Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Affordable housing under occupation at Bellway’s Porter’s Grove development in Hollington. Of a total 208 dwellings, 52 will be affordable.

HBC’s affordable housing target in question

Although several of Hastings Borough Council’s key housing projects have for one reason or another been knocked off course, it still maintains that it is on track to meet its target of delivering 500 affordable homes by 2027. The claim is questionable, although a boost is certainly needed, as the supply of affordable homes has slumped in recent years. Text by Nick Terdre, research and graphics by Russell Hall.

The council has told HOT it is on track to meet the target of building 500 affordable homes by 2027 set by the Cabinet in November 2021. “Hastings Borough Council is pleased to be on track to reach its 500 affordable homes target by 2026/7,” a spokesperson said. “This includes 279 Affordable/Social Rent homes and 236 Shared Ownership homes, providing our community with much-needed stable homes.”

The motion passed by Cabinet in November 2021 does not in fact mention shared ownership units. It states: “That the council sets a target for the delivery of 500 homes for affordable rent (capped at Local Housing Allowance rate) over the five-year period 2022/3 – 2026/7.” The reference to rents capped at the LHA rate indicates that the 500 dwellings are intended to be let at social rents, which is more advantageous to the tenant than affordable rents set at 80% of the market level.

The Hastings and St Leonards LHA rate for a two-bedroom home is £149.59 a week. According to the website, the average market rent in St Leonards is £293.72, making the average affordable rent £234.98, 56% more expensive than the social rent.

The Cabinet has not since been asked to alter the original formulation.

Five key projects

HBC says its current target is based on five projects:

  • Holmhurst St Mary, on The Ridge
  • The former St Leonards Academy, Darwell Close (now Porter’s Grove)
  • Former Ashdown House off Harrow Lane
  • Former Mount Pleasant Hospital in Frederick Road, Ore
  • Harrow Lane Playing Fields (now Eversfield Rise).

However a different picture of the number of affordable dwellings set to be delivered by these projects emerges from a check of the planning permission and associated Section 106 agreements with the developer, which represent the legally approved status for each project.

At Holmhurst St Mary, where the construction of up to 208 units is under way, HBC say that these will all be affordable, 104 for affordable rent and 104 for shared affordable ownership. However the affordable housing requirement set in the planning permission is 83 units, equivalent to 40% as required by HBC on a greenfield site. Moreover the report to Cabinet notes that this may be contested by the developer, which maintains only 30% is viable, or 63 units.

At Porter’s Grove, 52 affordable units have been approved, 36 for affordable rent and 16 for shared ownership. Here HBC’s claim and the S.106 agreement concur.

The approved plan for the former Ashdown House site is 151 units. Here the council claims there will be 59 units for social rent. However, according to the S.106 agreement, a mere 17, just over 11%, will be affordable homes, the mix of tenure to be decided. (Had HBC’s policy requirement of 25% on brownfield sites been adhered to, this number would be 37).

At the former Mount Pleasant Hospital, where HBC claims all 56 units will be affordable, the planning permission calls for only 14, equivalent to 25%, tenure yet to be decided.

On Eversfield Rise, where HBC foresees all 140 units being affordable, split equally between affordable rent and shared ownership, the S.106 agreement calls for 34 affordable rent units and 22 shared ownership homes, equivalent to 40%.

These five projects, which according to HBC will deliver 515 affordable dwellings, are set, if planning permission and S.106 agreements are adhered to, to deliver 222 units. The difference is summarised in the table below.

And who knows how many affordable units will actually be built on the Eversfield Rise estate? Since Ilke’s demise in July, a new developer has to be found to partner social provider Orbit Homes, which may well struggle to find one willing to accept a 100% affordable housing quotient.

Pipeline of affordable units

Back in 2021 there were hopes of a much greater number of affordable homes being delivered by 2027 - the Cabinet report gave details of a “pipeline” of 799 affordable homes to be delivered by 20 projects, some under way, some potential, in that period.

Some of these projects have been hit by setbacks. The latest, prompted by the desperate state of HBC’s finances, was the Cabinet’s decision in August to sell off two properties where it had ambitious plans:

  • Land to the rear of 419-447 Bexhill Road, which has outline planning permission for 16 units. Here the affordable housing quota would be seven units, though HBC suggested there could be potential for making all units affordable;
  • And Mayfield East in Hollington, where outline planning permission for 38 units, including 15 affordable homes, has been granted.

The council also had high hopes for a large estate of 192 rented affordable homes on the lower tier of Bulverhythe recreation ground, but this project was scrapped last year when the Environment Agency, to no one’s great surprise but the council’s, identified a potential level of flood risk which rendered development inadvisable.

Park Lane’s development on land off Harrow Lane adjacent to 777 The Ridge is moving ahead, but the hoped-for quota of 26 affordable units has been scrapped following a viability assessment.

Plans remain in place for a large development on the former bathing pool site in West St Leonards, involving 152 units, of which the affordable housing quota is 38. Here a contract has been signed with developers County Gate and Sunley, though there is no recent news of any progress on the project.

