On 9 February, Councillor Steve McKenna moved a Motion calling on Reigate & Banstead Borough Council to agree that publicly-owned sites should deliver higher levels of affordable housing than is required for the Borough as a whole.
The Motion also asked the Council’s new Property Company to invest in affordable housing.
As is the Council’s usual way, the Motion was referred to the Executive with no debate.
Speaking in support of his Motion, Steve made the following speech:
We all know the lack of affordable housing in this country is now very serious. The average house prices are 8 times average earnings – but in our area the situation is far worse. The map for our area in the new Housing White Paper shows it’s around 14 times earnings, the biggest affordability gap in the country and almost twice the national average.
The effects are damaging our community in all sorts of ways. Young people cannot access decent housing, key workers have to commute longer distances and families have to squeeze into smaller sized units. At the same time, those more affordable areas come under greater pressure so schools and other services are overloaded.
It’s a very good thing that this Council has a policy of 30% affordable housing and we congratulate the Council on delivering affordable housing schemes such as Court Lodge in Horley.
However the reality is that whilst the scale of the challenge is growing, we are not managing to deliver the affordable housing locally on major projects in line with our own housing policy.
The current situation is that developers, including our own Council, are using the viability test of the National Planning Policy Framework and a methodology for the calculation of profit to justify not meeting our affordable housing policy requirements. The adverse consequences of this are compounded locally as we are under the greatest pressure in terms of unaffordability of housing.
Recent planning decisions, including on the publicly-owned Marketfield Way site in Redhill, have not guaranteed that affordable housing will be provided. In this case the Council’s legal team said the Planning Committee, on which I sit, should consider this issue in the same way as any private developer.
In other words the current approach effectively puts developer profit first with affordable housing as optional. A more robust approach is necessary to meet the shortfall and we want even higher levels of affordable housing (at least 30%) to be built on all publicly-led schemes.
The new White Paper says the current housing system is broken. Going forward, this Council has an opportunity to take a lead to provide truly affordable housing locally. We, the Council, should show developers that what is required here can be delivered and we can set the benchmark for the sort of housing schemes and real affordability that is needed for our Borough. This should apply to all schemes delivered by the Council including those through our new Local Authority Property Company.
The new White Paper also helpfully suggests local authorities may dispose of publicly-owned sites at less than market value if this helps enable regeneration including for affordable homes.
All of this also sits alongside our commitment to protect our Green Belt. This doesn’t require us to build even more houses, just to make sure the housing we do provide is truly affordable, so meeting the real affordable housing need of our residents.
In conclusion, we want to see the full policy requirement for affordable housing provided, as a minimum, on publicly-led schemes including those of our own Council Property Company.
I look forward to this being given full consideration by the Council, and to hear the views of other Councillors here today.