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A housing project on John Laing's Station Plaza site was granted planning permission, and the affordable housing obligation was erased in 2015. Still there is no sign of development getting under way.

A housing application on John Laing’s Station Plaza site was granted planning permission in 2007, and the affordable housing obligation was deleted in 2015. Still there is no sign of development getting under way.

Yes and no to government housing proposals

The government has promised to roll out new measures, aimed at both local planning authorities and developers, to tackle what it calls the ‘housing crisis’ and boost house-building. Council leader Peter Chowney welcomes some of the proposals but is less impressed with others. Nick Terdre reports.

What the government calls the ‘broken housing market’ has been with us for some time, but its new initiative is believed to be intended to win back support from millennials blocked by high house prices from becoming home-owners who voted Labour in last year’s general election.

Housing secretary Sajid Javid set the tone over the weekend, telling the Sunday Times, “We have a housing crisis in this country. We need a housing revolution.” He went on to attack ‘nimby’ councils for not building enough homes and threatening to remove their planning powers and put them in the hands of independent inspectors.

Focus on developers

Prime minister Theresa May’s primary focus was on developers. “In much of the country, housing is so unaffordable that millions of people who would reasonably expect to buy their own home are unable to do so,” she said. “Others are struggling even to find somewhere to rent.

“The root cause of the crisis is simple. For decades this country has failed to build enough of the right homes in the right places.”

No options would be ruled out for tackling unjustifiable delays, she said. They included allowing councils to take a developer’s previous rate of build-out into account when deciding subsequent planning applications.

Unscrupulous developers

Abuse of the “viability assessment” process would be ended, she said, making it much harder for “unscrupulous developers to dodge their obligation to build homes local people can afford.”

In Hastings developers which have used viability assessments to rid themselves of affordable homes obligations include the Park Lane group, on several occasions, and John Laing, which did so in 2015 in the case of the Station Plaza housing development.

As the Station Plaza project received planning permission in 2007, and there is little sign as yet of construction starting, they would also appear to be guilty of “unjustifiable delays”.

However, neither May nor Javid mentioned two prime causes of the crisis – the Right to Buy introduced by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s and the creation of the viability loophole by the coalition government led by David Cameron in 2012, which has led to the loss of thousands of affordable homes.

Town hall response

Commenting on the proposals, council leader Peter Chowney told HOT that Hastings Borough Council does okay on meeting the targets in its Local Plan, “although the numbers for Hastings are relatively low, as there isn’t much land available for development, relative to other similar-sized, less urban councils”.

He could not think of any proposed developments here that have been prevented because of ‘nimbyism,’ he said, though applications which did not align with policies in the Local Plan were refused.

However there were several hundred homes which had been granted planning permission but had not been built. Blaming councils for not approving plans seemed to be the wrong approach when there were so many developments nationally with planning permission which did not get built, he said.

The measures aimed at developers did not go anywhere near far enough, in Chowney’s view. “Developers should lose their land if they don’t develop it, rather than just not getting planning permission on future applications.”

Scrap viability assessments

“The requirement for viability assessments to be ‘more transparent’ is OK as far as it goes, but viability assessments should be scrapped altogether, and councils should be allowed to enforce requirements to include social housing in development schemes,” he said.

“But the real problem is that the policy still focuses on private developers building enough housing to bring prices down, which they never will. Their duty isn’t to the country or the people, as the PM suggested, it’s to their shareholders – and that means maximising their profits. The only solution is to build far more social rented housing, through councils and housing associations.”

Reform of the private rented sector was necessary too, he said. “Re-introducing rent controls and secure tenancies would make buy-to-let less desirable, bring private sector rents down, and stop house prices escalating.”

In response to May’s point that the rules had been changed so that authorities facing the greatest affordability pressures could access the finance they needed to build more council homes for local people, Chowney pointed out that HBC does not build houses any more, though it hoped to in the future through the housing company it set up last year.

This article was amended by Nick Terdre on 7 March 2018.

Posted 07:24 Tuesday, Mar 6, 2018 In: Home Ground

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