LETTER: Critical need for affordable homes

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Despite having our alternative strategy glibly dismissed by Cllr Claire Vickers in one brief handout at PPAG, it would appear that we are not the only ones with concerns about the suitability of large strategic sites. As expressed by HRH Princess Anne in a recent speech, ‘many councils would rather invest in large-scale developments that are often not cost-effective because so much infrastructure is required’.

Her comments were also ‘welcomed by the Campaign to Protect Rural England’, which said ‘organic growth was the right way to increase rural housing’.

It is on the cost of infrastructure, and in particular its impact on delivery of the affordable housing need, that I wish to comment. The Preferred Strategy confirms the identified need for 240 affordable housing units to be provided per annum, or 4,800 over the plan period 2011-2031, which equates to 40 per cent of the total housing figure of 11,500.

Yet the West of Horsham strategic site is only delivering 20 per cent affordable housing and on the North of Horsham site the current indication is that infrastructure costs will reduce affordable housing provision to between 20-30 per cent.

So these two strategic sites will probably only provide 900 affordable units instead of the required 1,800.

How is this 900 shortfall to be made up? Will the two smaller strategic developments in Southwater (500) and Billingshurst (500) consist of 90 per cent affordable housing?

A tongue in cheek question I know, as based on current evidence these sites are also likely to deliver less than 40 per cent affordable housing. Especially as one of the developers is the same one delivering 1,000 houses on the West of Horsham site with only 20 per cent affordable housing.

Cllr Ray Dawe has often stated that we have to build more houses if house prices are to remain affordable within the district. Well we are now building the houses at rate of over 500 per annum, yet our market housing prices are still rising faster than the national average, and worse still, we are not delivering the affordable housing that is so desperately needed.

The council’s Preferred Strategy will deliver 8,000 (70 per cent) of the 11,500 total through large strategic sites. Even without North of Horsham’s 2,500 it will be 48 per cent. Relying on such a high proportion to be delivered through large strategic sites is high risk and does not support sustainable economic growth across all communities.

With large strategic sites the developers have the whip hand. They know that if we do not agree to their demands they can delay bringing the development site forward through protracted negotiations and we will once again fall foul of the five-year land supply requirements and be at the mercy of opportunistic development.

Once again the evidence supports our strategy that smaller non-strategic sites are more likely to deliver our affordable housing needs, and be brought forward far quicker, because they are not constrained by the delivery of major infrastructure projects.

Good examples of this are the developments of Millfield, Southwater (131 houses) and Ringley Road, Horsham (33 houses), both of which are providing 40 per cent affordable housing.

The council’s Preferred Strategy has no specific details on how it will guarantee delivery of the evidenced need for 4,800 affordable houses. It is time for Cllr Claire Vickers, Cllr Ray Dawe and their Conservative colleagues to either admit that they have no intention of delivering the 4,800 affordable houses needed across the district, or come up with a detailed strategy on how they will ensure this critical need is met.

MALCOLM CURNOCK

(LDem) Horsham district councillor for Broadbridge Heath Ward, North Street, Horsham