Memorandum by South Cambridgeshire District
Council (AFH 09)
South Cambridgeshire is a rural district of
101 villages entirely surrounding the City of Cambridge. There
is a high level of housing need in the district and an increasing
problem of accessibility to the housing market for people on average
incomes, due to high house prices as a result of the success of
the Cambridge phenomenon.
The District Council is working closely in partnership
with Cambridge City Council to address problems of housing affordability.
For example, a study into key worker housing published in April
2002 by the University of Cambridge was jointly commissioned by
the two authorities, and a joint housing needs study is also about
to be commissioned. The District Council generally endorses the
submission made to the Select Committee by Cambridge City Council.
South Cambridgeshire District Council wishes
to make the following comments on the issues identified by the
1. THE DEFINITION
In the widest sense, in terms of home ownership,
affordable housing can simply be defined as within three times
the gross salary of the persons requiring it.
In terms of definitions in local plans, there
needs to be some clarity about the government's definition of
affordable housing. "Affordable housing" in local plans
has tended to be defined as subsidised housing to meet priority
needs, mainly social housing. As a fairly new category of housing,
key worker housing is tending to be considered separately from,
and in addition to this. Whilst there may be "key workers"
who qualify as being in housing need, many will be on average
incomes and would expect to be able to purchase a "market"
house in most housing markets. PPG3 includes key worker housing
in its list of types of affordable housing. There is clearly confusion
amongst both professionals and the public on what is meant by
affordable housing. A further potential confusion is exceptions
affordable housing which focuses on providing traditional affordable
housing to meet priority needs in rural areas on sites where market
housing is not appropriate. There is surely no intention that
key worker housing for people on "average" incomes would
be permitted in these circumstances? So this would be a different,
more limited definition of affordable.
On the matter of low cost market housing, government
policy needs to make clear that full market-priced low cost housing
is only included in the definition of affordable housing where
it would be affordable to those identified as being in need. In
areas of high house prices, low cost market housing would more
commonly be shared equity or discounted market housing where the
discount is sufficient to make it affordable to those in identified
need. This interpretation was confirmed recently by a letter from
GOSE which was widely published. Confirmation in national planning
policy would save repeated debate on this issue at local plan
2. THE SCALE
The Cambridge Sub-Region is an area of fundamental
growth, amply illustrated by the fact that there are twice as
many jobs in the sub-region as people able to do them, as well
as skill shortages particularly at menial and manual levels. The
Cambridge Structure Plan indicates the need for 47,000 extra homes
by 2016, with 20,000 of these in South Cambridgeshire.
The Council's current Housing Need Study (1998)
identifies a high level of need. A new Study is about to be commissioned
jointly with Cambridge City Council to update the picture. In
addition, a recent Key Worker Study for the Cambridge area, published
in April and also jointly commissioned with Cambridge City Council,
identified a particular problem in the Cambridge area for those
on even average salaries accessing the housing market. There is
concern locally that insufficient provision of housing that is
affordable to those wanting to live and work in the area could
have a negative impact on the Cambridge economy if not addressed.
3. THE QUALITY
The quality of affordable housing is generally
good. It also seems reasonable to take the view that if key worker
housing is to be attractive to professional workers, it must be
of high quality and not a second class form of housing.
4. THE ADEQUACY
Demand far exceeds supply particularly for family
housing. Within the public sector there has been a devastation
of social housing due to the Right to Buy and former Council houses
now regularly change hands at over £200,000 a piece in Cambridge
City with equally high prices in the necklace villages. Resources
from the sale of Council houses have been used to work with Housing
Associations and build new homes, but new Government regulations
promised in the White Paper will lead to a cessation of this practice
as the capital receipts are redistributed to "poorer areas".
5. THE EXTENT
The amount of additional funding which is likely
to come forward for affordable housing is negligible in the context
of the overall need. The application of a roof tax may help bring
forward some additional funding, but given that relevant schemes
will be expected to provide land/finance for affordable housing,
it is unlikely to amount to a significant amount of additional
resource. However, a more promising area for additional funding
could be through commercial developments contributing land or
finance to accommodate the housing needs of their own workforce.
