Overview: There's a price to pay for affordable homes

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The Independent Online

Anyone objecting to houses being built in their neighbourhood knows they stand a good chance of being accused of nimbyism.

Anyone objecting to houses being built in their neighbourhood knows they stand a good chance of being accused of nimbyism. But the knee-jerk reaction of the not-in-my-back-yard brigade looks like having been replaced by a far more thoughtful and realistic response deserving of a hearing. We all know that not enough new homes are being built and while it's rather difficult to digest regional plans with figures that run into hundreds of thousands, we understand precisely the implication when it is broken down into tens and hundreds on our own doorsteps.

Kate Barker, the author of the Government's Review of Housing Supply, which reported a need for 120,000 new homes to be built each year, recognises the importance of local opinion when it comes to housing developments: "How many new buildings you can get seems to be fundamentally a question of getting the public on side." As yet, that has not happened, and with good reason. A reader from Winchester makes a case that is being echoed in all parts of the country: "We live in a semi-rural area on the edge of the city. The character of the area is changing fast, with the granting of planning for hundreds of extra dwellings in a very small area. We have not been Nimbyish but have tried to highlight what is most valued hereabouts - trees and hedgerows and the wildlife they support. But the bandwagon rolls on, buying up ever more good-sized family home in decent plots (brownfield sites) for 'affordable housing'."

In Salcombe, Devon, a decision this summer to allow the demolition of a house to make way for apartments against the wishes of the local planning authority, on the basis that a garden is regarded as "previously developed land" raised fears that the area would be swamped by similar projects. But it is in pursuit of affordable housing that many planning authorities now find themselves hitting a brick wall. Whilst Government guidelines stipulate that 25 per cent of new developments should include affordable housing, demands from local authorities for anything from 50 to 80 per cent makes the provision of cheaper homes not viable for developers.

Take the situation of a community church in Brixham, Devon. The church has no building of its own, but owns a three-acre site it wishes to sell for housing, thus releasing funds to build a church. Unfortunately, the figures don't add up because Torbay Council wants to see 50 per cent affordable housing on the site - which means the development won't go ahead, resulting in no houses at all and no church.

Reduce that demand by 20 per cent and perhaps they would be in business. In some national parks, local authorities will consider development go-aheads only for affordable (i.e. subsidised) housing.

Anthony Steen, the Conservative MP for Totnes, who is familiar with the Brixham conundrum, says in 20 years he has never seen so little new building. Unless this strict policy is relaxed, the situation will get worse. "It is naïve to believe anyone is going to develop for good causes rather than money."

Unless local authorities stop issuing dogmatic edicts and start to look at each site on its merits, they will be getting 50 per cent of nothing. That is already happening in some areas. It is an irony that a fixation with affordable housing is in itself proving to be a planning control. It is not a coincidence that there have been no further applications for development in that Salcombe road - developers now can't make them pay.

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