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Gloucestershire Business News

Cheltenham Borough Homes marked for closure under huge housing shakeup

Cheltenham Borough Homes (CBH) has been earmarked for closure under proposals for a massive shakeup of housing in the town.

Cheltenham Borough Council wants to dissolve the 20 year partnership and take back responsibility for management of its 5,122 homes.

It said the shock move was due to "increasing financial pressures and a changing regulatory framework" and could save an estimated £2million for taxpayers.

The proposals to shut the arms length management company are due to be discussed by the cabinet at a meeting next Tuesday (Oct 17).

If approved, the council hopes the CBH board will agree to voluntarily wind up the company. However, if it resists the council can use reserved power from the company's articles to force its hand.

The report does not reveal details of the winding up of the company or what will happen to staff. It said the full scope of issues relating to the change will be identified and considered before any decision to dissolve CBH is taken.

The council said taking back control of housing in the borough would allow it to accelerate the

delivery of affordable homes through its £180m housing investment plan. It said this will also bolster its ambition to make Cheltenham the Cyber Capital of the UK and achieve net zero.

A key reason CBH was set up in 2003 was so the council could access central government funding to help bring its homes up to the 'Decent Homes' standard. This pot of money ended in 2016 and since then investment for homes has come from council budgets.

The cabinet report said as of 2023 the council's HRA ( housing revenue account) resources have reduced by £92m over the life of the business plan. This is due to cost inflation increasing overall expenditure by £2.5m in 2023/24 and a 7% Government imposed rent cap which will result in the HRA net operating surplus falling from more than £1m to £35k in 2023/24.

The report added: "Whilst the total savings that can be delivered will be assessed and evaluated during the transition period, it would not be unrealistic to achieve in excess of £2m across the multiple work-streams.

"These savings would be proportionately shared between the General Fund and HRA to ensure financial sustainability can be achieved."

The changes have also been proposed due to the new Social Housing (Regulation) Act.

It means the council will be subject to increased scrutiny and regulation as it is now accountable if things go wrong rather than CBH or any other management company.

Councillor Rowena Hay, leader at Cheltenham Borough Council, thanked CBH for its work over the last two decades but said it was time for the council to "evolve".

She said: ''The cost of living crisis has placed significant financial pressures on the provision of services.

"This crisis has come at a time when we have set out ambitious plans to deliver more affordable homes, and to be carbon net zero by 2030.

"In order to help meet these aims, and to ensure that we continue to provide even more quality homes and invest in our communities long into the future, we have to change the way we do things.''

She said bringing housing services together into the council meant they could work directly with tenants and leaseholders and added: "Ultimately, we are answerable to our customers, so their voice is critical in how we shape the future delivery of our housing services."

The council has assured CBH tenants, leaseholders and customers that they will not be adversely affected by the changes.

It said long term benefits would include a direct link into the council, a more streamlined experience with housing, waste, recycling, council tax and benefits all be managed through one organisation and a potential for the council to combine teams so that they work more efficiently within neighbourhoods, so that knowledge is shared and services are more efficient.

Letters, containing a full bank of questions and answers, are going out to all tenants and leaseholders by email and through the post over the coming days. These can also be found on the CBH website and council website, from today (Oct 9).

During the transitionary period, customers can continue to report issues including repairs, neighbourhood concerns and complaints in exactly the same way as before; that is directly to CBH.

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