Making up for lost time on building sheltered accommodation
Wigan is trying to make up for two years of lost work in providing sheltered accommodation due to Government policies, a councillor says.
Coun Keith Cunliffe, the cabinet’s lead member for adult social care, hopes the borough can now press on with schemes to transform the former site of The Pines and provide more supported living for elderly people.
Coun Cunliffe told a recent cabinet meeting Prime Minister Theresa May had recently told a backbencher at Prime Minister’s Questions that housing adapted to help older or disabled residents would be made exempt from the benefit cap first suggested two years ago.
Although he said the intervention was welcome he also blasted ministers for their inaction, saying the cap had caused schemes to transform the old Abraham Guest school site and Whelley Hospital to be scrapped as financially unviable.
Coun Cunliffe said: “It is intensely frustrating because we are now thinking: ‘Why have we wasted two years when we could have been getting on with these things?’
“I’m pleased the Government has done it now but it would have been better in an announcement or if they had signalled it was coming, not just given it in an answer at PMQs.
“The housing sector, councils and organisations representing older people and those with disabilities all outlined the problems this policy would create and said it would end up costing the Government more money.
“We will get on with this now and get it sorted. Two major schemes were shelved because of the financial position while this was being looked at.
“My view is that if it costs us a bit more in housing benefit that is not covered it is still cheaper than reisdential care. We should carry on with our housing ambitions.”
Coun Cunliffe praised the arms-length management organisation Wigan and Leigh Housing, previously looking after the area in the borough, for continuing to provide extra care and supported accommodation despite the challenging situation, highlighting the creation of 19 flats at Tarnfield for people with learning disabilities.
The council now plans to create a specialist 12-bed unit for people with autism where The Pines previously was, with Coun Cunliffe also hoping some bungalows might be included in the design to allow people to live as independently as possible.
He also said the town hall has plans for new extra care accommodation for older residents and wants to see work progress following the publication of the healthy position the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) budget is in at the cabinet meeting.
It is also hoped the local authority will now be able to re-open discussion with private developers and housing associations about schemes which have been scrapped or new projects.
Coun Cunliffe said that nationally 85 per cent of schemes involving supported housing, extra care accommodation or sheltered homes had been shelved by developers due to the housing benefit cap.