Affordable homes target 'being missed'

THE number of affordable homes being built in Suffolk is falling far below target – creating a crisis for low-income families.Suffolk Preservation Society has produced figures showing that only 629 affordable homes - or 11% of the total housing development - were built in the county during 2002/3 and 2003/4.

THE number of affordable homes being built in Suffolk is falling far below target - creating a crisis for low-income families.

Suffolk Preservation Society has produced figures showing that only 629 affordable homes - or 11% of the total housing development - were built in the county during 2002/3 and 2003/4.

It means Suffolk is reaching only a third of the local authorities' 30% target.

The society is now calling for higher targets to be set for the building of affordable homes.

It claims that so few affordable homes are being built in the region that, taking into account the impact of the "right to buy" council property, there may be a net loss in availability of low cost houses and flats.

Richard Ward, the society's director, said: "If we are going to deliver on affordable housing then the targets need to be raised and more efforts made to ensure developers include low cost homes in their development plans.

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"There appears little to be gained from building new affordable houses while, simultaneously, there is leakage of the present supply of such accommodation by permitting large extensions to small, modestly-priced houses, by allowing two small cottages to be altered to form one unit and losing affordable rented accommodation through the Right to Buy policy."

Tim Yeo, MP for South Suffolk, said: "Suffolk has missed the target by a big margin. The only way to meet the target is to make sure, when planning approval is given, that there is a proper mix of affordable housing. It is partly for the planners to take a firm line with developers.

"They are very important targets for the community. If they are not achieved people are forced to move out of an area, and if they work locally that creates a greater cost of commuting. That is bad for an area.

"I think because prices have gone up so much in this area it becomes more important to make sure the targets are met."

Dr Wil Gibson, chief executive of Suffolk ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England), said: "I think that the fundamental thing for us is that there is a long term, continuous assessment of local needs for housing so we can develop a picture of those communities over a period of time. We can then know what their projected housing needs are likely to be so we cater for it in an incremental and planned way.

"At the moment we are not doing that. We are treating affordable housing as the exception."

He said without affordable housing people would move away, affecting the mix of people in the area, particularly different age groups, and the strength of the community.

Dr Gibson added: "If you do not get a good mix of people, communities are homogenous. That's the danger for us."

The Suffolk Preservation Society, which claims lack of affordable homes is one of the biggest problems facing East Anglia, has quoted the figures in its response to the draft East of England Regional Plan. The plan's formal examination in public is due to start on November 1.

The society has pointed out that although rural areas make up 43% of the region, this is not reflected in the draft policy framework.

It believes more attention should be paid in the plan to protecting the character of various areas.

Although it agrees with the general idea of maximising the potential of development sites, in order to take the pressure off the countryside, it believes densities should be lower where existing development is on larger than average plots - to maintain local distinctiveness.

The society is also calling for changes to the draft plan to reflect the need to protect existing firms and jobs in rural areas as well as attracting new ones.

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