WINCHESTER’s Labour leader wants to restructure council finance to cut the rents that tenants pay.

Cllr Chris Pines has suggested extending the repayment period on housing loans from 30 to 40 years, allowing a hefty reduction in what people pay for their homes.

He told the overview and scrutiny committee last night that many tenants were making stark choices with their incomes being squeezed.

“I reckon the cold and damp is because many cannot afford heating. It is either the rent or the heating.

“We could cut the rent by 17-18 per cent by changing the payback period to 40 years.”

But housing portfolio holder Tony Coates said there was little flexibility to cut rents. He said that council rents in Winchester were currently only 47 per cent of general market rent, compared to 62 per cent elsewhere.

He said it was a subject that should be kept under review.

Meanwhile the council is keen on doing loft conversions to increase the size of homes.

But Andrew Palmer, head of new homes delivery, said after initial interest from 25-30 tenants the figure had now dropped to a disappointing seven or eight.

Mr Palmer said tenants were dropping out because they mistakenly thought they would also be getting additional living space and a bathroom.