LETTER: Restore social housing stock

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The Government continues to demand that councils maintain house build-out rates, to match population growth.

But of course it is developers (not councils) who build and they will only do that when they expect there to be enough buyers around with the money.

Indeed, as we have seen, developers often don’t build immediately they get planning permission and at one time (in around 2013) there were around 8,000 dwellings in Horsham District with planning permission, which were not being built.

To counter that (land banking) the Government proposes to have planning permission withdrawn, if developers do not build within a given time. But developers won’t build what is unlikely to be sold quickly and will surely move to a JIT (just-in-time) strategy, deferring planning applications, until market conditions are favourable to them.

As a result, five-year house building targets in Local Plans will still not be met, leaving unelected Planning Inspectors to find in favour of inappropriate speculative, applications.

The UK population may be increasing by around 500,000 pa, but real salaries average little higher than before the recession, in around 2007. Developers are far more interested in that, than in population growth or in ‘local need’.

So demanding that local councils must meet housing targets driven by population growth is misplaced, when first time buyers are approaching 40 years of age, when average house prices are around eight times average salary in some areas and when personal debt levels remain high.

If councils fail to adjust their targets for such economic factors, then they leave themselves exposed to having decisions overridden and being left with inadequate infrastructure funding.

In the ‘affordable’ range (including social houses) developers typically do not build more than around 35 per cent of the total. That is largely why there are over 400,000 families on UK housing registers, with a ten year building backlog.

Since it costs many £1,000s pa (around £15,000 pa in Horsham District) to house a homeless family, there must be a better way.

Surely we have to find regular capital funding to restore the social housing stock, while seeking to limit the rate of inward migration.

Taking land owned by councils (ie the taxpayer) might provide a short-term fix, but it does not make for a sustainable strategy.

Only the direct funding of affordable housing will do that in the long term, but once again Government has side stepped that reality.

Roger Arthur

Melrose Place, Storrington

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