Yet again we must thank the diligent reporting of Joshua Powling in last week’s WSCT for alerting us to another failure of HDC planners in achieving the 40 per cent affordable homes target.
This time it was at one of the Horsham Gates sites in North Street/Foundry Lane where 45 residential units will be provided with only eight being ‘affordable’, i.e. 18 per cent.
How is this allowed to happen?
Well; when developers apply for planning permission, they are required by local authorities to contribute towards infrastructure (roads, schools etc.) whilst also meeting the local targets for affordable homes.
This is paid for out of the (often massive) increase in land value consequent upon the planning permission being granted, otherwise known as ‘planning gain’. Since the government’s introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the developers have been able to invoke para 173 which states that such developer contributions can legitimately be scaled back, in order to make a development viable.
This is why the NPPF is increasingly known as the ‘developers’ charter’ and one reason why it is so detested.
So, unsurprisingly, property developers now invest significant resource into the production of viability assessments that demonstrate how they must scale back the affordable housing percentage in order to make the development viable (i.e. so the planning gain will cover all costs and still guarantee their profit margin, typically 20 per cent).
Such assessments are classified as commercially sensitive, meaning that not only are they not in the public domain, but very few council officers will have seen them, with council members generally not able to read, debate and challenge the figures.
Even worse, it appears to be the practise of HDC to outsource the ‘appraisal’ of the developer’s figures to an ‘independent’ consultant, with HDC apparently then just accepting the consultant’s opinion!
In the Horsham Gates example above they bizarrely claimed success in negotiating an increase from six to eight affordable homes, whereas the target was to get 18. Heaven only knows how many thousand pounds their fee was for such a pathetic result.
I therefore welcome the reported comments of Councillors Chidlow, Crosbie and Burgess to get a grip on this whole process ‘unless they want to fall behind on the amount of affordable housing delivered’.
Unfortunately they may already be too late. Consider the huge West of Horsham strategic development of over 2,000 homes, of which therefore at least 800 should have been affordable. In reality only around 14 per cent (285) will be, meaning that over 515 affordable units have been ‘lost’. I wonder how much in consultant’s fees we paid for advice to accept that under-achievement!
Given the abject failure on that strategic site, I see little prospect of us negotiating a good deal with Liberty (North Horsham strategic site), whose legal department will undoubtedly be well prepared for the unequal battle with HDC planning. Never mind, as long as we have paid a ‘fat fee’ to an ‘independent consultant’ who says the figures are all in order, that must be true… or must it!
Cox Green, Rudgwick
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