Following his recent visit to co-operative housing pioneer Redditch Homes, shadow local government minister Chris Williamson looks at the potential for mutual housing

DEMAND for affordable housing is rising almost as fast as the Government is making savage cuts to public spending.

A combination of the two is hardly a cocktail for success, and answers are needed quickly as Britain’s housing crisis deepens.

So what is the answer? Fortunately, the last Labour Government set the seeds for sufficient local control of housing to ensure there are a wide variety of options being modelled up and down the country.

One such model is co-operative housing. In some areas this will be an alien concept, as it accounts for less than one per cent of the housing mix across the land.

In April, I was fortunate to have an opportunity to see for myself how one such scheme is operating in Redditch, Worcestershire.

Redditch Co-operative Homes supports five separate co-operatives comprising around 300 homes.

The properties themselves were of an impressive quality. That alone didn’t necessarily make the scheme stand out – a higher standard of housing is, thankfully, a legacy of significant investment during Labour’s 13 years in Government.

But what really did strike me was the feeling of community ownership clearly enjoyed by the many residents I was fortunate to engage in conversation.

In co-operative housing, residents get to make choices on things like tenancies arrangements, repair contractors and neighbourhood activities.

Such arrangements ensure the residents feel that they are in the driving seat.

They have control over their homes. They enjoy the sort of independence that homeowners take for granted, but that those less fortunate often never experience.

In my view, it is precisely the sort of model that we should look to roll out in other areas – particularly those that have struggled with community cohesion.

What better way is there to make people proud of their neighbourhoods than to give them pride in their own homes first?

While the Government may choose to turn a blind eye, sooner or later action must be taken to solve the housing crisis. It is not going to go away by itself.

We have a housing benefit bill which is spiralling, and the only answer is to build again.

And if we build, we need to get it right.

The Government talks about localism but there is little evidence so far that it either plans to truly deliver on that ethos, or even that it understands it.

Co-operative housing encapsulates localism – providing independence to residents and delivering a sense of genuine ownership and pride.

Chris Williamson is Labour MP for Derby North