During the recession, it is becoming more difficult to deliver affordable housing while the demand is still there or even rising. Housing of this type falls into the categories of rented, shared ownership and discounted purchase price. The Council has raised its delivery target from 100 to 150 units each year believing that a stretch target can assist with focus.
To try and achieve this aim, we have identified about a dozen approaches to contribute to new-build. It is really important to have delivery methods that are appropriate to economic conditions. Ideally, we should be able to switch on and off the different approaches according to when they are most valid. At the turn of the century, the Council largely “switched off” the direct build of affordable housing because actions by central government meant that it no longer made economic sense. We were not delivering enough affordable housing for the money that was being put in.
At this time, the focus switched to working with RSLs (registered social landlords) and the Council would consider providing land at nil or low cost in return for nomination rights into new properties. Effectively, we were using land as capital in kind to support the development of affordable housing for people on our housing waiting list to access. At the same time, we raised the requirement for new private developments to make a contribution to new affordable housing. New sites with 15 or more units were required to provide 40% affordable housing as part of the total development.
Both of the above approaches remain switched on and we continue to work with RSLs and the new HCA (Homes and Communities Agency), but the private developer contribution route has suffered during the recession. So it is now right to look at other delivery methods to switch on. These will include approaches to central government about the possibility of the Council resuming direct build, i.e. leading the construction of new affordable housing with Council capital and land hopefully topped up with assistance from the government. There are grounds for cautious optimism as the government has stated that it wishes to re-encourage direct build.
Other approaches include investigation of an element of self-build on new housing schemes and a re-examination of so-called difficult development sites. These sites might be challenging because of a range of different land ownerships and uses but particularly in the current climate, they are worth another look. This is what we are doing using a full mix of skills across the Council’s departments.
It would also be helpful if at some point we could have certainty around the future of land in the north-east sector. At the moment, development is constrained by continued debate on airport runway capacity in the south-east. If that land could be released, and support sustainable development, it would make a major contribution to Crawley’s housing needs and potentially reduce the pressure for some of the higher density developments that we have seen recently.
Councillor Bob Lanzer, Leader of Crawley Borough Council
22nd April 2009