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Julia Hilton 30/01/2018

In a recent issue of HIP, HBC Chair of Planning Councillor Richard Street suggested that current regulations prevent the council from ensuring that Hastings gets the affordable housing it deserves. But the council needs to get much tougher and not only enforce its own policies on affordable homes but show some vision in how they are provided.

Hastings loses affordable housing when developers use a legal loophole to avoid their affordable housing obligations. This happened most recently on the Station Plaza site where 31 of the 103 housing units were initially due to be affordable.

Currently, developers can get out of the requirement to build affordable housing if they can show that to do so would reduce their overall profits below 20%. The information they provide to the council in order to claim the exemption is generally not disclosed to the public.

However many councils have now passed motions demanding more financial transparency and it is time Hastings Council did the same. Brighton, Croydon, Greenwich, Islington, Lambeth and Bristol have insisted that all evidence used in negotiations with developers is fully transparent, public and available online in a standardised, accessible format.i

It may be hard for overstretched planning departments to stand up to well-resourced developers, but that is precisely why public scrutiny of the negotiations is so important.

When budgets are restricted councils need to be using all the tools they have to finance infrastructure improvements in their towns. Hastings is one of the few councils that do not impose a Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). The council last looked at this in 2014 and decided that house prices didn’t justify imposing a levy on top of the requirement to provide 25 – 30% affordable housing.

Since then, house prices in Hastings have increased by at least 23%, in some areas much more. The council’s own analysisii showed that even a 10% increase in house prices could justify the implementation of a CIL.

In Bexhill, Rother District Council imposes £50 per square meter of a site. If Hastings had adopted a similar levy, the proposed 2.4 hectare development on the Still’s site off Fellow’s Road in Ore would have yielded £1.2 million pounds.

It is shocking that Hastings is missing out on this potential income stream that could be ring-fenced to upgrade the public realm, providing traffic-free accessible routes throughout the town, encouraging walking and cycling, improving people’s health, and reducing congestion on the roads.

We welcome the fact that the council is setting up a housing company. The council owns large tracts of land that could provide hundreds of homes. If part of this land was put into community land trusts, permanently affordable houses could be built, and these assets would be held in trust, protected from the right-to-buy legislation and providing a long-term income stream for the community.

We have a fine example in the Heart of Hastings CLT in Ore, where they plan to build zero-energy-bill homes with rents capped relative to median wages rather than to house prices.

The local plan aims to build 3,400 houses between 2011 and 2028. Commissioning the long-overdue design guide for developers would ensure that the new housing is exemplary in its sustainability and its use of renewal energy, and that walking, cycling and public transport are encouraged. As well as providing design guidelines, the council can lead by example, commissioning new housing that fulfils the council’s vision statement:

We believe that all local people have a right to a safe, secure, affordable home in an environment that enhances their health and quality of life."  Hastings Council Corporate Plan 2017/18 - 2019/20

i) This is also a recommendation in the “Planning for the right homes in the right places” consultation, “to limit the use of site-level viability assessments to exceptional circumstances, in which case they will be fully transparent and available for public scrutiny.”
ii) A report to Cabinet in 2014 states;
The affordable housing delivery targets for the Council make it difficult to introduce residential CIL charges in the current economic climate.
However, some sensitivity analysis has been undertaken to illustrate the impact of a 10% increase in house prices on the economic viability of"development. This analysis shows that such a change in the market may enable significant rates of CIL to be levied whilst maintaining the Council’s affordable housing targets.”$Community Infrastructure Levy (02 12 13).doc.pdf

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