Council ignores government guidelines in bid to help affordable housing crisis

Councillor Kevin Jenkins
Councillor Kevin Jenkins

Worthing Borough Council has pledged to ignore government guidelines in a bid to secure more desperately-needed affordable housing.

National guidelines enable developers to claim hefty discounts on the amount of money owed to build lower-cost housing if buildings on a site are empty.

But a chronic housing shortage, coupled with the town being ranked among the most unaffordable places to live in the country, has prompted action.

The discount, known as vacant building credit, will no longer be applied to brownfield developments in the borough, while the town hall will continue to seek contributions for plans for between six and ten homes – also contrary to government advice.

The stand is likely to be welcomed by those calling for action over Worthing’s housing troubles – but it could face an early test as developers who refused to provide affordable housing cash prepare to appeal. Click here for more details.

Councillor Kevin Jenkins, cabinet member for regeneration who made the decision, said: “We cannot ignore the fact that hundreds of families in the town are already struggling to get on the housing market, whether that’s buying or renting. We have a duty to do what we can to ensure suitable accommodation is created for all and that is why we have taken this bold move.

“Put simply enough is enough. We need affordable housing and we need it now which is why we have taken this step.”

Mr Jenkins referenced last month’s Centre for Cities health check of 63 UK towns and cities, including Worthing.

The report said the town had the eighth-highest affordability ratio for housing, with the average house price nearly 11 times that of the national average annual wage.

Further figures show the net income required per year to rent a two-bedroom home is more than £30,000.

The council’s housing register currently has nearly 1,300 people awaiting accommodation.

Reacting to the policy decision, Roffey Homes managing director Ben Cheal said: “I support Worthing Borough Council in taking the initiative here to deliver affordable housing, however I have no idea whether it shall be successful or not. Only time will tell.”

The council said it had written to developers as part of work on its brownfield register and asked about barriers to development.

It said vacant building credit was not mentioned within any of the responses received.

Despite the new stance, the policy does not apply to another common cause of reduced affordable housing payments.

The council will still have to take into account viability reports, where developers reveal their figures to demonstrate providing housing contributions would impact too much on profitability.

See below for more stories covering Worthing’s housing struggles:

Councils miss out on £2million for affordable homes

Work together to solve housing crisis, groups urge

Affordable housing sum agreed for hotel site after months of debate

In numbers: extent of housing crisis revealed

Housing scrutiny needed now, not 2019

Development approved despite £750,000 affordable homes shortfall