Birmingham will see a major expansion of its council house building programme by the end of the year, the city’s leader has pledged.
Coun John Clancy, speaking ahead of his first budget as council leader, said he would bring in investment to get many more housing projects under way and promised the new wave of council houses would be “aspirational, inspirational and sustainable”.
He also vowed to back housing association schemes, private developers and good quality private landlords by bringing in investment from pension funds, banks and private investors, some through his much-touted ‘Brummie Bonds’ scheme.
With his first budget – including wrangles over school crossing patrols, social care funding and pay and congestion charging – dealt with, and the Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel possibly ready to leave the authority to look after itself, Clancy is now preparing to launch his own policy agenda.
The Quinton councillor rightly highlighted children’s social services, over which the council is still in special measures, as the number one priority. But after that, housing and economic growth will be the focus for the next year if, as expected, he comes through the May elections unscathed.
He said: “I’m absolutely determined that, during the course of this year, we will see a real step change in the building of new aspirational and inspirational housing in this city.
“My priority is to bring capital in, to change Birmingham City Council from a thing that spends revenue (on public services) to a thing that spends capital (on houses, roads and infrastructure) in significant amounts to promote economic growth. We will start to bring in the capital to this city.
“I’m absolutely convinced that, during this next year, this city council will issue Brummie Bonds.
“And those Brummie Bonds will bring capital into this city to invest in businesses and in homes.”
Since its launch in 2009, the council-owned Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust has built a few hundred new homes a year, for both private sale and rent.
“We have to upscale the trust and build many more,” Coun Clancy added.
“I have been in discussions with the West Midlands council pension fund, with other pension funds around the country.
“I’ve been in discussion with other property developers and investors across this city.
“They get that we will not get the right kind of economic growth in this city that attracts investment and employment, that retains Brum’s own brightest citizens, unless we invest in housing.”
Clancy has long argued the fund, into which tens of thousands of current and former local council workers have paid, should be investing in local housing and business rather than international stocks and shares.
“I have a very clear ambition to build housing stock across all tenures, private and social housing, which will be the best quality in Europe.
“If we provide extremely good quality and extremely sustainable housing at the council housing level, then the rest have to keep up.
“That is what attracts people to invest here because we’ve got the housing offer. We also have to invest in our cultural offer, that is as important.
“When we bring capital into this city, it is not just about housing and infrastructure, it is about the arts and culture offer of this city.
“Because that also brings investments, its just as important in some ways.”
And in a pledge that will be welcomed by his Conservative opponents, he said it was important the council looked to provide homes for the higher end of the market – those that will encourage the more affluent to remain in the city, rather than move out to the Solihull or the country.
The city’s low council tax base, which has contributed to funding cuts, is partly due to a lack of these properties.
“We have to provide three-, four-, five-bedroom houses at the top of the range in this city and within the city walls. Absolutely, to stop people moving out.
“We have to provide for our apprentices, our skilled apprentices, our young urban professionals, our solicitors, our accountants, bankers, the full range.
“We have to deal with the housing offer at every level to keep Brummies in Birmingham.
“We have to make Birmingham the inevitable place to stay if you have ambition.”