Loophole’ allowing developers to bypass building affordable homes

What the garden looked like before
Mascalls Farm in Paddock Wood WILL have affordable housing - but not all developments in Tunbridge Wells will have

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council [TWBC] has, for the past two years, missed its target for providing the cheaper housing to eligible residents.

For 2016/17, a total of 89 ‘affordable’ properties were built in the borough; the target was 90. During 2017/18 the number slipped to 60 from a target of 72.

As part of their Local Plan, TWBC has a duty to provide 692 homes every year up to 2033 and house builders are required to ensure 35 per cent of those properties [242] are ‘affordable’.

This could mean they are socially rented, taken under shared ownership or are available to rent or buy at a cheaper rate.

But the data, revealed in a Cabinet meeting, shows fewer and fewer affordable properties are available.

Cllr Lynne Weatherly, Communities and Wellbeing portfolio holder, said: “The government’s national planning policy has a loophole.

“This has allowed developers to provide less than 35 per cent affordable housing if they can demonstrate that it would not be viable to develop a site with this amount.

“There have been several previously developed sites with planning permission where this has been the case.”

One recent high profile example is The Belvedere project, which will see at least 99 homes built on the old cinema site in Tunbridge Wells – not one will be affordable.

Developer Altitude will, however, pay more than half a million pounds to the council, as part of a Section 106 agreement, in lieu in of providing affordable homes. None of this money has been allocated to affordable homes.

In 2014/15 there were 238 affordable housing units built in Tunbridge Wells borough and in 2015/16 there were 114.

There are approximately 550 affordable housing units that have or are about to be granted planning permission which will be delivered over the next five years. The 309-home Mascalls Farm project in Paddock Wood will, for example, have 108 homes [35 per cent] classed as affordable.

The TWBC Local Plan is a masterplan of how the authority seeks to create a ‘joined-up’ programme for housing, shops, leisure and business opportunities in the borough. It is likely to be presented in January.

Sherwood representative Cllr Weatherly said there has been a change to national planning policy which is seeking to close the loophole.

“The borough council’s policy in the new Local Plan will reflect this,” added Cllr Weatherly.

“The council does not have its own social housing stock and so we need housing associations to acquire the affordable housing from the developers.

“These negotiations can be complex, and delivery of the affordable units is dependent on when the housing developments come forward, hence why targets have not been met.

“The future is looking much better given the number of affordable units with planning permission in the pipeline. The council concentrates on maximising the amount of affordable housing from each new development as it comes forward.”

The Department for Local Government has been approached by the Times for comment on their strategy for closing loopholes.

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