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Making housing affordable in the South Downs

Making housing affordable in the South Downs

On 1 August 2014 Chichester District Council, acting on behalf of the South Downs National Park Authority, granted planning permission for 21 new homes to be built in the small market town of Petworth. Of these 13 would be for private sale and eight were to be affordable, rented homes.

In October 2016, following an appeal to the planning inspector, the requirement to build these affordable homes was removed.

Affordability is an important issue in this part of the country. Homes in the South Downs are in high demand. Towns and villages here regularly appear in property sections under headlines such as ‘most desirable’, ‘prettiest’, ‘happiest’ etc. Add in high income urban households looking to move into the countryside and a shortage of land supply and it’s no wonder that the need for truly affordable housing is only increasing.

Private developers won’t just build affordable homes. The large financial risks they take on with a development have to be balanced with their anticipated profits. It’s up to housing authorities, in this case Chichester District Council, and planning authorities, like the South Downs National Park Authority, to find a way to meet the local community’s need for affordable places to live and the developer’s need to make a profit.

Unfortunately in the Petworth case circumstances changed. With rents going down for social housing and the Government’s announcement of a new right-to-buy for affordable rented units, the registered housing provider was forced to withdraw their offer for the affordable homes and the developers claimed that the eight homes at Petworth were no longer viable. We refused the developer’s application to have this obligation removed. But at the start of October 2016, the planning inspector found in the developers favour.

What can we do?

Low income families in the National Park face a difficult future, often having to move, leaving support and employment networks behind. This destabilises villages, forcing out low income households and starving local services of employees and customers. With many jobs in the National Park being relatively low paid, people can’t afford to live near their work will often have to drive, which is an added expense and increases traffic congestion.

Firstly we are developing policies for the first South Downs National Park Local Plan which are expected to set out a requirement for all developers to meet a target of 40% affordable housing to be provided on all but the smallest housing developments.

Secondly we want to focus on small scale rural exception sites. Places where development could only be permitted on the provision that homes are both affordable and guaranteed to remain in perpetuity for the community.

With this in mind we’ll be holding a special conference in February 2017 bringing together landowners from across the National Park with rural housing providers, planners and specialist legal and financial experts to explore how utilising unused land and buildings might help to make landowners assets work for them, whilst also helping to alleviate the shortage of affordable housing in the national park.

To find out more and get involved please email claire.mattingley@southdowns.gov.uk