There’s no place like home – affordable homes in Dorset
Tamsin Chandler looks at why too few affordable homes are being built in Dorset and looks at some alternative suggestions
Published in February ’14
Last year, the UK saw the lowest number of new house builds on record since World War 2. In all, 39,400 new affordable homes were built in 2012-13 – down a quarter from the previous year. Schemes such as Help to Buy may fuel demand for property, but the underlying issue (of affordable homes to buy) is far from a lack of demand – it is a parlous lack of supply.
From a housing perspective, Dorset is doubly disadvantaged; it has relatively high house prices and relatively low salaries and wages. For many young people in the county, the possibility of owning a home has gone from being an ambition to a pipe dream.
The options of accommodation for the young and working are flat-shares with friends (or complete strangers), private renting or to remain living at home with parents well beyond standard leaving age. It’s not just the type of accommodation that’s limited, but where the accommodation is located too. Young people can feel insecure living in unfamiliar areas and with people they don’t know well, so merely building a few super estates to win the numbers game in development terms is simply not a viable solution.
A 2013 Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) report showed evidence that the housing crisis is having a negative impact on community spirit. Whilst home ownership imparts a sense of belonging, the transient and insecure nature of renting does not – at least not to the same degree; in market towns and villages, a sense of community underpins everything.
According to the IPPR report, 88% of young people aged 18-30 say they want to own their own home in the next ten years but a majority believe it may be unattainable. More than half (51%) of those currently renting from a private landlord said they would not be able to own. More worryingly, one in five childless people aged 31-44 stated that they were delaying starting a family because of a lack of affordable housing. So why are the housing market and, consequently, prospective buyers in such a state?
There are three main factors:
• The national obsession with the idea of property, the related belief that property prices will always continue to go up and that this is somehow a good thing.
• National planning guidance based on the idea that social rental housing is the only form of affordable accommodation that needs addressing seriously… and that the only way to address a housing shortage is to build massive mixed developments
• A reluctance – so marked that it borders on chronic timidity – on the part of the elected representatives at local authorities to seek alternatives to the planning guidance which their full-time officers give them.
There is little one can do at a local level to resolve the first issue, except to encourage government to examine the idea that inflating the housing market at every opportunity is not a brilliant idea.
Current planning guidance favours proposals for very large schemes with a large percentage of affordable housing insisted upon by the planning authorities; the higher this percentage, the greater the disparity between the social and the open market housing in the development. A developer needs to make enough on the open market housing to pay for the social housing, which means developers can simply not afford to build any starter homes for sale… just palaces for the prosperous and shoeboxes for the socially disadvantaged.
Dorset property developer Ray McIntyre can, however, cite successful affordable housing developments he has built previously in Broadmayne, Puddletown and Piddlehinton – unfortunately, though, these developments date from over twenty years ago. His more recent attempt to develop 35 mixed-use houses and flats in Swanage (seventeen designated affordable) has met with planning obstacles from the outset, despite strong local support for the project. To ensure continued affordability, his schemes have various conditions attached such as accessibility by local people alone (based on ancestry, period of residence in the local area and so on), capped resale price (limited to 60%-70% of the open market price) and availability being limited to first-time buyers only.
It is not all bad, though. Some locals manage to get a first foot on the property ladder via co-ownership schemes, supported by local housing associations that place an emphasis on supported home-ownership. This lets first-time buyers invest directly in their own futures, rather than channelling funds into the hands of landlords. The Community Land/Property Trusts in Buckland Newton and Worth Matravers, for example, have respectively built a shared ownership/affordable rental development of ten houses and one of five affordable rental homes for local people with a strong connection to the community.
Some other innovative new schemes are also attempting to plug the housing gap: the Bridport Co-Housing Community Land Trust is looking to build thirty affordable homes in the town, along with community facilities and sustainable credentials. Alan Heeks, professional advisor to Bridport Co-housing CLT, says: ‘This scheme will make a substantial contribution to meeting affordable housing needs in Bridport – all homes will be affordable, affordable rent or shared ownership with a housing association.’ The suggested build also includes facilities for use by the wider local community – including a meeting space, a market garden and a play area – and will offer training opportunities for the local workforce to develop building skills.
No matter how laudable these schemes are, they are too few in number to make a dent in the housing supply problem. While there is clearly a need for rented social housing, it cannot replace home ownership. For Dorset’s young people to have a sense of security and aspiration – and for them to be able to stay living in Dorset – a range of measures needs to be introduced as a matter of urgency, all with the desired result of allowing more affordable homes to be built in and around villages and market towns in Dorset. Without them, we will not have a next generation to keep our communities vital.◗