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Tory councillors are unlikely champions of council housing, but Birmingham’s John Lines deserves plaudits after the recent announcement of plans to build 500 family homes in the next three years.

Lines is often portrayed (quite accurately) as an uncompromising political bruiser, but there’s no denying his enthusiasm for creating blue collar estates across the city.

Demand from private developers for unused parcels of local authority land have dried up, he explains, while housing associations are unable to borrow because of the credit crunch.

Rather than simply waiting for an upturn, Lines is bidding for a £7.2 million loan from the government-backed Homes and Communities Agency, which will be topped up with £8 million from the city’s coffers.

This will fund the first phase of 131 homes in Kings Norton, Hodge Hill, Sparkbrook and Handsworth, which are due to be competed withing 12 months, with a three year target of 500.

Given that just 375 council houses were built across the country last year, that’s some going – although it will barely scratch the surface of Birmingham’s 35,000 strong waiting list.And it’s certainly better than the record of the previous Labour administration, which shamefully tried to strongarm tenants into “transferring out” to private landlords.

Lines said: “This is a return to real old-fashioned municipal housing.

“Every penny we raise in rents, we’ll be able to invest back into new Council. At the moment, the government ‘taxes’ us on Council house rents, and we have to give them £50million a year, but this will go into a different account.

“When we came into power, the people of Birmingham told us very clearly that they wanted to be Council tenants, and at the moment, who else is providing the homes?

“There is a place for all kinds of tenure in the city, but council housing works.”

Against a backdrop of a 35,000 strong waiting list, Lines plans may only be scratching the surface – especially as he points out that with the recession, an average of seven repossessed families a week makes an enquiry to the housing office.

But it’s considerably better than the “do nothing” option, not only because it will provide much needed accommodation, but also for its role in creating scarce construction jobs in these troubled times.

It is, in short, a good, old-fashioned socialist solution to the downturn – never mind that Lines himself is a true blue, dyed in the wool Conservative.



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