To consider the report of the Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning Strategy updating Members on the Council’s role in the delivery of affordable homes.
62.1 The Cabinet Member for Planning and Housing Strategy introduced the report and confirmed that its purpose was to update Members on the Council’s role in the delivery of affordable homes. She noted that Gloucester City Council does not manage its own housing stock but does provide temporary accommodation for homeless households in need of urgent short-term accommodation.
62.2 The Cabinet Member for Planning and Housing Strategy informed Members that current planning policy requires housing developers to provide a minimum of 20% affordable homes when seeking planning consent for large planning developments unless there were viability issues with the scheme. In this case, developers would need to outline why the scheme would not be viable if they were to deliver the 20% requirement. She confirmed that the Housing Strategy team worked closely with providers and that there were national issues affecting affordable housing delivery across the UK.
62.3 The Chair noted that the council was seeing increasing numbers of Homeseeker applications and expressed that in his view, there were too many people in temporary accommodation in Gloucester. He felt that the 20% affordable housing target should be treated as a minimum and ideally, developers should be looking to exceed this target. The Chair referred to the housing developments along Horton Road and Great Western Road and commented that it was unlikely that those developments would meet the 20% affordable housing requirement. He asked for the Cabinet Member’s comments as to whether the council should be stricter in enforcing this requirement.
62.4 The Housing Innovation Manager noted that planning policy dictated that new developments should include a provision for 20% of the development to be affordable homes, however it was open to developers to cite viability challenges. He referred to the information provided at 3.8 in the report confirming that viability is often influenced by a number of factors, including the sale value of affordable homes. He confirmed that the Great Western Road development was currently going through the planning permission process and that Officers were considering viability issues. The Cabinet Member for Planning and Housing Strategy further confirmed that Officers took affordable housing policy very seriously and that she was confident that they would challenge developers where necessary.
62.5 Councillor Wilson referred to the narrative at 3.22 in the report regarding the requirement in the Joint Strategic Plan that 35% of new homes built on the boundary of Gloucester and Tewkesbury should be affordable homes, and asked how legally enforceable this provision was. The Head of Place confirmed that as this was a policy, this was not enforceable by law but would be something that Officers would carefully consider alongside other planning considerations. The Housing Innovation Manager added that there were many planning balances that Officers needed to look at when assessing an application.
62.6 Councillor Gravells reflected on his previous experience serving as Cabinet Member for Planning and Housing Strategy and asked whether the team made use of a consultant for additional advice where appropriate. The Housing Innovation Manager confirmed that where developers argued that a reduction of affordable homes was necessary due to scheme viability, the team did use a consultant as an additional checking tool.
62.7 Councillor Durdey queried how much influence the council had in terms of their discussions with developers about hitting or exceeding the 20% affordable homes target. The Head of Place confirmed that the council had an open dialogue with developers. He advised that cases varied but land value was a challenge in Gloucester. The Head of Place further noted that affordable housing provision would always be the most expensive subsidy and therefore typically was the first thing developers reduce. He confirmed that the council would largely follow the advice of the surveyor consultant.
62.8 In response to an additional query from Councillor Durdey as to whether the council had ever been challenged by a developer on a ruling, the Head of Place confirmed that he had been involved in challenges in previous roles and explained that in the case of a challenge, the matter would go to appeal and the inspector would take an objective view. He noted that a common example would be where a Planning Committee refused an application against the advice of Officers.
62.9 Councillor Hilton raised concerns that the City Council had not met its affordable housing target of 234 homes since 2012. The Cabinet Member for Planning and Housing Strategy highlighted that the Council had delivered 275 affordable homes in 2020/21 which had exceeded this target. She also noted that in terms of the 2021/22 figures, officers would be carrying out an audit of the 231-figure due to the cyber incident.
62.10 Councillor Hilton commented that it might be a challenge for the council to meet the target of 234 affordable homes for the 2022/23 year given that it had delivered 75 over the first half of the financial year. The Housing Innovation Manager noted that the point of delivery was when the contractors started work on site and the project was handed over to the relevant Housing Association.
62.11 Councillor Hilton referred to the St Oswalds development and noted that two thirds of those properties were shared equity ownership. He asked how the council managed to deliver so many affordable homes in this development but limited affordable homes in others. The Housing Innovation Manger explained that as the council owned St Oswalds, it was part of the development and was setting an example. The Head of Place further highlighted that grant funding also made a significant difference.
62.12 In response to a further question from Councillor Hilton as to whether the council had considered whether a way forward might be to establish its own housing company to manage its own housing stock, the Housing Innovation Manager confirmed that a report had been undertaken a number of years ago assessing this option and it was not the recommended approach at that time. The Head of Place confirmed that he was aware that different authorities had opted for this approach, however this tended to be areas where land availability and viability were not so much of a challenge as they were in Gloucester. He noted that in his view, there was not sufficient available land in the city for this to be a viable option.
62.13 In response to further comments from Councillor Hilton regarding challenges with meeting the affordable housing target in the future, the Head of Place confirmed that due to the limited available land, it was important for the City Council to work with its neighbouring authorities. He advised Members that the council worked closely with Tewkesbury Borough Council through the JCS to help manage Gloucester’s affordable housing need.
62.14 In response to a question from Councillor Durdey as to whether the affordable homes delivered in Gloucester included circumstances where residents had been allocated housing in Tewkesbury as part of the JCS arrangement, the Head of Place confirmed that this was correct.
62.15 Councillor Durdey queried whether the council could forecast the projected number of affordable homes the council was on track to deliver. The Head of Place confirmed that Officers reported on an annual basis on the number of affordable homes delivered as well as future projection based on the number of large-scale planning applications granted.
RESOLVED – That the Overview and Scrutiny Committee NOTE the report.