A LOCAL tenants’ group has called on the council to take action over the ever-lengthening housing waiting list.

The Swindon Tenants Campaign Group has said an annual programme of council house building needs to start in an attempt to cut the list, which they say now exceeds 16,000 families.

They are also urging the council to keep rents down and not to adopt the Govern-ment’s affordable rent model, which can be up to 80 per cent of the private market.

Council leaders have said that while they support building council houses in principle, the financial reality of the situation means it is not possible.

The problem has been exasperated by the Right to Buy scheme in which tenants can buy their council homes, with 40 being bought in Swindon in the 2012/13 year alone and 7,000 overall since the scheme was introduced by Margaret Thatcher.

Martin Wicks, secretary of STCG, said: “The only way that this shortage can be addressed is by starting to build council housing once again.

“We need to campaign for a change in national housing policy, for subsidy for council house building to be reinstated.

“However, the council can begin an annual council house building programme even if not on a scale as large as we need. It can borrow money from the Government's Public Works Loan Board.

“It could also use some of the money which it has gained from the Government’s New Homes Bonus. This would at least counteract the loss of council homes from Right to Buy. For instance, if it borrowed £10 million it would enable it to build 100 or so homes.

“The town needs an increase in the number of homes with social rent. If the council introduces affordable rent we will lose council homes with council rents.

“This will push up the housing benefit bill as a result of the much higher rent levels of affordable rent.

“Driving rents up towards market levels makes no sense.”

Coun Richard Hurley (Con, Covingham and Dorcan), the Cabinet Member for Housing, has said he would like to build 1,000 council houses a year but it is not possible in the current climate.

He said: “I would love to be able to build council homes but it is a case of finding the money to do so and space.

“Unfortunately, the climate at the minute means it is not possible.

“When setting the rents of council houses you have to look at a whole range of factors.

“It would be great if they were free but once again that is not the world we live in.

“The small rise we went with this year will provide an extra £200,000 which can be used for repairs.”