The council hopes to shore up its finances to the tune of some £3m with the sale of the site to the rear of 419-447 Bexhill Road and Mayfield East, along with 12/13 York Buildings, where it has six flats converted with a grant from Homes England for letting at social rents, and acreage at Upper Wilting Farm in Rother. It will be up to the new owner to decide whether to let the flats at an affordable or a market rent.

The York Buildings flats, as yet unoccupied, represented HBC’s first foray into directly providing affordable housing, a role which the Cabinet decided to renew in August last year. Now that portfolio is empty.

The sorry state of council finances is largely due to the continuing squeeze on central government funding and a massive rise in the call on the council to help homeless families, a statutory requirement, which is expected to cost £6.6m and rising in 2023/24.

HBC has earmarked nearly £12m in its capital strategy, of which nearly £6m is expected to be spent in 2023/24, for its programme to potentially acquire up to 50 existing housing units of various bedroom sizes to use as temporary accommodation for homeless families to reduce the cost to the council of using privately owned accommodation.

Deliveries slump

Since 94 units were delivered in 2015/16, the best result since 2006/07, the supply of new affordable dwellings has slumped, as detailed in HBC's Local Plan Monitoring Report. In the five years to 2020/21, the last for which figures are available, the average return per year was 36.

It is not entirely the council’s responsibility. If a developer can’t persuade the planning committee to reduce the affordable housing quotient at the application stage, they often come back later with a viability assessment claiming that their project is unviable unless the affordable housing share is dropped. It’s a scandal that was called out by former prime minister Theresa May, who said in March 2018: “… by ending abuse of the “viability assessment” process, we’re going to make it much harder for unscrupulous developers to dodge their obligation to build homes local people can afford.”

No action was taken at the time or since, and the government still suggests (in para 018 of its guidance on viability) that developers should expect to make a 15-20% return on their investment, a level much higher than is considered realistic for other sectors.

Some councils have introduced the use of a Supplementary Planning Document to strengthen their position against such arguments, though HBC has resolutely refused to do so.

In the midst of its difficulties, HBC can perhaps take comfort from pledges given by Labour at its recent conference. Deputy leader Angela Rayner insisted: “…we will strengthen the rules to prevent developers from wriggling out of their responsibilities and we will speed up the building of new social and affordable housing.”

If Labour comes to power, and decides to put its money where its mouth is, that will strengthen HBC's ability to insist on affordable housing being provided in accordance with its policies — but it will also require the will to stand up to developers.


A second article on house-building in general in Hastings will follow.


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Posted 13:54 Wednesday, Nov 22, 2023 In: Home Ground


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  1. Vitruvius

    Why does HBC still insist on keeping secret developers arguments that levels of social housing agreed at initial planning stages are later considered to be unviable? The argument that it is commercially sensitive information doesn’t hold water. If the case is sound then there should be no objection to it being open to public scrutiny. Why does HBC not follow the basic principal of transparency on this issue that many other councils do? Is there more to this than meets the eye?

    Comment by Vitruvius — Monday, Dec 11, 2023 @ 09:42

  2. Kenneth G Davis

    Just who is Ben? He has it right, far too much low density housing (suburbia) has been allowed even close to the town centre. Planning gone mad and not serving local communities. When I worked for HBC in the mid-seventies we did some small infill sites and some of those are still sitting empty and there are plenty of other small sites but Hastings planners insist on standard developer type houses rather than ones which fit a specific site.

    Comment by Kenneth G Davis — Friday, Dec 8, 2023 @ 09:56

  3. Russell Hall

    To: Bryan Fisher

    Planning permission was granted for 121 dwellings around Archery Gardens, of which not less than 56% (68 units) were to be Affordable Housing (application HS/FA/15/00175). HBC then agreed to the total number of dwellings being reduced to 109 and the Affordable Housing to 25% (28 units).

    The HBC Local Plan Monitoring Report for 2020/21 states that the 28 Affordable Housing units were completed that year (see:

    HBC is in discussions with Homes England to regenerate the area around Hastings station including Priory St car park, Queensbury House, and the Station Yard behind the East Sussex College Station Plaza site. This project would include significant housing.

    Comment by Russell Hall — Monday, Dec 4, 2023 @ 16:07

  4. Bryan Fisher

    Does anyone know whether the agreed quota of affordable housing for Archery Gardens has gone ahead, or is this another quota that got dropped, rather then enforced?
    I think the bigger question is still: How much longer can a local authority like HBC find future sites for significant development when brownfield and greenfield sites are already at a premium? Whilst local authorities like Rother District Council have potential sites along new link roads and poor quality farmland to exploit, HBC has very few options. I accept that HBC is unwilling to use Compulsory Purchase Orders on land-banking developers (preferring to build on recreational spaces instead), but there will come a time when central government funding dries up as HBC options are not available. There needs to be an adult conversation between local authorities and central government about future demands (beyond the next election) to ensure housing demands are met where that is possible only, rather than continuing to degrade the quality of life in communities with over-developing. It may well be that central government has to provide targeted funding to remodel town centres and old housing stock that creates additional homes above retail units, thus helping to regenerate town centres.

