Poor record on affordable housing

By Mark HeathTHE true extent of the affordable housing crisis in East Anglia can be revealed today by the East Anglian Daily Times.Just 351 new affordable homes have been built in Suffolk over the past year – compared to the county's population of about 669,000 people.

By Mark Heath

THE true extent of the affordable housing crisis in East Anglia can be revealed today by the East Anglian Daily Times.

Just 351 new affordable homes have been built in Suffolk over the past year – compared to the county's population of about 669,000 people.

Dr Wil Gibson, chief executive of Suffolk ACRE, a charity that works towards community development, called for more to be done to meet the county's housing needs.

"Just over 300 homes in a year is not enough. The fundamental problem is the fact that councils don't build council house any more – that is having a tremendous impact on the whole question of availability," he said.

"The quicker the Government lets local councils get back to building homes, the better. It is a real issue."

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Dr Gibson added: "The most fundamental problem for us is what this does to communities. We have this situation whereby most of the caring in a community is done by the immediate family – but a number of them can't remain in the village or even nearby where their relatives are.

"It also breaks down the social structure of communities. More and more we see communities dominated by older people.

"Also, if businesses want to set up in small areas and are looking for young skilled people, then they're going to find it difficult because young people are having to move to find housing."

Dr Gibson said he wanted to see more schemes like Suffolk ACRE's rural housing enabler project, which sees the group work with communities to identify the need for new housing.

He added: "I would like to see a different planning framework that allows communities to map their needs and model their development over a long time period.

"I would also like to see development right across the county, not just in key areas. Then, I would allow councils to start building council homes again to start filling this gap."

Natalie Blaken, planning and development manager for the East of England Development Agency (EEDA) echoed Dr Gibson's call.

"The lack of affordable housing has an impact on the economy because of the effect it has on the potential to recruit people to work in key sectors, especially in areas like support services," she said.

"There is also a social cost because people are forced to move away from towns where they want to live. EEDA and partners are working to ensure that more affordable housing is provided in the region as it will prove vital in attracting and retaining a high quality workforce."

Councils provide the much-needed facilities through working with housing associations and developers.

Ipswich Borough Council provided the most new affordable homes over the past year at 106, followed by Babergh District Council's 77.

Suffolk Coastal District Council came next with 52, then St Edmundsbury Borough Council with 48, Mid Suffolk District Council with 42 and Waveney District Council last with just 26.

While Forest Heath District Council did not provide any, it expects to create about 500 affordable homes over the next five years.

In a groundbreaking deal, the council sold land to the Flagship Housing Group for £13.5million on the condition only affordable homes would be built on the property.

mark.heath@eadt.co.uk

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