News

Council-owned developer could become landlord

Sixty Bricks has so far built 299 homes but wants to build 5,000 by 2037

By Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter

Jazz Yard, built by Sixty Bricks (Credit: Sixty Bricks)

The property developer owned by Waltham Forest Council could become a social housing landlord to “accelerate housing delivery”.

Set up in 2016 under former leader Chris Robbins,  Sixty Bricks has so far built 299 new homes, about two-thirds of which are for social rent, with a budget of around £100million.

The council hopes this will increase to 5,000 homes over the next 15 years, as part of its overall ambition to see 27,000 new homes in the borough by 2037.  

Sixty Bricks’ business plan, approved by cabinet yesterday (12th January), shows it is considering a number of changes to reach this goal, including becoming a large-scale affordable housing landlord or “registered provider”. 

This would mean that, instead of passing finished homes to the council, Sixty Bricks could manage them itself in order to “accelerate housing delivery and improve scheme viability”.

This would allow government funding for affordable homes and income from right-to-buy sales of homes to “pass through” the company instead of the council.

Any plans for the company to become a registered provider, in the style of a housing association, would first need to be approved by Waltham Forest Council.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Conservative councillor John Moss said the council “absolutely should not” approve the change.

He said: “It would be contrary to the purpose for which [Sixty Bricks] was established: namely to provide the council with new affordable homes, owned by the council. 

“It would risk a return to the bad old days of Ascham Homes, which cost the council millions of pounds.”

Ascham Homes was an arm’s-length organisation that managed the borough’s council homes between 2003 and 2015. During that period, the council was forced to bail Ascham Homes out on two occasions to avoid financial collapse, costing taxpayers at least £7.6million.

The business plan presented to council leaders yesterday set out a number of other possible changes at the developer. These include purchasing land for new homes, partnering with other developers, investing outside of the borough and building flats for rent on the private market.

Investing in private rental homes “could be lucrative and deliver an immediate income”, the plan states, given “demand[…] continues to be strong” in the borough. 

However, the report also notes the risk posed by uncertainty in the housing market due to “high interest rates not seen in decades, rising build costs and a period of political uncertainty”.

At the meeting, cabinet member for housing and regeneration Ahsan Khan said: “We are pleased with the progress Sixty Bricks has made as we work toward the manifesto commitment of building 1,000 new homes for social rent, prioritised toward local people whose friends and families are here in Waltham Forest.”

However, Conservative group leader Emma Best later told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that Sixty Bricks is a “continuous source of concern” for residents due to the “uncomfortable” relationship between the developer and council.

She added: “Performance has also been a concern, with often unrealistic schemes put forward including a poor mix of homes.

“The business plan does little to address concerns, laying bare Sixty Bricks’ failure to see appropriate sites brought forward. With such a slow pipeline, something has to change.”