Affordable housing targets will have to be met by developers unless they can show openly why it is not financially viable to do so.
Too many applications for bigger schemes fall short of the council’s target of having 40 per cent of newly built homes classed as affordable, according to councillors of all parties.
The tougher approach – known as “open book” – is expected to be agreed next week by a Brighton and Hove City Council committee.
The proposal was outlined when Liberal Democrat campaigner Carrie Hynds handed in a petition to the council last month signed by more than 1,000 people.
The petition urged the council to be more robust in enforcing its policy on affordable homes and to publish the finances for applications that would miss the current targets.
Miss Hynds said: “If adopted, the proposal to have ‘open book’ viability statements is a welcome step towards the increased transparency and scrutiny we called for and will help ensure that every single development benefits those already living and working in our city.
“I’m pleased to see the council taking much-needed action and hope that the debate and decisions taken in the meeting next Thursday (11 January) will listen to the voices of the 1,095 local residents who signed our petition.”
One councillor said that the push towards a more open approach had been under way for a while but welcomed the extra publicity surrounding the recent petition.
The council said: “Property developers could be made to publicly disclose detailed financial information in cases where they say they cannot meet affordable housing targets set out in Brighton and Hove’s City Plan.
“At present the city council requires developments of over five or more residential units to provide a percentage of affordable housing – unless it would make a scheme financially unviable.
“All schemes over 15 units should provide 40 per cent affordable housing.
“Currently developers submit viability assessments to the council which are then independently assessed by the District Valuer Services (DVS).
“The viability information and the independent assessment are currently not disclosed to the public in order to protect commercial confidentiality.
“This lack of transparency has led to public concern on schemes where reduced affordable housing provision has been accepted by the council on grounds of viability.
“Now the authority is proposing to insist that developers show their sums in applications falling short of the affordable housing target.
“It would require a full viability assessment submitted up front with the rest of the application information.
“Councillors are being asked to approve the new requirements in a report to the Tourism, Development and Culture Committee on 11 January.
“The proposals set out in the report are in line with the need for more openness sought by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and recently proposed government consultation paper.
“A public consultation on the issue was held in the autumn. The majority of respondents felt the measures would lead to greater transparency, understanding and trust in the planning system.
“Broadly, developers were concerned that commercially sensitive information could be disclosed and this had the potential to hinder development in the city.”
Committee chair Councillor Alan Robins said: “In many cases there may be perfectly good reasons why a developer cannot meet 40 per cent.
“For example, a council might want them to pay for other things such as a new leisure centre. But sometimes developers might be trying their luck by raising viability issues.
“Either way, it could be beneficial for the public to have the same information as councillors on the Planning Committee so that everyone understands why a given amount of affordable housing was accepted or rejected.”
If approved, the new requirements would come into force early this year.
A report about the proposal is included in the agenda papers for the committee. To read it, click here.
The committee is due to meet at 4pm next Thursday at Hove Town Hall. The meeting is open to the public.