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Council falling short of affordable homes target

'Land banking' and 'viability issues' to blame

Chris Ord

Reporter:

Chris Ord

Contact:

01635 886639

West Berkshire Council logo

WEST Berkshire Council is set to miss its affordable housing target by 315 homes, as the local authority desperately looks at ways to increase delivery of much-needed new properties.

Councillors were told at a meeting this week that, owing to developers “land banking” development sites as well as “viability issues”, the authority was expected to fall short of its own three-year target.

Land banking, the practice of a developer leaving a site undeveloped – usually with the aim of selling it on once the value has increased – is widespread in West Berkshire, according to planning officers, and has seen the council fall behind in its affordable housing completions.

Speaking at an overview and scrutiny management commission meeting on Tuesday, the council’s head of development and planning, Gary Lugg, said the local authority was doing everything it could to bring forward the development of new homes by 2020.

“It’s very difficult,” he said.

“We have done what we can, we have a local plan in place, we are speaking to developers about building those commitments out, we have enough planning permissions in the ‘bank’, but what we are finding is developers, for a variety of reasons, aren’t bringing those forward.

“It’s a national problem – you’ve all heard of land banking, and that’s prevalent in West Berkshire.

“We were talking to the Government’s Department for Communities and Local Government about that last week, so it’s very difficult to influence that at the moment.”

To meet its 2020 target, the council must deliver a total of 759 affordable homes in the next three years.

However, of the 2,420 houses expected to be built across the district in that time, just 444 will be affordable.

Developers are given a three-year window in which to begin development once planning permission has been granted, however, chairwoman Emma Webster (Con, Birch Copse) suggested reducing the timeframe to two years or even shorter.

Mr Lugg also said some developers had refused to commit to delivering previously-promised affordable homes, claiming the developments would no longer be viable if the affordable homes were to be included – something again Mr Lugg said the Government is looking to address.

Executive member for housing Hilary Cole said the council was doing everything in its power to deliver more affordable homes and called for other avenues to be explored.

She said: “We are acutely aware that we have this very challenging target. Officers do everything in their power to ensure that the target is met.

“Viability has been a major issue over recent years and we do absolutely everything we can to ensure these much-neededaffordable homes are delivered in West Berkshire.

“We don’t have an awful lot of land of our own, because if we did that would be a great answer to us because we could be our own developer, our own registered provider, as we are with temp accommodation.

“So I do think that we should as an authority think about whether or not we could buy land at an affordable price and some development of affordable homes.

“But at the moment that’s an aspiration rather than anything else.”

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Article comments

  • Racegoer

    26/10/2017 - 10:10

    I agree that people with a local roots (say working in the area and living for at least 10 years in the area should have priority for local housing. Shortfalls are the result of the slow local planning system and mentioned by others.

    Reply

  • Boriss

    25/10/2017 - 19:07

    lol to Gary Lugg's comments. Blaming the developers....again when it's actually his own planning department who can't determine applications in a timely way. They are a disgrace - jobsworths who have no idea of business requirements and can't even be @rsed to pick up the phone. I would quickly go out of business if I treated my clients like that. I am reliably told that Gary himself rarely works a full day and certainly is never in the office beyond 4pm. Leading by example!

    Reply

  • NewburyLad

    25/10/2017 - 17:05

    I'd like to know exactly how much of our area's affordable housing is taken by people who are born and bred in the UK and have always lived in the UK, versus affordable housing taken by those who have arrived in the UK over the last 15 years.

    Reply

    • EugeneStryker

      25/10/2017 - 21:09

      Not so much that you have looked for yourself I bet, just in case you find out that the housing issues have been caused by Tory government policy rather than the bogeyman.

      Reply

  • amacro

    25/10/2017 - 13:01

    You quote West Berkshire Council’s Executive Member for Housing, Hilary Cole, as saying that “the council was doing everything in its power to deliver more affordable homes” (NWN 19th Oct). That statement doesn’t square with what the council is doing on its Market Street redevelopment. Only 12 out of the 232 new homes planned for that site will be affordable. That’s only 5.6% compared with the council’s own standard of 30% for brownfield sites. We must also remember that the council is getting no money for passing this council-owned site to the developer.

    Reply

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