Developers renege on affordable homes as countryside faces housing crisis

By CPRE – Campaign to Protect Rural England: New research from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), released today, shows a growing crisis of affordable homes provision in many rural areas.


Using Government data, the research indicates that the proportion of affordable homes being provided by non-metropolitan local authorities has halved in five years [1]. In 2011-12, 35% of new dwellings in shire districts and unitary authorities were affordable; in 2015-16, this had decreased to just 16%. Other than a small recovery in 2014-15, those years showed continued decline.


CPRE’s research also shows that just five of the 15 most unaffordable districts outside London have met their most recent lowest affordable housing target. In Epping Forest, the tenth most expensive borough outside of London, just 14% of new housing over the past five years has been affordable. The borough’s target is 40%.


The Government data also shows which councils have provided the lowest proportions of affordable housing. Over the past five years, an average of just 6% of the new housing in Oadby & Wigston, Leicestershire, has been affordable. In Poole, which aims for 40% affordable housing, just 7.7% of completed homes have fulfilled the criteria.


As councils no longer receive direct funding for affordable housing, and, until recently, very few councils have been building homes (just 1,890 across the entire country in 2015-16 [2]), the main way affordable homes are currently provided is through conditions on developers being granted planning permission.


A pattern has emerged, however, where developers claim through a viability assessment that it is not or no longer possible to build the requisite proportion of affordable homes as part of a development [3]. In Horsham, Sussex, an American real estate investment trust recently told the council that a viability study demonstrated its development could not provide more than half the council’s 35% affordable housing target. Faced with the prospect of an appeal, or seeing the development cancelled, the council waved through the 2,750-home and business park development, accepting the developer’s assessment [4].


Recent research from the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) shows that councils are increasingly concerned about affordable housing and the effect that viability assessments have on providing it. In the TCPA’s study, over 60% of councils surveyed agreed that the viability test set out in the National Planning Policy Framework has hindered their ability to secure sufficient social and affordable housing to meet local needs [5].


Paul Miner, planning campaign manager at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said:

“Many councils are falling woefully short of their targets to provide affordable homes. Yet you also have to look at those developers who continually use shady tactics to renege on promises to build affordable homes and new community infrastructure. These are often the promises that win them permission in the first place.

“Developers have councils in a bind. It’s either fewer affordable homes or missed housing targets. And either way it’s young people and local people in need who lose out.

“As just 8% of rural housing is affordable, much of the countryside is already out of reach to those on average incomes. If we don’t change things this will just get worse. The next Government must reduce the power of these viability studies, stop highly profitable developers gaming the system and give councils the hard cash to start building houses again.”


Go to original article for tables HERE


[1] CPRE compared data from Government live tables on additional affordable dwellings (Table 1008C) and net additional dwellings by district (Table 122). Affordable homes are defined in the National Planning Policy Framework, published 27 March 2012, as housing provided to specified eligible households whose needs are not met by the market. The statistics include affordable rent, social rent, intermediate rent, shared ownership and affordable home ownership schemes. In some cases, homes classed as affordable are still out of reach of those on average incomes: for example, affordable rent is set at up to 80% of local market rent, which in some areas may still be a very high proportion of a household’s income.

[2] Government live tables on permanent dwellings completed by tenure (Table 209)

[3] In most cases, developers are required to invest in local services and affordable housing to offset the impact of the development on the local community. A viability assessment may be used to negotiate down the developers’ contribution, by claiming that the contribution will have an impact on the overall financial viability of the project.

[4] West Sussex County Times, ‘Unpopular but necessary’ North Horsham scheme approved, May 2017.
This follows other examples of developers using viability assessments to lower affordable housing contributions in rural areas.

In 2014, David Wilson Homes informed Bedfordshire council that it could no longer provide the full affordable housing allocation for its development in Kempston, despite already having built 1,000 of the planned 2,760 houses. The council assented to the move.

In the same deal, the council also assented to reductions in energy efficiency standards and new infrastructure. Promised public facilities, such as a library and sports facilities, were cancelled. Most recently, the developer sold land originally earmarked for a medical centre and community centre to a supermarket chain. Some buyers were not informed of these changes until after the purchase had been completed.

[5] Town and Country Planning Association, Building Homes, Creating Communities, May 2017


The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) fights for a better future for the English countryside. We work locally and nationally to protect, shape and enhance a beautiful, living countryside for everyone to value and enjoy. Our members are united in their love for England’s landscapes and rural communities, and stand up for the countryside, so it can continue to sustain, enchant and inspire future generations. Founded in 1926, President: Emma Bridgewater, Patron: Her Majesty The Queen.