A ‘HAMMER blow’ has fallen on plans to build hundreds of affordable homes in Oxford due to changes to government rules, it is claimed.

Oxford City Council says it can no longer deliver 241 new properties planned over the next four years, with its stake in the flagship 885-home Barton Park estate at risk.

It is because of a £33.6m black hole forecasted in the local authority’s budget, caused by changes the government plans to make to Right to Buy, a cap on social rents and the so-called ‘pay to stay’ policy.

Deputy leader Ed Turner will tell councillors next week that together the policies represent a “triple whammy” that has forced the Town Hall to rethink its plans.

He said: “The government’s policies are a hammer blow to council housing.

“We are doing our best to see more affordable homes built in Oxford, but will now have to look for a different way.

“The decisions coming from Whitehall mean although our programme was good and ambitious, it has now been made impossible.”

The city council is due to approve its new budget papers for public consultation next Thursday, at the executive board.

According to Mr Turner, the council is urgently looking at whether it will transfer its £52.3m stake in Barton Park – for 354 council homes – to a housing association or a new housing company.

In addition, the 241 council homes the council planned to build over the next four years will no longer go ahead.

The council has also been forced to scale back the regeneration of Blackbird Leys, with its budget cut from £8.6m to £5.2m.

Further cuts to its grant funding from the government are also expected after Chancellor George Osborne said funding for councils would be slashed by another 24 per cent.

To balance the books, the city council favours a hike in its council tax precept of 1.99 per cent – about £6 extra a year for band D households – efficiency savings of almost £20m and increases to charges for leisure facilities and parking over four years.

Extra charges will include putting up the price of garden waste bins by £2, a 25 per cent rise in pre-application planning advice, higher pest control charges of up to £20, cemetery rights charges of up to £30 more, off-street parking charge rises of up to 20p and an increase of up to £1.20 on some leisure centre fees. Garage fees would go up by five per cent.

The council will also try to boost the income it gets from its valuable properties like those in George Street and Gloucester Green.

Mr Turner stressed that people on lower incomes will not be subject to higher leisure fees, and support for council tax payments will be maintained.

On Thursday he will tell councillors: “These changes are highly unwelcome and we will lobby government to change its mind.”

The city council says it has been worst hit by three key changes to the Government’s policies:

* Right to buy: The Government is set to offer the same discounts offered to council home tenants to housing association tenants if they decide to buy their home. To compensate housing associations it will force councils to sell their highest-value homes when they become empty. 
* Social rents cap: In July Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced councils would be made to reduce rents to their tenants by one per cent for the next four years.
* ‘Pay to stay’: Councils have been told they will have to charge market rents to tenants living in households with incomes of £30,000 or more. The Government would receive the extra cash made.