Councils get ‘fair’ rating for housing work

Michael Hunt

Cheshire East Council and Liverpool City Council have both been praised for the work they are doing to improve housing in their areas in a new report by the government's independent watchdog, the Audit Commission.

On a scale from zero to three stars the Audit Commission inspection team gave both councils a 'fair', one star rating, with 'promising' prospects for improvement.

The report concludes that housing in Liverpool is a priority for the city council, and progress is being made to improve the choice available to local people.

The report singles out the progress made in clearing obsolete and poor quality housing stock and improving the choice of new homes, as well as a reduction in the level of empty properties.

Cllr Joe Anderson, leader of Liverpool City Council, said: "I am pleased that this report recognises our work to improve the quality of housing in the city. We are determined to tackle the many decades of underinvestment in housing in Liverpool and provide a greater choice of types and size of properties.

"The Audit Commission report vindicates our approach of refurbishing homes whenever possible, and demolition where it is uneconomic to renovate them.

"Despite the government's decision to axe £27m from Liverpool's housing renewal programme, which has put 1,000 families in limbo, we are in discussions with developers and pursuing all opportunities for investment so we can continue the work we have already started."

Inspectors also found that housing related support is extending independence to more vulnerable people and the focus on prevention is reducing the level of homelessness.

The Audit Commission also identified other areas of good practice, including the work with Liverpool Primary Care Trust on the Healthy Homes Initiative in tackling poor quality housing in the private rented sector, as well as positive working with Engage, the leaseholders federation in Liverpool city centre. The private rented sector was identified as an area for improvement.

Riza Yassin, Audit Commission lead housing inspector in the north, added: "Economic decline has left Liverpool with major housing challenges. With the assistance of the housing market renewal pathfinder, New Heartlands, the council is addressing these, particularly in designated regeneration areas. However, more needs to be done to improve existing housing in the private sector, especially the private rented sector."

In March 2010 the Audit Commission assessed New Heartlands, the Merseyside Housing Market Renewal pathfinder, as performing strongly with the 'top' mark.

Audit Commission inspectors said Cheshire East found "a clear vision for housing supported by strong local partnerships" while other strengths included:

  • Positive leadership that promotes strategic housing objectives and tackles opposition
  • An effective approach to preventing homelessness and supporting those in housing need

The report said weaknesses in Cheshire East's housing work included:

  • An approach to private sector housing being in its infancy and has not yet led to significant improvements
  • The council's equality and diversity strategy was regarded as only recently being developed and has had little impact on service delivery
  • There not being suitable housing provision for all people living in rural areas

To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations to Cheshire East. These included:

  • Further developing plans to focus on improving in priority areas
  • Establishing systems to ensure housing services are delivered consistently
  • Improving benchmarking to ensure a comprehensive assessment of performance and value for money

Yassin said: "Cheshire East Council has come a long way in the past year. It is building a better understanding of housing needs and influencing what happens to improve the overall housing situation. Further work is needed to make sure that improvements to existing housing are encouraged and that the council is reaching all sections of its community."

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