LETTER: Affordable homes concern

Speaking at the recent Conservative Party Conference, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said that his party had for too long allowed older people with large homes to determine housing policy.

According to Mr Javid these homeowners were NIMBYs, who had used planning policies (the NPPF) to prevent the building of houses on countryside near to their homes and that they were responsible for the undersupply of houses, and, by implication, the acute shortage of affordable homes.

However, Mr Javid’s explanation of the housing shortage is a false and misleading narrative. In reality, the NPPF has enabled developers to repeatedly override the objections of local authorities and local people by securing permissions at appeal, to build on fields not allocated for development in local plans. This has been the experience of communities in Sussex, notably Arun District and Mid Sussex district. Moreover, a study by Civitas, Planning approvals vs Housebuilding activity, 2006-2015, found of the 2,035,835 new homes granted permission by local authorities in England over the period, only 1,261,350 had been started and that this huge shortfall accumulated because house builders and developers were hoarding permissions in order to push-up house prices and profits.

In addition, a study of 166 local authorities conducted by the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) and presented by the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) in its report Homes for All, May 2016, found that 61 per cent of these councils believed that the NPPF’s viability test had hindered their ability to ‘secure sufficient social and affordable housing to meet local needs’. Conclusive proof that the viability is a hindering the ability of councils in Sussex to secure sufficient social and affordable housing to meet their needs was provided earlier this year in Horsham district, where a developer employed the ‘viability’ test to override a policy requirement for 35 per cent (963) affordable homes for a development on countryside of 2,750 houses. In consequence, the development may deliver 495 (18 per cent) affordable homes, which is a significant shortfall. That Mr Javid’s explanation of the housing shortage went unchallenged at the conference is cause for particular concern. It shows that politicians are out of touch with reality, which is that developers will reduce build rates when it suits them in order to maintain profit margins and that the NPPF’s ‘viability’ test is hindering the ability of councils to ‘secure sufficient social and affordable housing to meet local needs’. What say Sussex MPs?

Dr R.F. Smith

Trustee ,Campaign to Protect, Rural England Sussex