Labour’s portfolio holder for housing and regeneration has hit back at ‘political point-scoring’ after a local Conservative member tried to ‘throw shade on huge progress with the city’s housing agenda’.

Councillor Rebecca Atkinson, who is a ward councillor for Barnes Ward as well as being Dynamic City lead on the city council’s cabinet, said the Tories’ attempts to diminish a programme of work that is improving communities the length and breadth of Sunderland is nothing more than ‘cheap political point scoring in the run up to the local elections’.

It comes after Cllr Michael Dixon criticised work carried out as part of the council’s £59m programme to bring empty properties back into use and build new bungalows for vulnerable residents and older people.

Cllr Atkinson said: “This is a thinly veiled political attack on a programme of work that has been hugely successful, just a year after being launched.

“Our hardworking team at the council – which is charged with bringing more than 360 empty properties back into use as family homes over the next five years, as well as building 117 new built properties and bringing forward 95 new homes, providing supported accommodation – has made huge strides in the last 12 months, and the Tories’ attempts to cast shade on this simply shows how desperate they are.

“This Labour-led council is delivering on its promises and – despite Cllr Dixon knowing full well that we are developing properties at pace and bringing empty homes back into use too – the opposition party member has sought to throw shade on our progress, and will no doubt attempt to claim credit when this Labour-led council achieves its objectives, under the auspices of having ‘brought the matter to the council’s attention’ when the reality is that we are already aware of – and working to deal with – a number of problematic empty premises in the city – including the property Cllr Dixon refers to.”

Cllr Atkinson’s comments follow questions from Cllr Dixon regarding an empty property close to the city centre, which council officers are currently seeking enforcement action to tackle.  It followed an attack on the cost of a Shiney Row development, that will deliver much-needed housing for older and vulnerable residents.  The council defended the move, which will deliver a return on investment to the taxpayer in rental income.

Cllr Atkinson added: “Nobody objects to scrutiny, and we – of course – welcome genuine questions, but playing these out through the media, when councillors have already had their questions well-answered by officers would seem to be a rather cynical attempt to take credit for action they know full well is already in motion, and to attack a highly successful programme of work in the meantime.

“We are absolutely focused on developing more affordable homes for rent for residents in this city – part of a wider programme to develop more than 7,000 homes over the next 10 years to ensure we have the range of properties needed to meet demand.  I am incredibly proud of Labour’s record on housing, and no amount of cynical questioning, played out through the media, changes the fact we are absolutely delivering on our commitments and creating a better place for to live, work and play for residents now and in the future.”

As well as building affordable homes for rent, the council is determined to drive up standards, something that is ensuring residents enjoy a better quality of life.

“We’re developing desirable properties, with a fantastic specification to ensure that these are homes our residents can enjoy and that enable them to lead a better quality of life.  Naturally we need to ensure a return on investment – and we are doing just that – but we’re also ensuring that our new properties afford residents a home that they can be proud of, and why shouldn’t people in social housing have access to that?”