West Lothian Council will spend over £80 million over the next two years with significant resources invested in the creation of new homes and a strong focus on the maintenance of quality standards across the housing stock.
The Housing Capital Investment Programme was approved at a meeting of West Lothian Council on Tuesday 16 February alongside the approval of the Housing Revenue Account Budget for the same period.
The proposed two-year programme running during the financial years 2021-22 and 2022-23 will see over £50 million invested to increase the social housing supply in West Lothian.
A total of 281 additional homes are expected to be complete by the year 2023 across a range of sites and areas including 69 homes in Mossend, West Calder and 59 further homes in Wester Inch, Bathgate.
The new homes will come in different sizes and style; with many being designed to support occupation by people with limited movement ability, including wheelchair users. Built to modern standards, they will be constructed to meet national energy efficiency standards and will be well insulated. This should substantially reduce heating bills of tenants while ensuring warmth and stable heat levels in addition to being more environmentally friendly.
Resources for acquisition of former council houses through the Open Market Acquisitions Scheme will continue to be incorporated into the programme, as the council continues to look at expanding the housing supply working alongside Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) and other partners to achieve the aim of delivering 3,000 new houses during the period 2012-2022.
West Lothian Council is one of Scotland's top councils in terms of building new council homes. With the council working in conjunction with RSL's and partners, over 2,000 affordable homes have been delivered since the beginning of 2012.
The new build project will continue to bring a number of benefits to the community such as training and employment opportunities for apprentices, local people and businesses and will continue to help tackle the high demand for affordable housing in West Lothian.
Provision has also been made to continue with the Mortgage to Rent scheme, which is a Scottish Government subsidy scheme to allow owners in extreme financial difficulty to sell their properties to the council and become council tenants.
The budget contains provision for improving and maintaining existing housing stock and ensuring all properties are legally compliant with approximately £30 million to be split among a number of areas to achieve this.
A total of £496,000 of major refurbishment works are planned, with estimated completion during financial year 2021/22.
£6.411 million is to be invested in 8 individual major elemental upgrade projects consisting of long-term maintenance work, where structural elements such as roof and external walls are beyond economical repair by routine maintenance.
Works to the value of £6.321 million are anticipated over the two-year period to support a broad range of activities, including decoration and internal upgrades, window and door refurbishments, painting and fencing programmes.
Works to the value of £14.536 million are anticipated over the two year period on a variety of compliance works which include projects to deliver energy efficiency measures, central heating replacements, electrical testing and repair, external wall insulation upgrades and asbestos management projects.
The introduction of Scotland's Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing (EESSH) regulations means that any house in Scotland under the management of social landlords should meet a minimum energy rating. EESSH continues to be a major focus for project work.
There will be continuing investment in external wall insulation to target work in council houses in areas of mixed tenure, to maximise economies of scale where homeowners receive support through the Home Energy Efficiency Programme Scotland (HEEPS).
Planned work, to the value of £891,000, will continue on general environmental improvements and external upgrading, including tenant led street improvement projects.
Although many works are of a small scale, these projects can have a substantial impact on local amenities and the community.
A portion of this budget will also go towards a Community Choices, Participatory Budgeting exercise which will see local communities decide how this resource will be used. Further information on this will be published in due course.
A continuation of the rent increase of 3% per annum for council homes and garages has also been approved by West Lothian Council as part of its Housing Revenue Account Budget. This will help ensure continued investment in council housing infrastructure, improving existing homes and creating new affordable homes over the two-year timeframe.
This decision has been informed following consultation with the West Lothian Tenants Panel which indicated that the majority of responses supported a 3% rent increase per annum. In 2020/21, Housing rent in West Lothian is below the Scottish average.
Executive councillor for services for the community, George Paul, said: "West Lothian Council has for some time had one of the most ambitious strategies to meet demand for affordable social housing. This has not changed and this budget reinforces the council's commitment for increasing the availability of high-quality social housing and ensuring a significant amount of investment is going towards the completion of the council's new build housing programme, with new homes being constructed across West Lothian and a number of houses being acquired in a drive to further increase the housing stock. There is also a significant level investment being made towards maintaining and improving the quality of existing council homes. This will help ensure our properties of the highest standard are available for West Lothian tenants.
"The tenants panel supported the continued strategy of a rent increase of 3% with rent arrears levels remaining in a good position. Despite the pandemic there has been an increase in rent collection over the past year in comparison to 2019. It is recognised that this enables more homes to be built and significantly increases the council's ability to ensure its existing homes are improved. Without such an increase this becomes more difficult.
"The council will always look to engage with tenants and Registered Social Landlord partners on ways to ensure that it is delivering the best housing service possible to the benefit of West Lothian residents and we can look forward to work commencing on some significant projects in the next two years."