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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Community Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 03/03/2003
Affordable Housing Provision in Waverley



APPENDIX H

WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL

ENVIRONMENT OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE – 11TH NOVEMBER 2002
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Title:
AFFORDABLE HOUSING PROVISION IN WAVERLEY

[Wards Affected: All Wards]
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Summary and Purpose

Waverley, like many parts of the country, has an acute shortage of affordable homes. Despite the importance of the issue regionally, there remain obstacles to achieving significant increases in affordable homes, and in fact more are lost through the “Right to Buy” than are being replaced.

The purpose of this report is to inform Members on the progress of delivering affordable housing in Waverley, and to explain the different means by which it is achieved. The report recommends that the Council contribute to a regional debate on issues surrounding the delivery of affordable homes. There are no Resource or Environmental Implications from this report.
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Introduction

1. Over the past twenty years or so the Council has sought to provide “affordable housing”, usually described as “social housing” over that period, for people or households who:

2. In recent years there has been a growing awareness that increasing numbers of people in employment are unable to access the housing market because of house-price rises which also impact on rent levels in the private rented sector. The concept of “key worker” housing has emerged recognising the fact that if the local workforce cannot be housed, there will be economic as well as social impacts. Perhaps the clearest evidence of this change has been the Government’s support of the ‘Starter Home Initiative’ to help “Key Workers” to access the housing market.

3. There is an ongoing debate as to how “affordable housing” should be defined. Waverley has its definition of affordable housing in the Waverley Borough Local Plan 2002. Paragraph 6.30 states:

4. In October 2001 the Council held an “Affordable Housing Seminar” at the Cranleigh Arts Centre. Two key pieces of work were presented: “The Waverley Housing Needs Survey 2001” which quantifies the level of housing need within the Borough, and “Making Affordable Housing Happen”, a Surrey-wide “best practice” guide to delivering affordable housing.

5. The Housing Needs Survey (prepared by David Couttie Associates) identifies a need for 530 new affordable homes per year. This is a very high figure when Waverley averages fewer than 200 dwelling completions per year, the vast majority of which are private “market” dwellings. The problem is further exacerbated by the high level of "Right to Buy" in Waverley, which has reduced the number of council dwellings from over 9,000 when the right to buy was introduced, to just over 5,000 today.

Delivering affordable homes

6. The Council used to build homes for those who could not afford to rent or purchase on the open market. The last major development was at Martin’s Wood, Milford in the early 1990’s.

7. Whilst the Council generally no longer builds new homes itself, it can ‘enable’ new affordable homes. The Local Plan has a target to ‘enable’ 50 affordable units per year. Annexe 1 lists recently completed schemes, those with planning permission, and some that are the subject of a current planning application.

8. The Council ‘enables’ new affordable housing in the following ways:

Providing land

9. Opportunities exist to make better use of existing low-density Council-owned housing estates. Within estates, redevelopment of redundant spaces and under-used land such as garage sites can result not only in more homes, but also environmental improvements. At Kilnfields, Haslemere a whole estate is being redeveloped, bringing 20 additional affordable dwellings.

10. The Council can also purchase land to develop in partnership with Housing Associations. This is the objective on land in Cranleigh where the Council is seeking a 100% affordable housing development for around 60-70 homes on the northern edge of the settlement.

Securing affordable housing on private developments

11. On large enough sites, private developers must provide some affordable housing. The Council first secured affordable units this way at the former “St. James’ Home for the elderly” in Farnham. Permission was granted in 1997 for 41 houses, which included 10 affordable units. The development was finished in September 2000. Lessons have been learned from that scheme, where the affordable houses are segregated from the market houses. National planning policies promote mixed communities. Ideally it should be impossible to tell which are the affordable homes and which are the market homes.

12. More recently 20 affordable units, including 8 “key worker” units, were secured at the Royal Huts site, Hindhead. These are due for completion early 2003.

13. The “quota” approach to secure affordable housing this way is now enshrined in Waverley’s adopted Local Plan. Policy H5 requires developers to make at least 30% of the net increase in dwellings available as subsidised affordable housing. In towns this applies on sites of at least 0.5 hectares or 15 dwellings – the lowest possible threshold that accords with Government Circular 6/98 on Affordable Housing. For villages the Council succeeded in justifying a threshold of 0.2 hectares or 5 dwellings.

14. The following “quota” schemes currently have planning permission: Bramley Grange Hotel (includes 6 affordable units), Hillbrow Motors, Elstead (includes 2 affordable units) and 41-43 Shortheath Road, Farnham (includes 7 affordable units).

15. There are a number of other “quota” schemes in the pipeline. The largest development opportunities in Waverley are identified in the Local Plan, such as the town centre “Key Sites”, East Street Area of Opportunity, Milford Hospital and the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences, Wormley. If development takes place at Bourne Mill, Farnham it will be expected to provide 60% affordable housing.

16. In addition to “subsidised affordable housing”, the Housing Needs Survey identified a need for small “market” dwellings. These are needed to meet the increasing number of one and two person households, and to achieve more “market” housing within the financial reach of local people. To address this the Local Plan requires house builders to provide a mix of house sizes on sites for “more than three dwellings” (Local Plan Policy H4 “Density and Size of Dwellings”). At least half should be 1 or 2-bedroom units. Draft Supplementary Planning Guidance for Policy H4 has been published for consultation.

Rural exception sites

17. The Local Plan has an additional affordable housing policy aimed specifically at rural areas - the “rural exceptions” policy. This was first introduced in the 1993 Local Plan, and allows for small-scale development to take place where it would not otherwise be permitted, provided it is entirely for affordable housing. Housing Associations can take advantage of cheap land values that enable these schemes to work.

