Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda


Memorandum by Rother District Council (AFH 28)

  This paper represents officer-level views of Rother District Council on issues concerning the provision of affordable housing. They have been prepared to inform the Local Government Association's submission to the Select Committee Inquiry into Affordable Housing.

THE NEED FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN ROTHER

  In April 2001 Rother District Council commissioned the Rural Policy, Research and Development Unit (now the Centre for Rural Development) of the Sussex Rural Community Council) and Cambridge Consultancy to undertake a Housing Needs and Stock Condition Survey for the Rother District.

HOUSING NEEDS

  The recent Housing Needs Survey estimated the level of need for affordable housing in Rother—the following bullet points are some of the key findings:

    —  over 17 per cent of respondents expressed a housing need for separate accommodation in the local area within the next five years;

    —  this gives us a projected need of 2,000 (2,043) households over the next five years;

    —  over 50 per cent of respondents, expressing a need were young people seeking to leave home and live independently;

    —  19 per cent were couples without children;

    —  9 per cent were larger adult households;

    —  20 per cent of respondents expressing need were over 60;

    —  it is significant that less than 14 per cent of all households expressing housing needs are on the Council's Housing Register;

    —  there are currently over 1,550 households registered on the Council's Housing Register in need of rehousing; and

    —  405 households presented to the Council as homeless during 2002-03.

STOCK CONDITION NEEDS

  The recent stock condition survey estimated the level of disrepair in Rother—the following bullet points are some of the key findings and the objectives behind undertaking the survey:

    —  the rate of unfitness within the district is 3.8 per cent;

    —  there are a further 1.6 per cent of dwellings within the district, which are classed as borderline fit;

    —  the cost of immediate repairs to make the unfit dwellings fit for habitation in Rother District Council is £24.5 million. The cost of putting the unfit dwellings into reasonable repair (carrying out immediate repairs to make fit, and renewing elements which need replacement within 10 years) is £53 million;

    —  5.8 per cent (2,049) of the dwellings were found to be in substantial disrepair. The cost of repairs those dwellings that were not unfit but were in substantial disrepair (ie needing works with more than £2,500) up to a reasonable standard is £60 million;

    —  the total cost of bringing the private sector dwellings in Rother District Council up to a reasonable standard is over £113 million;

    —  the Council faces a potential grants demand in excess of £12.8 million for means tested grants that are only targeted at bringing the unfit properties up to a state of reasonable repair;

    —  17 per cent of unfit housing is occupied by households aged over 60 and on low incomes, illustrating that people with less disposable incomes occupy the worst housing conditions;

    —  26 per cent of all private sector dwellings are occupied by persons aged 60 and over and need immediate repair works carrying out to their homes. The majority of those dwellings require works costing up to £5,000, which could possibly be aided by Home Repair Assistance Grant. The cost of these repairs is estimated at £3.4 million;

    —  3.1 per cent of households contain at least one disabled person. A Disabled Facilities Grant Requirement of almost £1 million has been forecast from the survey results. The information gathered is purely from the respondent to the survey, and would need verification by the Welfare Authority prior to Grant aid being made available;

    —  the percentage of unfit dwellings within the private rented sector is 24 per cent; this is higher than the national figure of 19.3 per cent;

    —  the total costs to bring the private rented sector to a reasonable standard (urgent repairs + renewal of elements which need replacement within 10 years) are estimated as £7.7 million;

    —  8.7 per cent (283) of the HMO's were unfit for habitation;

    —  a total of £2.3 million needs to be spent on repairs to unfit HMO's in Rother District Council, excluding any fire precaution works;

    —  the average SAP (energy efficiency) rating for the private sector dwellings in Rother District Council is 48.7, higher than the average SAP rate in the UK, which is 44;

    —  4.1 per cent of properties have a SAP rating less than 10, 4.2 per cent having ratings between 10 and 20, 20.5 per cent between 20 and 40, and 70.9 per cent above 40;

    —  1.16  The number of vacant dwellings identified in the survey is estimated at 1.3 per cent (523). 1.17  It is estimated that 54 (10 per cent) of the vacant dwellings are unfit, and the total cost of repairs to deal with the unfitness and repair the dwellings for the next 10 years would be £0.5 million; and

    —  over 90 per cent of the private sector stock have secure doors and windows, and 33 per cent have burglar alarms fitted.

