At tomorrow's Cabinet meeting, the council will be making a decision about the draft Affordable Housing Development Plan. It sounds very dry, but it is the crucial amalgamation of the old district policies which dictate how much affordable housing needs to be provided when new homes are built in order to meet the estimated demand for 1700 affordable homes in Cornwall each year.
The national guidelines state that when there is a development of more than 15 houses, at least 35% of them must be affordable - either to rent or to buy at low cost.
In Cornwall, none of the parties felt that this was good enough and the Planning Policy Committee has been working to come up with stricter guidelines. Whatever people may think of the regional spatial strategy target for new housing in Cornwall, I believe that everyone agrees that we need more homes for local families and people who would otherwise find themselves priced out of living here.
The solution they have come up with is to split Cornwall into four types of area:
- In the big towns (Truro, St Austell, Falmouth, Redruth-Pool-Camborne, Saltash, Torpoint, Bodmin, Newquay and Penzance) there will be a requirement for 40% of all new houses to be affordable on developments of 5 or more properties.
- In all other towns and villages (including Launceston) there will be a requirement for 50% of all new houses to be affordable in developments of 2 or more properties.
- In certain areas where there are very high levels of holiday homes, there will be an additional restriction which means that new market homes must be used as principle residences, not as second homes.
- In all other areas - ie outside the boundaries of existing villages, towns and hamlets - there will usually be no development allowed. Where it is permitted, it must be to serve a particular village and all properties will have to be affordable. There is a get out clause that some open market housing may be allowed, but only where the affected community supports the idea and where the provision of open market housing will lower the subsidy needed or make the affordable housing much cheaper.
As previously, where affordable housing is provided, about half of it will be social rented properties and the remaining half either rented or low cost for sale.
What does this mean for Launceston? The existing policy here is already pretty good. It states that the level of affordable housing should be 50% in developments of 5 or more properties, but that the social rented element of the new build is just 35%. So the effect is that any development of more than a single property will be affected and that we will be seeing more rented housing in the future.
In my view this draft policy is a good step forward. It recognises that we have a significant need for more affordable homes and is doing something positive to help bring them about. Of course, getting affordable homes in this way is not the only option. The Council is currently piloting a project to build more council houses itself and is still pursuing the idea of a PFI scheme to build many more - although this will rely on the new government freeing up a lot of money to bankroll the project.
Of course, the new government might have something to say about both the PFI scheme and second homes in the near future. According to the local papers, David Cameron is listening to Lib Dem concerns over second homes and is considering making them subject to higher capital gains tax rules. We will have to wait and see what happens in this regard.
I very much hope that the Cabinet will vote through this policy tomorrow and I think that Dick Cole and his committee which drafted this policy deserve a pat on the back for their efforts.
UPDATE - I've changed the bit about areas with large numbers of second homes following a chat with Dick Cole who clarified that there would be extra restrictions in these areas rather than different.
UPDATE 2 - Cabinet unanimously passed this policy today and it will now go out for formal consultation