North East Lincolnshire Council site sales to go ahead after call-in to push for social housing

The former council depot site in Weelsby Avenue, Grimsby, will be sold off, but not for purely social housing, as a couple of councillors wanted
-Credit: (Image: Google Streetview)

Three site sales by North East Lincolnshire Council will proceed after call-ins by councillors, including those pushing for more social housing.

Independents for North East Lincolnshire Group members called in the sales of the former council depot at Weelsby Avenue, Grimsby, land at former Lindsey Lower School, Cleethorpes, and Grimsby Business Centre, in King Edward Street.

The first two call-ins were by the newest Independent group Cllrs Les Bonner and Paul Bright, to push for more social and affordable housing. Cllr Bonner has suggested those running the council "don't care" about the parts of the borough that need improvement, by a lack of focus on extra social housing supply.

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Conservative Cllr Stephen Harness, portfolio holder for finance, resources and assets, said he believed all elected members are "acutely aware of housing issues" in the borough. The sales would also enable transformational investment, including in children's services.

'Best value instead of best price'

Cllr Bonner argued during the meeting that a focus on social housing instead of profit-driven sales would present "a genuine opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of families that do not have a home of their own, or those who are forced to live in sub-standard homes". He told Grimsby Live after the meeting: "We should be looking for best value instead of best price. It feels as though other factors that are worthwhile aren't reflected."

Cllr Bonner contends there would be a value to have made the sites social housing only, because it would offer healthier homes to live in, reduce cost of treatment for unwell people and help some to return to work. He also suggested a potential positive knock-on effect with existing housing.

"If there were a significant number of housing units we'd built on those two sites, it would allow for the possibility whole streets could be decanted," he said, giving the example of Guildford Street's transformation in East Marsh. Making the sites social housing only "would have really kickstarted the regeneration" of areas like West Marsh and East Marsh and housing stock there, he argued.

Cllr Bonner said he did not expect the specific sales to be revised, noting their advanced stages. "I'm hoping in future they take heed of what I said.

"It appears that the people running the council don't care about the parts [of the borough] that need improvement," he added, arguing by not having a greater social housing focus, they are "condemning hundreds of families to live in inadequate housing".

"I believe all elected members are acutely aware of housing issues within the authority," Conservative Cllr Harness told Grimsby Live. "I believe that all elected members care about all parts of the authorities housing stock. Like many authorities we suffer from a great number of empty homes and there is an ongoing focus on bringing empty homes back into use. Community groups such as East Marsh United are to be praised for their work to renovate properties for rent to families at social rent.

"The two land disposals were part of a wider disposal programme enabling an investment in transformation of our services, especially children’s services, via flexible use of capital. Council is tasked with achieving ‘Best Value’ and I believe this has been the outcome. It is essential for the council’s finances that transformation remains on track."

Cllr Stephen Harness, portfolio holder for finance, resources and assets, pictured, said the sales achieved best value
Cllr Stephen Harness, portfolio holder for finance, resources and assets, pictured, said the sales achieved best value -Credit:North East Lincolnshire Council

The Grimsby Business Centre sale call-in was to obtain more detail on the proposed sale. "The Independent group will look carefully at every asset which is sold off to check it is in the best long term interests of residents," said Cllr Steve Holland, who called it in. "The council is strapped for cash and we have to make sure that assets are not simply flogged off to balance the books." He added it was confirmed at the scrutiny panel meeting, if the assets were not sold, it would affect the council's financial position.

Current legislation limits council asset sell-off cash for transformational purposes, not day-to-day spending.