The government ‘white paper’ on planning spells disaster for affordable housing in Brighton and Hove
Before Christmas I was pleased to second a motion calling on the government to increase affordable housing quotas for new developments and to withdraw their new “developers charter” planning white paper.
To their shame Brighton and Hove Tories refused to support our calls for affordable homes, instead siding with their friends and patrons in property finance and their failed government.
There is an urgent need for affordable housing in our city where things are at crisis levels. It would not be exaggeration to describe many of the decrepit buildings converted for multiple occupation in my own inner-city ward and others as slums.
Overcrowding, absentee landlords, lack of maintenance are the norm. Every week, I am inundated by residents in dire straits struggling to keep a roof over their and their families’ heads.
What should be a basic human right – a good, safe secure home – is a pipe dream for thousands who instead face precarity, indignity and poverty.
Last month I helped a pregnant resident, with health issues, being evicted from her one-room shared bathroom bedsit; another pregnant woman, escaping domestic violence, who had to put up with water streaming through her ceiling; and a family of three, including a heavily pregnant woman, all living in one room. These are just a few examples of my weekly caseload.
Thousands struggle with high rents and unaffordable prices leading to stress and overcrowding.
There are 9,000 households on the council’s waiting list, yet this is the tip of the iceberg after a “reconfiguration” of the way the list was calculated several years ago. Many do not even bother to go on to the list presuming they will never get a council home.
Our council housing team work tirelessly to help residents in need. Under Labour in 2019-20 more council homes were commissioned than in recent memory. Our “City Plan Part 2” introduced proposals for even stricter affordability quotas although restrained by national regulations.
Yet we cannot magic sufficient numbers of good affordable homes out of thin air when faced with a perfect storm of lack of land, insufficient government funding and existing Tory planning regulations that allow greedy developers to provide paltry amounts of affordable homes while making a fortune from our city.
To address the crisis, we must build genuinely affordable homes at unprecedented rates. Yet the government’s current “developer friendly” white paper on planning would curtail even the most modest action currently possible.
Current planning regulations already prohibit the council from requiring many developers to provide affordable homes and those provided are often not genuinely affordable.
Tory planning regulations define affordable at 80 per cent of market rate, a cruelly comical figure in Brighton and Hove where house prices are so high.
Developers can often avoid requirements to provide affordable homes through an array of loopholes in planning laws.
As if the current framework were not bad enough, it seems as though the Tories are once again legislating for their property developer donors as part of a wider attempt to rip up the, albeit weakened, planning framework established by the post-war Labour government.
New developments of under 50 units would no longer be required to provide any affordable homes at all. None. No shared ownership, no social rent, no affordable rent. Most current developments fall into this category.
Furthermore, the government propose to scrap “section 106” and “community infrastructure levies” – the latter introduced by Labour in our city – that require developers to contribute to improve in parks, schools, roads, play areas, etc. These levies have paid for over half of affordable housing in the UK in recent years.
If realised, government proposals would supercharge the current crisis in our city, allowing more speculative housing to be thrown up by investors, more subdivision and exorbitant rent and more housing misery.
The response to the “developers charter” has been unprecedented – over 40,000 responses were received to the government consultation, most opposing the proposals.
The Royal Institute of British Architects described them as “shameful”. Shelter, the housing charity, warned social housing “could face extinction”.
Brighton and Hove Labour wrote jointly with the Greens this autumn calling on the Housing Minister to improve statutory affordable housing quotas and to drop the plans. The Tories locally refused to sign, once again failing to represent our city’s needs.
Labour will continue to campaign for socially just planning law and support a massive programme of council house building as well as pushing for all private developments to provide fair proportions of genuinely affordable units – to rent and to buy. Residents deserve nothing less.
Councillor Nick Childs is the Labour lead for planning on Brighton and Hove City Council.
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