Councils warn of affordable homes struggle

HUNDREDS of families are struggling to stay in their villages because the economic downturn is causing builders to pull out of affordable housing schemes, local authorities have warned.

Dave Gooderham

HUNDREDS of families are struggling to stay in their villages because the economic downturn is causing builders to pull out of affordable housing schemes, local authorities have warned.

Councils across west Suffolk admit they are now facing massive problems getting much needed developments built.

Residents living in the Babergh area appear to be some of the worst affected - with doubts raised over a quarter of all proposed affordable housing sites in the district.

Although officers at the district council said that its five year target to build or have in the pipeline 700 affordable homes by next year had been met, a significant number of houses remained at the development stage where only planning permission has been gained.

Housing chiefs said this leaves hundreds of planned homes “without a definite start on site date in place.”

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Ian Tippet , Babergh's strategic housing manager, said: “We never thought we would actually have 700 affordable homes built as that would be a very tall order.

“When we set the targets, we obviously had no idea that there would be these problems with the housing market and new targets will reflect the change in circumstances.

“It is a challenging environment at present but Babergh is doing all it can to overcome the problems by working with parish councils and bringing forward village schemes.”

Affordable housing schemes in Babergh had been hailed a success story with almost 530 definitely built within the 2004-09 timeframe set by the council.

But a new council report sets out the difficult climate facing the authority, saying: “The state of the housing market and the credit crunch is having a severe effect on the delivery of homes in the private sector.

“This means that most of the UK's major house builders have stopped developing existing sites and are no longer opening up new sites.”

A spokesman for St Edmundsbury Borough Council confirmed they were facing challenges in meeting their targets coupled with a rise in the number of residents facing financial pressures and problems paying their mortgages.

He said: “Some housing developments may not be finished on time and some shared ownership properties have not been sold.

“However, we are still on target to deliver our affordable housing programme by the end of the financial year, which is to complete more than 200 affordable homes.”

The council say they are working with the Housing Corporation, the government body which provides the funding to deliver affordable housing, and registered social landlords to bring forward sites for affordable housing.

Forest Heath District Council recently listed affordable housing as a top priority for 2008-2012.

Rona Burt, council leader, said: “We want to ensure that people who live in the district can stay here and we have been building a good percentage of affordable houses.

“Though the problems in the housing market could become a problem for our affordable housing targets, we have not encountered it so far.”

Louise Wilby, rural housing enabler of Suffolk Acre, admitted: “We are concerned about the state of the housing market but we know the councils are doing all they can to address the problem.”

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