The plans were included in the Housing Strategy officers' report which Firmin described as impenetrable. Several people had tried to make sense of it, including Brent Central potential Labour candidate Kingsley Abrams, and had been unable to say with absolute certainty what was proposed. His local Kilburn councillors had said they knew nothing about it and when he asked Cllr Margaret McLennan and Cllr Michael Pavey, both members of the Executive what it meant, they confirmed rent rises over five years to 80% of market rents.
He said that the Council would be adding to the financial problems of people already hit by benefit cuts, council tax benefit changes and higher food and energy prices. He asked why tenants were being forced to fund new build through the rent increases and contrasted that with the freezing of the Council Tax.
Firmin said that this was not something the Council had to do and he circulated information from Islington Council on its approach.
Muhammed Butt defended the Council's approach saying that new housing was imperative. Cllr Margaret McLennan, lead member for housing, said that the policy referred to social rent and not market rents (a search of the report reveals that the only mention of social rent is one about the possible national fixing of these). She said that the Council had not yet decided on their definition of an affordable social rent. She said that that the planned new build was good news ands that the plans had receved a high level of endorsement.The priority was to house people on the waiting list.
Andy Donald, head of Regeneration and Major Project, said the new build would go straight to an 'affordable' rent of between 60% and 80% of market rent. This was the government's definition and the Council would have to charge that to use a government grant. If new build was at an 'affordable rent' it would help fund the refurbishment of existing stock. The actual rent rises would be fixed in February 2013 and would be roughly 4% higher in 2014-15.
Cllr Pavey waded in to say that Pete Firmin should have discussed this earlier, the Islington document was interesting but why hadn't Pete circulated it beforehand (and anyway they had more land available than Brent) and then ended with what is fast becoming his mantra: this is not perfect but the best we can do in difficult times.
Many of us left not entirely clear on what was proposed and I suspect that was also true of the Executive members who voted to approve the strategy.