Affordable housing? For whom?

Avatar for Michael Rayner, Planning Campaigns Consultant
By Michael Rayner, Planning Campaigns Consultant

Despite an apparent desire to see more affordable new homes in Norfolk, few are actually being built. “Why not?” asks Michael Rayner, Planning Campaigns Consultant at CPRE Norfolk.

Across Norfolk, village and town councils express a desire to see more affordable homes being built to enable residents to live closer to where they work and where they have family ties. However, despite this the vast majority of houses being put forward for development are larger family or executive-style homes to be sold on the open market.

The reasons for this lack of affordable homes are clear, although to solve them will take a large amount of political will, as well as investment.

Firstly, the definition of ‘affordable’ is not clear, with many supposedly ‘affordable’ homes anything but. This is largely due to the wide range of types or tenures of affordable housing included in the definition of affordability in the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) published in February 2019.

For example, ‘affordable rent’ can mean rent up to 80% of the market rent price, meaning in practice such homes are still not affordable to many. In basic terms an affordable home should mean one that a household can live in and still have a decent standard of living after housing costs are deducted.

Next, the cost of land is a huge limiting factor on the provision of affordable homes, with agricultural land increasing in value by as much as 112 times in Norfolk once residential planning permission is granted for it. This makes it very difficult to compete with large private developers when looking to purchase land on which to build.

To overcome this issue, a much higher level of public investment is needed if homes are to be provided for people on low incomes, which could be achieved by building more social housing, which would require a major change in Government spending priorities.

Finally, the planning system needs to be changed so that it works more in the public interest, by assisting affordable housing providers and smaller builders, rather than being weighted in favour of large housebuilders.

So, what can be done to improve this situation so that more truly affordable homes are built? In rural areas, even on land within smaller villages designated officially as ‘countryside’, affordable homes can be granted permission as ‘exception sites’, so long as there are willing builders and developers to construct them.

Here, there is a role for Housing Associations, Community Land Trusts and Community-Led Housing. All of these offer exciting ways of providing affordable and other much needed housing. Community Action Norfolk (CAN) does a great job in enabling communities to find out how to deliver this type of project.

CPRE Norfolk is organising an event focused on Rural Housing which is primarily aimed at Parish and Town Councillors, although anyone with an interest is welcome to attend. This will be a one-day conference held at the Memorial Hall, Dereham on Friday 6th September 2019.

A range of speakers, including experts on affordable housing, the planning system and housing associations, will be speaking on a range of related topics to do with the provision of needed rural housing.

This article appeared in the June 2019 edition of the Norfolk Magazine.

Norfolk Magazine June 2019

Affordable housing on Goldsmith Street
A footpath alongside a hedgerow and farmland in the Norfolk countryside