CONCERNS over a lack of affordable homes in Newbury has been highlighted once again.
The Conservative-run West Berkshire Council admits that it is “most unlikely” to hit its manifesto commitment to deliver 1,000 affordable homes by 2020.
The council’s own figures show that 267 affordable homes have been completed since April 2015, and it has subsequently put together an action plan to address the issue.
During a meeting of West Berkshire Council’s executive board last Thursday, the long-standing problem was raised by opposition leader Lee Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North).
Mr Dillon asked whether the council thought that receiving 13 affordable housing units within the 232-home Market Street redevelopment (artists' impression above) represented good value for money for taxpayers.
He said: “I think the council giving away land to the value of £3.9m and receiving for it 13 affordable housing units, for most people doesn’t represent value for money.
“I’m sure the answer I’ll receive will say we’re going to get a bus station, which we already have, and we’re going to get a car park, which we already have.
“At the end of the day, if the council, on land it owns, can only secure 13 affordable homes, how can it expect developers to provide affordable housing on other sites?”
Hilary Cole (Con, Chieveley), the council’s executive member for planning and housing, said: “The developer on this site came forward to us and they indicated they were unable to satisfy the affordable housing requirements on the grounds of viability.
“We went through this with a fine toothcomb, and we had to accept that what the developer was offering with regard to affordable housing was the viable amount.
“I will mention that we will get a new car park and bus station, and the other point I will make is this whole development is regenerating a part of Newbury that is in desperate need of regeneration.”
West Berkshire Council’s planning guidelines state that 40 per cent of homes on new developments should be affordable.
However, less than six per cent of the homes at Market Street will be affordable, despite the council giving the land away free of charge.
It was also revealed during the meeting that the council has more than £2.5m in its accounts for affordable housing.
Known as Section 106 money, it is paid by developers to the council to offset the impact of housing developments.
Mr Dillon said: “I think residents will be surprised to know there are millions in our accounts for affordable housing, but we are not building affordable housing.”
Mrs Cole added: “We’ve been quite successful with the use of Section 106 projects, and we do have some projects already allocated for using this funding.
“One is Bath Road in Calcot, a property there we are refurbishing for affordable housing.
“Another is the Mable Luke Almshouses in Newbury, a Section 106 contribution is being given towards that project.”
She added: “We are not a developer so we do not build our own affordable homes at the moment.”
Mr Dillon hit back: “We can develop if we want to.”
Mrs Cole replied: “We are not doing it at the moment, but it is something we are looking at.“"”