September 21 2014 Latest news:
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Planners in east Suffolk have been accused of “disgraceful” failures after new figures revealed a significant under-delivery of affordable homes being built in the region.
According to data obtained through a Freedom of Information request, just one of the affordable homes approved for development by Suffolk Coastal District Council in 2012/13 has since been built.
The statistics also show that only 26 of the 134 affordable homes approved between 2010 and 2013 were built - and of all housing approved in that time barely a fifth have been completed (20.9%).
Labour councillors have accused Suffolk Coastal District Council of “caving-in” to developers’ requests to drop affordable housing obligations and “ignoring” its commitment to the community.
Felixstowe councillor Kimberly Williams said it was an “absolute disgrace”.
“The council is failing the community and failing in its obligations to implement the affordable homes policy,” she added.
“Its priorities appear to be to encourage applications for developments that will maximise its abilities to obtain the New Homes Bonus and ignoring its commitment to provide the new starter homes and affordable properties that the communities across the district actually need.”
Defending the figures, Geoff Holdcroft, who is responsible for planning at the council, pointed to the national recession as an explanation for the decline in house building.
“Thankfully, as the economic situation eases, we are expecting an upturn in building activity and the fact that many projects already have planning permission puts this district in the perfect place to see things move forward more rapidly,” he added.
Mr Holdcroft said the council was “working hard” with developers to meet targets to create 7,900 homes in the next 15 years while “protecting the valuable, unique environment and high quality of life in this area”.
SCDC’s policy is for a third of new homes to be affordable. However of the 741 houses approved between 2010 and 2013 only 134 (18%) were classed as such.
With developers of projects, such as the Bartlet Hospital in Felixstowe, successfully negotiating the removal of affordable homes agreements, councillor Michael Sharman, has called for a more rigorous defence of council policy.
“I think in many cases the developer is pulling the wool of the eyes of Suffolk Coastal’s planners,” he said.
“They’ve caved in and as a consequence we’re left with these statistics.”
Independent Yoxford councillor Barry Slater said that although the figure of one affordable home built in 2012/13 home did not give the full picture - a further 63 were built that year from earlier approvals - he agreed more needed to be done.
“I’ve always maintained, and still maintain, that the provision of affordable housing should be our top priority as a district, and I also felt it’s not been given quite the priority that it deserves,” he said.
“As a planning authority we’ve been too willing to let developers off the hook with regard to affordable homes contributions.
“There are too many people, particularly young people, who cannot get on to the housing ladder.
“It leads to communities that have no families or young people so the schools close, the pubs close and the villages die - that’s why it’s desperate that we have affordable housing.”
Flagship Housing, the region’s main social housing provider, has recently approved a new development strategy which, over the next five years, is hoped to deliver a range of new homes to meet local need.