Outlook for Norwich as chancellor bids to boost economy

George Osborne yesterday promised to support families, businesses and jobs in his autumn statement. But is it good news for Norwich? BEN WOODS reports.

Norwich's council homes could be the subject of a fresh sell-off attempt, as chancellor George Osborne pledged to 're-invigorate' the right-to-buy scheme providing social housing tenants with a 50pc discount if they choose to buy their home.

Mr Osborne said the right to buy scheme was 'one of the greatest social policies of our time' and confirmed that the money generated from the scheme would fund the construction of more affordable housing. He said: 'The government can use the low interest rates we've secured to help young families too, who want to buy a home but can't afford the very large deposits that banks are now demanding.

'And we are going to reinvigorate the right to buy. This was one of the greatest social policies of all time.

'It brought home ownership within the reach of millions of aspiring families. It was slowly and stealthiy strangled, as discounts were cut and cut again. We will bring it to life.'

Victoria MacDonald, cabinet member for housing at Norwich City Council, said she would have liked to have seen the government invest directly in building more affordable homes outright.

'Currently when a social house is sold 75pc goes to the government and 25pc stays in Norwich,' she said. 'We want to make sure that more money stays in the city. I would have liked to seen more from the government about building social housing directly.'

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John Barrett, who has a son and another child on the way, has been renting for five years and believes he is no closer to getting onto the housing ladder through the new government schemes. The 30-year-old, of Hall Road, Norwich, who works for Aviva said: 'There is still no way we could save the amount money we need for a deposit because we do not have the disposable income.

'We registered for social housing, but because we both have jobs we are not eligible, so we cannot take advantage of the right to buy scheme. What I would like to see is the government putting the interest rates up so perhaps more people would put their homes on the market, which would help drive the prices down.'

Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said: 'These levels of discounts will be extremely attractive, but it's vital that any new scheme includes rigorous affordability checks to make sure that people can truly afford to buy their home and maintain it into the future.

'Our advisers see people who bought under previous the right to buy schemes who are now living in homes that have fallen into disrepair because they cannot pay for the upkeep. We have to learn the lessons of the past and ensure this doesn't happen again.

'We already have a critical shortage of affordable housing. The government has to ensure that any homes sold under this new scheme are replaced by housing that is genuinely affordable for the million of hard working families across the country who face a daily struggle to meet their housing costs.' The chancellor also pledged to help 100,000 people get a foot on the property ladder through the mortgage indemnity scheme and he also moved to help the construction industry get schemes off the ground with a �400m initiative to kick-start construction projects with planning permission.

But Wendy Evans-Scott, President of the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) said: 'We were disappointed to see that the first time buyer holiday for Stamp Duty Land Tax is not being extended beyond March 2012. As such, the Autumn Statement fails to provide much comfort to the property market. First time buyers are the lifeblood of the property market, and our recent data shows the number of first time buyers getting on to the housing ladder has reached a three-year low.

'With the stamp duty holiday disappearing from next March, the government will need to do more to help the fragile first time buyer market.'

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith, pictured left, said the extra funding made available for infrastructure projects in the development pool could help move ahead plans for the controversial Norwich northern bypass.

'This means that that Norwich Northern Distributor Road may move ahead in December. I support the road project to help businesses and also residents who suffer from a lot of congestion in the north of Norwich,' she said.