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.”