Developers reneging on affordable housing targets

DEVELOPERS are using "shady tactics" to renege on commitments to build affordable housing, leaving many councils woefully short of their targets, according to new research.

Analysis by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) using Government data indicates the proportion of affordable homes provided by non-metropolitan local authorities has more than halved in five years, falling from 35% in 2011-12 of new dwellings in shire districts and unitary authorities to 16% in 2015-16. Apart from a small recovery in 2014-15, there was a continued decline.

Of the 15 most unaffordable districts outside London, only five met their most recent lowest affordable housing target. In Epping Forest, the 10th most expensive borough outside the capital, just 14% of new housing over the past five years has been affordable, against a target of 40%.

The CPRE said as councils no longer receive direct funding for affordable housing and, until recently, very few have been building homes, the main way affordable housing has been provided is through conditions included in planning permission designed to mitigate the impact of development on the local community. A viability assessment may be used to negotiate down the developers' contribution if it can show there would be an impact on the overall viability of the project.  

However, it added, a pattern has emerged where developers claim through a viability assessment that it is not or no longer possible to build the requisite proportion of affordable homes as part of a development. In one case, in Horsham, Sussex, an American real estate investment trust told the council that a viability study had demonstrated its development could not provide more than half the council's 35% affordable housing target. Faced with an appeal or seeing the development cancelled, the council accepted the developer's assessment and waved through the 2,750-home and business park scheme.

The research follows a study by the Town & Country Planning Association showing that 98% of councils describe their affordable housing needs as either moderate or severe.

Paul Miner, planning campaign manager at the CPRE, said: "Many councils are falling woefully short of their targets to provide affordable homes. Yet you also have to look at those developers who continually use shady tactics to renege on promises to build affordable homes and new community infrastructure. These are often promises that win them permission in the first place.

"Developers have councils in a bind. It's either fewer affordable homes or missed housing targets. And either way it's young people and local people in need who lose out. 

"As just 8% of rural housing is affordable, much of the countryside is already out of reach to those on average incomes. If we don't change things this will just get worse. The next Government must reduce the power of these viability studies, stop highly profitable developers gaming the system and give councils the hard cash to start building houses again."