New housing in Nunney – a guide (2)


What do you mean by ‘affordable housing’?

Social housing
An example of new-built social-rented houses, in Warwick.
This is where it gets confusing. Affordable housing includes social rent, affordable rent, intermediate rent and affordable home ownership.

Affordable housing includes social rented, affordable rented and intermediate housing, provided to specified eligible households whose needs are not met by the market. It can be a new-build property or a private sector property that has been purchased by the council or a housing association for use as an affordable home.

Different households can have very different housing needs. For example, someone seeking work might need to rent a home at a very low price. But a young couple earning an average wage, might need help to buy their first home. Because households are in different circumstances with varying incomes, affordable housing schemes are designed to offer a range of choices.

Different types of affordable housing include:

  • Social rented housing is owned and let by local authorities and housing associations. These homes are offered at the lowest rents which are set by Government (sometimes called target rents).
  • Affordable rented housing was introduced in 2011. It is owned and let by housing associations and homes are managed and maintained in the same way as social rented homes. But Government allow higher rents to be charged (up to 80% of open market rents). Because more rent is charged, the housing providers can generate income to  help build more homes. Such rents are often charged on new build homes. Housing benefit can still be claimed to assist with paying the rent.
  • Intermediate affordable housing is a general term used for affordable homes, both to rent and buy, which are aimed at those households who can’t afford to meet their needs in the open market  but can afford more than very low social rents. Part-buy or shared ownership is designed for people who cannot afford to buy a house on the open market but still want to get on the property ladder.  An initial share is bought (usually 25% to 75%) and then rent is paid on the remaining part.  There are two monthly payments, one for the mortgage and one for the rent.  However, these are still less than the mortgage would be on an open market property.  The other share in your home is owned by a housing association or a developer.

Tenants in social housing typically pay around 50% of the going rate for a similar property in the area. But in other situations, tenants in social rented accommodation pay 80% of the typical market rate and the extra money has to be used by the housing association to build more affordable homes.

Social housing is not restricted to specific streets or blocks; social housing properties often have neighbours who pay considerably more in rent for a similar property.

In Nunney, Barratt Homes has suggested that the legally required 30% affordable housing included in any new development will be a mixture of rent and part-buy property. The government has introduced schemes to help first-time buyers by reducing the amount they need to save as a deposit.

Are there any other arguments against building 100 homes?

Barratt Homes
Another Barratt Homes development
Nunney has historically had a very stable population of around 850-1,000 residents since as far back as Domesday Book (1086). If Barratt Homes really did build 100 new homes, it would mean an increase of 25-30% in the local population for the first time in history.

Compare that to Mendip District Council‘s stated aims in the as-yet-unadopted draft local plan for 2006-2028: “To maintain and enhance the quality of the local environment and contribute to international climate change goals: 20. Create well designed places that are safe and responsive to their surroundings, whether built, natural or cultural, whilst maintaining and enhancing the historic environment. 21. Deliver new development that makes efficient use of land, using sustainable methods of construction and utilising technologies that minimises their environmental running costs.”

Interestingly, Mendip commissioned a housing need assessment in 2011 that showed that the population growth in Mendip forecast by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for the next two decades was almost half of what it had forecast in 2008: “New sub-national population projections have been published by ONS (2010-based). These project an increase in population from 2011 to 2031 of 8,400 people – significantly lower than the 2008-based projections which showed an increase over the same period of 15,000 people. It follows therefore that household projections will also be significantly lower than in the 2008-based CLG estimates.”

If we fight on statistics and policy, we’ll lose
Not if the 2011 housing needs assessment commissioned by Mendip shows that the original estimates for housing needs in the Mendips were wrong.

The 2010 forecast for population growth in the region 2011 – 2031 was almost half (8,400) of what the Office for National Statistics estimated in 2008 (15,000). That means they overestimated population growth by almost 100% just 2 years earlier.

