‘Abysmal’ affordable housing provision in North Horsham development

North Horsham masterplan released by Liberty on August 1 2016
North Horsham masterplan released by Liberty on August 1 2016

The North Horsham development could miss the council’s affordable housing target by more than half, fresh documents have revealed.

Horsham District Council’s policy is to strive for 35 per cent on strategic sites, but developer Liberty is proposing just 30 per cent of the 2,750 total homes to be ‘specifically allocated to meet local housing needs’, five per cent of which is contingent on the success of its business park.

While readers took this to mean that 30 per cent would be true affordable housing, the full breakdown has been revealed in a ‘statement of housing for local needs’ submitted as part of the developer’s planning application.

The 30 per cent is split across four categories, two of which fall into what has commonly been described as ‘affordable housing’.

Only 12.7 per cent would be affordable rented housing, with 5.3 per cent shared ownership units, totalling just 18 per cent.

However this could fall to just 14 per cent if the ‘business park land take-up does not exceed Liberty’s current delivery budget’.

The rest of the 30 per cent would be made up by private rented sector housing, included at 85 per cent of open market value (OMV), and discount market sales, sold at an average of 85 per cent OMV.

When Liberty unveiled its planning application several weeks ago, it said: “The range of housing options and tenures has also been tailored to address affordability issues, with up to 30 per cent (825) of the new homes specifically allocated to meet local housing needs.”

Rudgwick resident Paul Kornycky, who has been campaigning for openness and transparency in local government, said the North Horsham site provided ‘extremely poor value’ in contributing to affordable housing and infrastructure for the district.

He felt the worst-case scenario represented an ‘abysmal achievement of just 40 per cent of the “true affordable” homes target, with a massive 576 affordable homes lost and only 386 delivered (out of 962)’.

He added: “It is also particularly galling that CIL [Community Infrastructure Levy] of nil was ‘agreed’ on the basis of viability figures showing that CIL needed to be nil so we could get the 35 per cent affordable housing (with 70 per cent/30 per cent tenure split) and now we aren’t getting it anyway. We could potentially only get 14 per cent ‘true affordable’.”

Chartered surveyors Turner Morum, who carried out a viability appraisal of the proposals, found the scheme was ‘technically non-viable’ because it showed an overall deficit of £5.66m.

This is essentially developer-obtainable profit which Liberty was prepared to forgo to see the proposals proceed.

Its report added: “Any requirement to deliver a greater amount of affordable housing, a less favourable housing for local need tenure split, or additional s106 contributions would render the scheme even further non-viable and place doubt on it being delivered.”

Andrew Blevins, managing director of Liberty, said: “Our planning application is a positive response to the council’s housing for local needs policy and to this country’s housing crisis.

“Housing has become less affordable than ever because not enough homes of all types are being built, its simple supply and demand. There are too many people chasing too few homes, particularly in the South East.

“North of Horsham will be an important step forward in helping to address that imbalance in the local area. It will improve people’s accessibility to housing by offering people more choice, which will allow more people to get on the housing ladder.

“HDC’s policy suggests a target of 35 per cent of the total number of homes we provide should be housing for local needs, but it is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ policy and the council, along with central Government, recognises that.

“Our proposal to initially provide 25 per cent reflects the scale of our investment in community benefits, transport improvements and employment land that the development will be required to pay for. Liberty will deliver another five per cent over time and in line with anticipated success on the business park, making 30 per cent in total.

“The type and tenure of the homes we are proposing has been designed to balance the requirements of the local district, emerging Government policy and fulfilling a vision to increase choice and therefore accessibility to housing.

“In our housing mix we are allocating up to 350 affordable rented homes and up to 145 shared ownership properties.

“There are first-time buyers who want to own their own home and can’t afford to yet – that is why we are also offering up to 130 homes at discounted prices.

“These are, in effect, what the Government is calling Starter Homes but North of Horsham will be leading the way on this initiative with its own version, in advance of Government policy.

“The private rented sector is also an increasingly popular choice for younger people wanting to be more mobile and we are offering up to 200 of these homes.

“This part of our housing mix has assumed greater significance to local housing needs post-Brexit and with a Government policy to curtail the buy-to-let market.

“At a time of uncertainty in the economy, the Government is doing more and more to tackle affordability by making sure the country builds the new homes we so urgently need. Liberty is well-funded and is committed to improving the supply of local housing and the accessibility to that housing in the Horsham community.”

Meanwhile a spokesman for HDC added: “The council’s adopted local plan, the Horsham District Planning Framework 2015 (HDPF), sets out the requirements for the development at land north of Horsham in policies SD1-SD9 specifically.

“These policies require a mix of housing to be provided that reflects local demand as identified in the Strategic Housing Market Assessment and the planning application will have to assess what is proposed against the latest demand.

“The other policies in the HDPF also apply and Policy 16 requires the same test to be met but also sets out a target for 35 per cent of dwellings on larger schemes to be affordable, although the policy does allow a viability test to be applied when determining a planning application.

“The HDPF defines affordable housing as: ‘Affordable Housing: Housing provided with a subsidy to enable the sale price or rent to be substantially lower than the prevailing market prices or rents in the locality, and where mechanisms exist to ensure that the housing remains affordable for those who cannot afford to access the market housing. The subsidy will be provided from the public and/or private sector. The definition of ‘affordable housing’ includes key worker housing and shared ownership homes’.

“Therefore, private rented housing would not normally be considered to be affordable housing in this sense but discount market housing may be considered to be affordable housing, depending on how it is being delivered and whether it is substantially below the market cost.

“It should also be noted that the Government has signalled its intention to change the definition of affordable housing in the Housing and Planning Act with a commitment to starter homes and this change is likely to supersede the council policy on affordable housing and to reduce the amount of housing, currently defined as affordable, that can be achieved.

“The planning application will have to assess the proposal in light of all of these policies, any viability arguments, and the latest Government definitions.”

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