Figure 1.  Summary of Dwelling Tenure and Unfitness within Rother District Council
TenureTotal number of dwellings Number of unfit dwellingsPer cent of unfit dwellings
Owner occupier33,110 1,62876.6%
Housing association4,206 1255.9%
Private rental3,576 41019.3%
Other rental agreement125 00%
Tenure unobtainable478 542.6%


Figure 2.  Summary of Dwelling Stock
Dwelling typeNumber of dwellings Per cent of private sector stock
Detached17,00841%
Semi detached7,49918.1%
End terrace2,9167%
Mid terrace4,59911.1%
Mid terrace + passage186 0.4%
Flat8,64320.8%
Maisonette6431.5%


POLICY IMPLICATIONS

  The policy implications of these findings are more resources, coupled with a better mechanisms to deliver housing development, renewal and support for clients living in the community of the right type in the right place at the right time. The relevant instruments to enable the renovation of the housing stock and provision of new affordable housing include:

    —  Housing Corporation funding (including the rural programme);

    —  Local Authority resources available for housing development;

    —  rent levels which are matched more closely to local incomes (especially pertinent in view of the Government's current Rent Restructuring review);

    —  planning policies, in particular agreements with developers which deliver sufficient affordable housing to meet local needs in the right locations;

    —  loans for private sector regeneration;

    —  targeting private sector homes in disrepair and using Compulsory Purchase powers to bring these back to a reasonable standard and using them for clients in housing need;

    —  targeting renewal areas and demolishing the worst housing first to create new communities;

    —  supporting people;

    —  the operation of the Exceptions Policy in rural areas; and

    —  other innovative ways of delivering affordable housing eg empty properties, flats over shops, self-build and other initiatives.

  The above tools can only be implemented if the resources are provided. This area is one of high and rising house prices and the lowest local earnings within the county. It is an attractive area to live, and house prices, although high, remain lower than those in Brighton, Tunbridge Wells and closer to London, consequently this is now attracting many households who wish to buy a home to meet their housing needs within a commutable distance. This makes home ownership hard to achieve for local first-time buyers and virtually impossible for those needing to move up from smaller owner-occupied homes to family homes when children come along.

  With home ownership particularly hard to achieve for those on local earnings, and a high proportion of local jobs in the relatively low-waged public and service sectors, the provision of affordable housing is a particular issue locally.

ADEQUACY OF EXISTING SUPPLY

  While Regional Planning Guidance does not set a target for affordable housing, it indicates that regional provision of such housing could be around 18,000-19,000 per year (Policy H4 c), which represents between 42 per cent and 48 per cent of the total dwellings provision of 39,000-43,000. In Rother the County Structure Plan set a target of 275 homes, which were to be built in Rother each year, a percentage of these homes should be affordable based on the evidence of housing need. The findings of the Council's recent Housing Needs Survey has estimated that 200 new affordable homes should be built in Rother each year.

  Background work for the Structure Plan showed that there is an urgent need to increase the supply of affordable housing in this area, although it is reported that unmet housing need cannot be exactly measured because of differing methodologies—the guidance provided by DTLR has sought to standardise these methodologies and provides a model that should provide acceptable estimates—all local authorities in East Sussex that have undertaken recent surveys have followed the DTLR guidance.

  Over the past three years house completions in total in Rother have produced 462 homes, a shortfall of 588 homes—most of these completions were new build market homes for sale.

  Will future levels of affordable housing increase? Looking at Rother:

    —  the total lack of proposed affordable housing developments;

    —  the difficulties in Rother in securing affordable homes on private sites via section 106 agreements;

    —  the lack of available development sites;

    —  an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty;

    —  funding restraints from the Housing Corporation proposing only to fund Regional Priorities;

    —  lack of an agreed Local Plan; and

    —  the loss of approximately 30 homes to preserved RTB each year.

  It seems unlikely that targets in regional planning guidance can be achieved under the present legislation.

  The achievement of more homes through the planning policy route is hampered by the threshold issue (only being able to negotiate for affordable units on sites over a particular size). In Rother sites of 25 dwellings or more are just not available or have other difficulties that ensure that the amount of affordable housing is not achieved.

PLANNING GAIN AND AFFORDABLE HOUSING

  The emphasis of the Planning Green Paper and the Planning Obligations paper "Delivering a fundamental change" is on increasing the contribution to affordable housing through use of the planning system. It is intended that this will be achieved through extending the range of schemes which will require an affordable housing element to include commercial schemes, and by the setting of a tariff to cover all developer contributions.

  Looking at the numbers of affordable homes that have been delivered by PPG/3 (or lack of them) it is clear that there needs to be tariffs set from central government or they will not be achieved.

GREENFIELD DEVELOPMENT TO MEET HOUSING NEED?

  In the main coastal town in Rother of Bexhill we are prevented from outward expansion by environmental constraints (areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and the lack of a decent road system. Future allocations to meet the current Structure Plan housing provisions relies on a large greenfield site that cannot be reasonably released without a solution to the Rother road chaos.





 
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