If statistics since then show that the official estimated need for new housing in Mendip has dramatically been revised down again since Mendip’s original assessment in the draft local plan 2006-2028, you can use statistics and policy quite effectively. Development must meet local needs; if the need for housing has reduced, you can argue for a much smaller development.

Is this part of what you call the ‘national plan’?

Barratt Homes
Barratt Homes builds all over the country
National planning policies set out principles which define an overall framework which local planning authorities should use to define where best to focus growth. This is called the National Planning Policy Framework.

The National Planning Policy Framework is a key part of the government’s reforms to make the planning system less complex and more accessible. It vastly simplifies the number of policy pages about planning. The framework acts as guidance for local planning authorities and decision-takers, both in drawing up plans and making decisions about planning applications.

It is the role of the district council to use these principles to outline what is the most appropriate means to plan for the area and set this out in a Spatial Strategy. This broadly defines where most development will be focused and what scale of development is appropriate in identified parts of the area.

This is basically what Mendip District Council did years ago, when it identified the two possible building sites. This is important, because the National Planning Policy Framework says that planning permission should be granted “without delay” if it fits in with Mendip’s development plan unless any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits.

In this case, Mendip identified years ago that up to 100 homes could be built on the site. Any arguments to prove them wrong and reduce the number of houses will need to be objective, significant and demonstrable. Tricky stuff.

The fact that no one challenged Mendip’s Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) at the time when it said that up to 100 houses would be suitable for this site also makes it harder to challenge the assumption now. The figure has been in the public domain for years without anyone challenging it.

So it’s okay to build 100 houses by the council estate, but applications in the centre of the village get rejected?
Nunney Parish Council isn’t a planning authority. It doesn’t decide on what new housing in Nunney goes ahead and what gets rejected. In fact, it doesn’t have that much influence on planning applications. It can only make a recommendation.

Mendip District Council does decide. Important considerations are access and whether the size of the proposed development is appropriate for the proposed site. So whether you apply to build 10 houses at Berry Hill, 4 houses by Cherry Tree Farm or 100 houses on Green Pits Lane, the decision will be largely based on whether there is sufficient access to the site.

For Green Pits Lane / Glebelands, Barratt Homes has suggested that the main access will be via Glebelands. Even if the road is widened, this could lead to traffic chaos at times – a major consideration for Mendip’s planning officers, who have to make a recommendation on any application to Mendip District Council’s planning board.

The Highways Agency will have a lot of influence in this respect, as they are very strict on access issues. Where access routes will be will of course also depend on the number of houses that are eventually built.

We don’t need 4 and 5-bedroom properties. Can’t we only have smaller homes?

Cathedral Walk, Wells
Cathedral Walk is a new housing development by Barratt Homes in Wells.
Barratt Homes is a commercial property developer. They don’t only built for what people in Nunney need. They build what they think will be popular with buyers.

From the few details that Barratt Homes has shared about the plans so far, it seems that any new development will be a mix of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5-bedroom properties. That’s a commercial decision for Barratt’s over which local residents have little say.

What we can influence is how the development looks and how it is landscaped. The commercial decisions on how many bedrooms are pretty much strictly between Barratt Homes and Mendip District Council. Sorry.

Why can’t we find a housing association to build affordable homes?
Housing association’s don’t build houses. Commercial property companies do. It’s the law. The percentage of affordable and social housing that commercial developers must build has changed over the years, but right now it’s 30%.

Commercial developers can only build commercial properties if they include 30% social and affordable housing. No one else will build social and affordable housing right now unless they can also compensate for this by building commercial properties – houses that anyone can buy if they can afford them and that compensate the developer for the social and affordable housing.

No one else can afford to build only social and affordable housing right now. Without profits, there would be no social and affordable housing right now. Fact.

That means that means that only way you are going to get – say – 12 affordable or social housing properties is to allow a developer to build 40 new homes – including 12 affordable or social housing properties and 28 commercial properties.

If you want to read more on this, Mendip District Council’s Affordable Housing Viability Study (January 2009) makes interesting reading.

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