18. So far “exception” schemes have been completed at Alfold (24 units), Dunsfold (12 units), Tilford (8 units) and Hambledon (5 units). A second phase at Dunsfold for a further 9 units is nearly complete, and permission has been granted for 15 units at Milford (subject to a legal agreement).

19. “Exception sites” can be controversial since they rely on developing greenfield land not identified “up front” in the Local Plan. However, occupancy is restricted to those with a local connection, and consequently these schemes can generate a lot of support within the village. Planning applications must be backed up by a local housing needs survey for the village or parish, and have the support of the Parish Council.

Cross-departmental working

20. A close working relationship exists between the Housing and Planning departments. Housing officers advise developers as to the types of units desired in different areas, and planners provide advice on developments initiated by the Housing Department. In order to formalise and secure this relationship in the future, officers regularly hold “planning and housing liaison meetings” to highlight and iron out difficulties that arise. A regular meeting such as this has itself been recommended as good practice elsewhere.

Financial programmes

21. Building more affordable housing is one way of increasing supply, but there are also funding regimes in place to purchase homes on the open market for those in need:

Starter Homes Initiative (SHI)

22. The Council works with the other Surrey Districts, public sector employers and Thames Valley Housing Association to secure Government funding under the SHI. 154 homes in Surrey, including 23 in Waverley, have been purchased on the open market and made available to police, health workers and teachers – the groups that fall within the Government’s definition of “key workers”.

Do-it-yourself shared ownership (DIYSO)

23. The Council nominates households on the Housing Needs Register to choose a property on the open market, which is then purchased by a Housing Association using Local Authority Social Housing Grant. The applicant purchases whatever share they can afford and then pay rent to the Housing Association on the remainder. In addition to this, Waverley has this year established and funded a new DIYSO scheme solely for “essential workers” in Waverley.

Homebuy

24. This is similar to the DIYSO scheme described above, except that funding is provided by the Housing Corporation. Nominees from the Council’s Housing Needs Register purchase 75% of a property, with the remaining 25% being retained by a Housing Association. 8 units have been secured this way in the last year.

Difficulties encountered in increasing the supply of affordable housing

25. Despite the efforts and successes achieved so far, Waverley has an acute shortage of “affordable” homes. This is true for many parts of the country, particularly in the south-east. The Government, County and District Councils, and other organisations from national to local level, are trying to address the problem.

26. A number of significant barriers reduce the supply of affordable housing. Annexe 2 shows a summary of responses from local authorities in the south-east region to questions about the supply of affordable housing. It also lists actions that local authorities are taking to increase supply, and steps that might be taken, or lobbied for at regional level. Waverley has done, or is doing most of the things on the list, and is doing other actions not listed.

Right to Buy

27. One of the biggest problems is the loss of existing Council properties through “Right to Buy” which results in affordable homes being lost at a faster rate than new ones can be built. Since 1980, when “Right to Buy” was introduced, the number of Council dwellings has reduced from over 9,000 to just over 5,000 today. Concern over the removal of the “Right to Buy” has led to a recent rush of applications.

Changes to Capital Receipt rules

28. Waverley’s future ability to enable affordable housing could be significantly reduced by the current Government proposal that instead of debt-free authorities being able to use 100% of its housing capital receipts on housing activities, it will only able to use 25%. The remaining 75% would be pooled and re-distributed to areas most in need. It is highly likely that Waverley would not be seen as an area most in need, despite the difficulties.

29. A further proposal is that the Housing Corporation will no longer reimburse Local Authority Social Housing Grants. Both of these measures, if implemented, will significantly affect the funding available. The Council responded to the Government’s proposals, which are out for consultation. The Executive agreed the response on 13th September 2002.

Purchasing land and achieving good design

30. One of the difficulties for Housing Associations, particularly in this area, is making schemes work financially. Housing Associations are only able to fund schemes within limits set by the Housing Corporation on both costs and rents. This affects the price they are able to pay for land and hence they cannot compete on the open market against private developers. Financial constraints also cause a conflict with planning policies that require design standards beyond those achievable within the limits placed on total scheme costs.

Conclusion

31. The Council takes a pro-active approach in a number of different ways to secure affordable housing. It also has an up-to-date Local Plan with policies to maximise the number of affordable homes that can be achieved via the planning system. Waverley experiences difficulties common to other local authorities, but Planning and Housing departments work closely toward the common objective of securing more affordable homes.

Resource/environmental and "Opportunities for All" implications

The Council’s attempts to maximise the supply of affordable housing, using all the tools at its disposal, is consistent with its Housing Strategy, Local Plan, and “Opportunities for All” objectives. There are no Resource or Environmental Implications from this report.

Recommendation

That the Comittee:

1. notes the work being done under various approaches outlined in the report to increase the supply of affordable housing; and

2. expresses concern to the South East England Regional Assembly (SEERA) Regional Planning Committee “Housing Advisory Group” over the Government proposal regarding housing capital receipts, and the difficulties encountered by Housing Associations in purchasing sites and achieving good design within their financial constraints.




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Background Papers (DoP&D)

There are no background papers (as defined by Section 100D(5) of the Local Government Act 1972) relating to this report.
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CONTACT OFFICERS:

Names: Daniel Hawes Telephone: 01483 523295
e-mail: dhawes@waverley.gov.uk

Karen Novell Telephone: 01483 523096
e-mail: knovell@waverley.gov.uk






































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