An ambitious housing plan is taking place in the West Midlands and it is hoped it will play a vital part in the ‘renaissance’ of Stoke-on-Trent, the biggest city in Staffordshire.
PSE spoke to Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing and Environment, Councillor Carl Edwards, about the authority’s plans.
The council are focusing on eight areas across the city over the next few years as part of their new housing strategy.
Councillor Edwards explained that the strategy is to help people step into home ownership, build a wider range of houses for owner occupiers, as well as build more custom and self-build homes.
“We really do lag behind areas of the country on custom and self-build and it’s something that we ought to step up a bit here. It’s something I’m really keen on.”
On the issue of council housing, Councillor Edwards said that the authority is engaging in maintenance programmes for housing stock and also revealed that the authority faces a “big problem with under occupancy” in many council-owned homes.
He gave an example of senior citizens currently living alone or as a couple in three-bedroom houses, while young families remain on waiting lists for these types of properties.
To deal with this issue, Councillor Edwards said that more appropriate homes for senior citizens (both and sheltered non-sheltered) need to be built to “free up” the likes of three-bedroom houses.
He said that Stoke-on-Trent City Council is encouraging more registered providers to come to the area, as they help to “give tenants a wider chance of landlord” and “keep the private sector on their toes” but acknowledged that “without the private rented sector we just wouldn’t have enough homes”.
As well as this, he said that the council will work with both of the area’s universities (Staffordshire and Keele) on the issue of student housing.
Away from local authority housing, Stoke is “short of larger, executive style homes”, according to Councillor Edwards, with the highest proportion of the city’s homes being in council tax bands A to C, being only second to Kingston upon Hull nationwide.
With the ‘Silicon Stoke’ prospectus setting out the ambitions for the digital transformation of the city, Councillor Edwards wants there to be enough houses within the city boundaries for business owners and people in well-paid jobs.
At the moment, he said many of these people commute into the city from nearby areas, including Stafford and Staffordshire Moorlands, as well as Cheshire, stating that “it’s something we need to desperately address”.
As well as reducing their carbon footprint, he said that “we need to keep their pound within the city of Stoke-on-Trent”.
“If they live in the city, they’re going to spend their money in the city,” he added.
Councillor Edwards really wants the council to focus on custom and self-build housing, as it is something that the authority has not done a lot of before.
The authority’s Housing team are already engaging with interested parties through the council’s custom and self-build register of interest and Councillor Edwards believes that they will benefit the city.
He thinks this as they tend to be located on serviced plots, have interesting designs and are good quality built.
As well as this, it has the potential to boost the local authority as “using local architects, local builders, local builders’ merchants, so that the whole process stays local, is something that we’d really love to encourage”, he adds.
At the moment, Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s draft housing strategy is out for public consultation, with Councillor Edwards saying that they would love to hear from local residents and small local builders.
The authority will take suggestions from the consultation on board, with policy being tweaked if is needed to be and once this is done, Officers will be tasked to get on with the job.
With housing shortages being a problem in many parts of the country, the Potteries is not feeling these affects, Councillor Edwards said:
“We’re not doing too bad, we’ve built more houses over the past couple of years than we have done for the past 10 or 15 and it’s encouraging to see national housebuilders coming into the city and building homes.”
For the majority of the council’s history, Labour has been in control, but the authority has been in no overall control since 2015, with the Conservatives now leading a minority administration, but how has this change in governance affected housing policy in the city?
Councillor Edwards said: “We may have different priorities and different ideas how to attract investment into the city and we think by improving the housing offer and diversifying the housing offer, that would improve the whole economics of the City of Stoke-on-Trent.”
One type of housing that the authority will not be focusing on is high rise flats, as these are “outdated” according to Councillor Edwards.
He added: “We have a number of blocks that are past their best and it doesn’t make economic sense to try and keep them maintained.
“There’s a chance they’ll have to come down and be replaced with some modern design, some ecologically designed buildings to keep our residents in there safe and warm and in comfortable, better-quality accommodation, I think that’s probably the line that we’re going to be going down.”
The ambition for Stoke’s new housing is to be of high-quality and fit for the future, with the authority encouraging new builds to meet the latest standards and beyond, as well as encouraging electric vehicle charging points.
With the launch of ‘Silicon Stoke’, the new full fibre network being installed across Stoke is benefitting new homes any new builds will have a direct link into full fibre network, which Councillor Edwards said is “future-proofing” the city.
He added: “It’s so apt at the moment with the amount of people and businesses working from home, we have to have first-class connectivity to enable that to happen.”
Stoke are going on their own with their new housing strategy and is “specifically for Stoke-on-Trent and that is where our focus is”, Councillor Edwards said, when asked if their housing plans would be in conjunction with neighbouring authorities.
Ending on why the council is undertaking the housing strategy, he added: “We think it’s the right thing to do, we think it’s exciting, I hope that small developers and local builders get in touch with us and get involved, because we’d love to see them benefitting from the policies that the city council put in place.”
A housing revolution is most certainly underway in the Potteries.
Earlier this year, PSE’s Chris Cromar interviewed the Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Councillor Abi Brown, about the city’s role in the government’s levelling up agenda. Read the interview here.