FORMER council homes are being bought back and spruced up as part of a £975,000 investment to boost Southend’s housing stock.

Southend Council has set aside the huge sum to be spent over the next three years on making improvements to homes before giving them to residents on the 1,000-strong housing waiting list.

Some of the homes were sold under the Right to Buy scheme, introduced by Margaret Thatcher 40 years ago to help people get on the housing ladder.

It allows anyone who has lived in a council property for more than three years to buy it for a discount – from 35 per cent up to a maximum 70 per cent.

If sold within five years, homeowners will have to repay some of the profit but after ten years they can sell up and keep the profit.

The council is now buying back some of those former council properties, as well as other homes, and setting aside cash to bring them up to the decent homes standard.

David Garston, councillor responsible for housing and planning, said: “We’re aiming for about 20 a year. We’ll do former council properties but also others that are suitable.

“It does make sense in my view because if somebody is paying rent into the council it is dead money and they never see it again. They buy that property and the council then gets that money and reinvests it in other property. Originally you couldn’t do it but now you can.”

Mr Garston added: “The important thing is it’s housing people.

“They look after the property better and they spend money on things like new windows and it does mean that money will find or build another property to house people.”

Daniel Cowan, leader of the Labour Group, said the scheme is flawed.

He added: “The principle of Right to Buy is fine but the execution has always been wrong. The idea was the money generated from Right to Buy would be put back into building new council housing. That hasn’t happened.

“For every four or five homes we’ve sold we might just be able to buy one back. The average value of a home in Southend is upwards of a quarter of a million pounds. They could have been sold for as low as £50,000.”