Estates cash boost

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SHEFFIELD Council has announced millions of pounds of investment in housing estates over the next year – after being slammed for an inflation-busting rent rise.

The authority says the Government is forcing it to make the 6.8 per cent increase, more than double the 3.3 per cent rate of inflation, and has written to housing minister Grant Shapps appealing for permission to reduce the rent hike.

Coun Penny Baker, cabinet member for housing at Sheffield Council, said: “Moving ahead with our commitment to tenants and residents to improve services, coupled with the need to think innovatively to reshape services in the current tough financial times is the impetus during the coming 12 months.”

The council revealed £6m will be spent on continuing the city-wide alarms service for disabled and elderly people, installing burglar alarms, refurbishing accommodation and subsidising the district heating system, so bills can be cut by 10 per cent for homes linked to council-run boilers.

There will be £2.145m spent on new schemes.

These will include consultation on future management of council housing when Sheffield Homes’ contract is up for renewal in 2014 and changes to the lettings system so people can find suitable properties more easily.

Other plans include support for vulnerable tenants, fire prevention work and offers of help for tenants in large properties to downsize if they no longer need the space – freeing their homes for families.

The tenants’ services budget, which funds lettings, estate services, supported accommodation, tackling anti-social behaviour and neighbourhood wardens, will increase by £1.135m on 2010/11 levels, to £42.1m.

The homes and environment budget will increase by £2.604m on 2010/11, to £42.3m, with extra funding for fire safety schemes, recycling facilities in flats and maisonettes, and money towards replacing old heating systems.

A further £800,000 will be available for community projects and tenants will be able to decide which are supported at Sheffield Homes’ Your Community Your Choice events.

But it’s not all good news.

The major repairs allowance, covering large structural repairs and completion of the Decent Homes upgrade programme, will be cut by £620,000 on this year, to £27.3m.

The council is also retaining its plan to freeze Sheffield Homes’ management fee.

Housing budget reserves at the end of the 2011/12 financial year are set to reach £7.036m.

The council says this is necessary due to changes in financing which will see Sheffield’s Government subsidy wiped out in the coming years.