    Comment by Bryan Fisher — Thursday, Nov 30, 2023 @ 12:58

  5. Joseph King

    Thanks Russell, that is very interesting. I agree that the ONS numbers are suspiciously low, especially when you look at the rent on local letting company sites.

    Comment by Joseph King — Wednesday, Nov 29, 2023 @ 10:04

  6. Russell Hall

    To: Joseph King

    Thanks for taking the time to read the article and contributing.

    The ONS figure of £183.46 per week for a 2-bed home across the borough of Hastings is the median rent, the ONS average figure is a bit lower at £180.92, and these figures are based on 420 rents (excluding those of Housing Benefit claimants) from 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023.

    The average of £293.72 for St Leonards was calculated from the current advertised rent for new rentals when the website was checked and is based on fewer than 70 advertised rents (the figure for the average rent in St Leonards is slightly higher than its Hastings counterpart). These advertised rents could well be higher than a lot of people are currently paying.

    The average Affordable Rent (80% of market rate) using the ONS figure would be £144.74. This is less than the current LHA rate of £149.49, which was frozen in 2020 (the 2023/24 rate, which is the 30th percentile of local market rents, is £172.60), so this seems suspiciously low.

    In his 2023 Autumn Statement the Chancellor announced that the 2020 LHA rate freeze will end in April 2024. This was welcomed by the District Councils’ Network (of which HBC is a member).

    In March 2023 the ONS published experimental research which took a different look at the same rental price data used in its Index of Private Housing Rental Prices (IPHRP). Titled ‘Changes in private rental sector behaviour, England: February 2022 to February 2023’, a simple change in methodology resulted in very different outcomes. It revealed the average rental price increase for England was 9.7% compared to the IPHRP of 4.5% for a roughly comparable period.

    The key methodological difference was that the experimental research excluded rents where there hadn’t been a price change within the 12 month monitored period. This effectively removed the 49.4% of rents that had remained stable. By just focussing on the properties which had experienced an increase (new lettings, renewals, and section 13 notice increases) the rate of rental price growth was much closer to the other private rented sector published statistics, such as those of, based on advertisements or new lettings only.

    Comment by Russell Hall — Friday, Nov 24, 2023 @ 01:06

  7. Ben

    You’ve just got to look at the type of housing that’s being built to see why we’ve got a “housing crisis”. Two stories, front and back garden, two parking spaces!! On the Ashdown house site they’ve just knocked down an 8 storey building, that site could have easily had triple the number of units in good quality well designed blocks.. And don’t get me started on the complete lack of sustainable features on all of these estate going up, so much for the councils “Green town”!!

    Comment by Ben — Thursday, Nov 23, 2023 @ 12:04

  8. Joseph King

    FYI – the ONS currently has the average private rent for a 2-Bed home in Hastings as £183.46/week

    Comment by Joseph King — Thursday, Nov 23, 2023 @ 10:35

  9. Christopher Hurrell

    Great article.

    HBC consistently fails to meet affordable housing quotas. This failure has contributed to the shortage of affordable housing in the town and to the increased requirement for temporary accommodation and associated homelessness costs. Developers in Hastings are still avoiding planning policies which stipulate affordable housing at 25% on brownfield and 40% on greenfield sites. Developers often produce viability reports that claim no affordable housing is possible – these claims often go unchallenged.

    Recent examples include the Ashdown House development of 171 homes which is contributing a mere 11.6% affordable social rented homes, the Park Lane development of 67 homes on Harrow Lane which is contributing zero homes – despite initially being presented as 26 units. HBC has a long history of losing out on affordable housing including Station Plaza, the Archery Ground, High Breezes, Fern Road and Little Acres. I am aware that around 160 affordable homes have been lost on these projects due to developers successfully claiming that affordable housing was unviable.

    As the article points out most local authorities use Supplementary Planning Documents (SPD) to strengthen the case for affordable housing. Shelter recognise that SPDs can improve the supply of affordable housing by reducing the chances of developers exploiting viability reviews to avoid affordable housing contributions. HBC had a draft SPD for 17 years – only to abandon it.

    Post development viability reviews can also improve affordable housing supply. If a development was claimed to be unviable then it can be reviewed post development using real data to determine whether it was in fact viable. If found to be viable then the developer must make affordable housing contributions. This mechanism reduces the chances of a developer using incorrect viability statements to avoid affordable housing. Hastings does not make use of this mechanism.

    Comment by Christopher Hurrell — Wednesday, Nov 22, 2023 @ 16:46

  10. Bernard McGinley

    Thanks for a very informative article. The brief mention of ‘777’ sent me back to ‘The strange case of the disappearing affordable housing’ in HOT in March.

    Comment by Bernard McGinley — Wednesday, Nov 22, 2023 @ 13:59

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