Evidence Base For Affordable Housing in Cornwall

Posted on: 19th January 2015

Evidence base for affordable housing in Cornwall is too generic to be useful in assisting Councillors determining local planning decisions. That is a very much shortened version of the message I took to County Hall today.

I put a question to the ‘Informal Planning & Development Improvement Group’. The group consists of the Chairs & Vice Chairs of area & strategic planning committees with the Head of Planning & the relevant Cabinet Member in attendance. My question stems from a concern that Homechoice register figures are used as a universal indicator of local housing need, regardless of the type of affordable housing permission is being sort for.

Experience is now telling me that those who put themselves on the Homechoices register are people who are usually saying they want low rent housing, with a secure tenancy, through a reputable provider. Whilst some will be homeless and some will be in very unsuitable conditions many will be in private rented homes that they do not feel secure in and are struggling to afford.

The numbers on the Council’s Homechoices register are used for evidence of the need for affordable homes for sale, either below market price or for shared ownership. They are also used when small developers apply to build homes for private rent albeit that a planning condition will keep rent at 80% of market rent. Trouble is it offers no more security than any other private rental, other than they cannot hike the rent up. Such private developers do not have to sell or rent to people who are registered through the Homechoices register so why use the register as evidence of need?

The answer I got is that this is the only evidence of need available at the moment. I was advised that if communities are fearful of inappropriate developments being justified through evidence that does not match the application, they should be doing local surveys on need and preferably feed these more sophisticated figures into a Neighbourhood plan. Without more precise evidence of need communities are stuck with the generic evidence that is really only relevant to applications from registered providers of housing, like Housing Associations or Councils. Only these homes will be rented out to people on the Homechoices register and I have come to believe it is these kinds of homes that Cornwall needs most of! Trouble is, Government grants and help to build them has drastically reduced so we have to have homes built that local people do not need and cannot afford, in some unsuitable locations in order to get some of the housing we do want and need.

My bit of a rant over!!

Oh, I should add, on a slightly more encouraging note, that because Cornwall Council is exploring building its own stock of housing to meet local need, officers are working on getting more sophisticated evidence of need to build the right kind of homes in the right places. No timescale given so watch this space.