Monday, 5 October 2009

Affordable housing and developers' profits

Wrecsam Council's Local Development Plan will soon go out for public consultation. It shapes council policy on a number of important issues from now until 2021.

Among them are the number of new houses that get built during that period. We've seen extremely high rates of development in the past few years up until the recession - more than double the number of houses anticipated were built in some years of the boom. So it's important from Plaid's perspective that we restore the balance now and plan for a far more modest house building programme to meet local needs and changes in the way people live (e.g. people are living longer so we need more bungalows for pensioners).

The past boom means that there is planning permission still existing for a further 4000 homes in the borough and fewer than 100 of those houses are expected to be "affordable".

That's why, with the remaining homes that are permitted, it's important that we maximise the number of new homes built that are affordable for local people. It was estimated that we need 2200 affordable homes to meet our housing needs in the area.

This could be achieved under the current plans if we were to adopt a policy of insisting on all new housing being 100% affordable. This has been rejected by the council as "unviable" - that's to say they don't believe developers will build for less than 15-18% profit margins. The council's planning officers are arguing for 30% affordable housing, which means we will fail to meet the needs of local people.

This is based on a false premise. In the recent housing slump we've seen developers have to take far lower profits (not to mention losses) and we also have a situation where housing associations build 100% affordable housing by having a lower margin on the house building.

What appears to be lacking is a determination to achieve the council's own priority of affordable housing - something that was highlighted in the most recent full council meeting held on 23 September. An amendment by lead member on housing Mark Pritchard and seconded by Plaid Cymru proposing that all appropriate council land, excluding public open spaces, be considered for affordable housing was defeated by 22-12. The defeat was secured by a combination of Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors.

Another obstacle is now being put in our way... more of that in the next post.

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