The future of housing in the South Downs

March 1, 2017

On 7 February the Government published their long-awaited White Paper, ‘Fixing our Broken Housing Market’. Proposals to mend it include making sure that more land is allocated for homes in areas where people want to live and investing in the planning system to make it more open and accessible.

There are also plans to make it clearer how planning restrictions apply in special areas such as national parks and ancient woodland; an emphasis on the design of new homes; and an aim to diversify the housing market and increase provision of affordable homes.

All of these link directly to our own ambitions for the future of the South Downs National Park, both in terms of our developing Local Plan and our specific ambitions to support more affordable housing.

The South Downs National Park is a living, working landscape. We say this a lot because it’s important. 112,000 people have their homes here, many others are employed here and the National Park Authority has the job of making sure that necessary development – providing people with places to live and work – is appropriate and properly managed.

“The South Downs is the most wooded National Park in England and half of this is ancient woodland so proposals to increase protection for this important habitat could be very significant,” says Margaret Paren, Chair of the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA). “We also welcome the White Paper’s emphasis on brownfield sites, continued recognition of constraints to the amount of development that national parks can accommodate and the importance of making small sites count.”

There is a huge amount of detail to digest and the SDNPA will be making a response to the White Paper consultation in due course.

We are now in the final stages of producing the first Local Plan for the National Park to put good planning in place that puts landscapes first, cares for views and night skies; supports the local economy, promotes recreation; enables affordable local housing; and makes sure that our green spaces are properly valued and cared for.

“Affordability is a big issue in the National Park. Homes here are in high demand and our towns and villages regularly appear in property sections under headlines such as ‘most desirable’, ‘prettiest’, ‘happiest’,” says Tim Slaney, Director of Planning for the South Downs National Park Authority. “Add in high-income urban households looking to move into the countryside and the need to conserve this wonderful landscape and it’s no surprise that the need for truly affordable housing is only increasing.”

Private developers do not normally build affordable homes off their own back. The large financial risks they take on with a development have to be balanced with their anticipated profits. It’s up to local housing authorities 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 reasonable profit.

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.

“While the new White Paper proposes a minimum of 10% affordable homes on new housing sites of more than 10 units, we think we can go further,” continues Tim. “We would like our Local Plan to set out a requirement for 50% on all but the smallest housing developments in the National Park.”

Another area where the National Park Authority can make a big difference is on small scale rural exception sites. These are places where development could only be permitted on the provision that homes are both affordable and guaranteed to remain in the community for perpetuity. At a special conference at the start of February we brought together landowners, rural housing providers, planners and specialist legal and financial experts to look at ways for unused land and buildings to provide for affordable housing in the National Park.

“We’ve had a great response from many of the 121 people who came along and have already agreed to repeat the event in the future,” says Tim. “As with the White Paper’s proposals, design of homes will be important. We want to look at how local materials could be used to create high-quality standard designs that fit with what’s already there, are sustainable and reduce construction costs. We are also looking at how we might establish our own affordable housing enabling service to support landowners and providers interested in increasing the supply of affordable homes.”

To find out more about SDNPA work on affordable housing contact affordablehomes@southdowns.gov.uk