have been granted planning consent for housing but not brought forward

Work with other developers and housing associations where its involvement can unlock development that would otherwise have not taken place

Cllr Tim Yarker, who is the district council’s housing portfolio holder, said: “We are determined to do everything in our power at a local level to tackle housing shortages.

“More good quality homes of all tenures are absolutely vital for the future of our communities and the strength of our local economy.

“A Local Authority Trading Company will give us greater control over the tenure and location of housing developments whilst also offering significant potential to help ameliorate housing shortages.

“In addition to increasing the supply of housing locally, receipts from the sale of properties and rents would create revenue streams that in the longer term could be reinvested in further housing provision.”

Cllr Yarker added: “Opening Doors is about the council being proactive in tackling housing problems.

“We are one of a number of councils nationwide taking such an innovative approach and establishing a Local Authority Trading Company could be one of the most important steps we take.”

The council aims to develop the homes using local labour which could help create more jobs and boost the local economy.

Opening Doors aims to encourage the construction of a total of 20,000 good quality homes of all tenures by 2033 across the areas covered by West Dorset District Council, North Dorset District Council and Weymouth and Portland Borough Council.

The councils have also launched a Home Ownership Register to gauge demand for different types of homes area by area, and feed information to prospective buyers about new developments that they night be interested in.