6. HOW RESOURCES
New thinking is required. The fast increase
of job mobility worldwide leads one to conclude that home ownership
is simply not the solution for many people. It was never conceivable
that the mines would close and it is simply not feasible now that
the high-tech industries will one day move on or disappear. For
many young professionals and for many businesses nowadays there
is a need for leasehold properties where freeholders can get a
good return on their investment and lessees do not pay out vast
sums of their capital.
The balance between social housing and other
forms of subsidised housing will be a difficult policy decision,
in the face of limited resources and a limit on what it is reasonable
to ask of development.
7. WHETHER TARGETS
RPG6: East Anglia does not include targets for
affordable housing provision but requires an adequate supply of
affordable housing to meet assessed needs. It is important that
specific targets at a regional level are not proposed unless they
are clearly justified. Local targets at district level, justified
by local needs studies, are the appropriate means of identifying
housing need. However, in areas of very high pressure where needs
are unlikely to be fully met, a target range in RPGs that could
reasonably be asked through planning policies would be helpful.
8. WHETHER TARGETS
It is a criticism of the Government and the
Housing Corporation that their investment plans are dominated
by housing needs, general needs, indicator sectors and other indicators
of poverty and regeneration. No business would ignore future growth
in the same fashion as the Government appears to ignore high growth
areas. The return on the investment in the infrastructure in regions
like South Cambridgeshire is clear for all to see and however
brutal it may seem, investment in failing and failed areas is
tantamount to throwing good money after bad.
9. WHETHER CURRENT
Perhaps because social engineering receives
such a bad press, there are no targets set down for creating balanced
communities in growth areas. This in our view is a mistake. A
mistake that was made in the new towns of the 50s and the 60s
and it seems that no lessons have been learnt in the twenty first
century. Policies need to evolve with developing opportunities
for most communities particularly in areas like Cambridgeshire
where the equivalent of Milton Keynes has to be built in the next
The government continues to promote mixed communities
in PPG3 and puts emphasis on achieving smaller dwellings to reflect
changes in household size. However, when attempts are made to
implement that policy at the local level, district councils are
not supported at appeal. South Cambs is an area of high market
demand and developers want to provide larger houses. Our recent
key worker housing study identified that almost half of new properties
in the district over the last 10 years have been four bedroom
or more and that was on top of a housing stock that was already
slanted towards larger properties. The study has gathered evidence
on this issue and considered various ways of firming up our housing
mix policies such as including targets for different sizes of
properties to seek to provide more smaller dwellings. Whilst high
house prices mean that even smaller properties are not affordable
to many people, this will help provide a range of sizes and prices
of market homes. It is hoped that the government will support
planning decisions based on these more detailed policies.
10. WHETHER MORE
The Government should allow local discretion
to determine the need for development in Greenfield areas as opposed
to brownfield. Too often Ministers appear to view the country
as if it were a single extension of the London metropolitan area.
There are too few brownfield sites in Cambridgeshire to make the
development of the homes needed a feasible proposition without
the use of Greenfield sites.
The decision on overall levels of housing development
should be based on a balance between housing need in an area,
the policy objectives for the future of the area, including the
economic strategy, and the environmental constraints and opportunities
in the area. Brownfield versus greenfield is just one factor in
this decision. In buoyant growth areas such as the Cambridge Sub
Region the policy decision in RPG6 to require significant levels
of growth was made in spite of the limited amount of brownfield
land in the area. How the issue of housing need is addressed within
this overall housing supply is a related issue.
11. THE COST
Possibly the hardest thing to adjust in a boom
area and certainly the hardest to quantify are the costs in terms
of lost opportunity.
In an area such as the Cambridge Sub Region,
the impacts on individuals are clearly significant, but in addition,
the potential knock-on implications for the local economy could
also be considerable if the problem becomes such that it results
in an inadequate workforce to support the buoyant economy.