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Newsletter, April 2003 (Issue 151)

Affordable Housing


[Chris Mole, MP for the Ipswich constituency, offered to write a piece about housing for the Newsletter. We were pleased to accept his offer because the principles governing new developments are of course one of the Society's many concerns. Editor.]

In July, I was appointed to the Select Committee that oversees the work of The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. The ODPM is responsible for local goverriment, housing, planning regional policy and social inclusion. The Select Committee has recently published a report on "Affordable Housing". (On-going studies also include issues such as "The Evening Economy" and "Planning for Sustainable Housing and Communities".)

The report into Affordable Housing has just been published and it has recorded the decline in the number of affordable homes that have been built and the difficulties this creates both in terms of the number of families living in Bed and Breakfast accommodation and the challenges to some businesses to recruit and retain staff where they cannot afford to buy property. The committee recognises that a huge amount of private housing would have to be built in order to produce a market effect on prices, and the environmental consequences would be catastrophic.

The report therefore sees that planning gain from new private developments should continue to be used to leverage investment for social housing, although it recognises there is competition for such income to pay for brownfield site remediation and infrastructure costs such as transport, education and health facilities. The committee is recommending that small sites (less than ten houses) should not any longer be exempt from such planning gain obligations.

The committee are keen to see more mixed tenure developments (I understand this is happening on the Ravenswood site in Ipswich) but challenges Government to find ways of ensuring that private housing is not segregated. Nor should councils take compensatory payments for off-site affordable housing. The Housing Corporation should be given a bigger role to play in developing mixed tenure developments, but need to ensure that service charges such as those for car parking or concierge services are affordable to those living in subsidised housing.

There is evidence that bigger sites initially owned by a public authority do allow the best opportunity to ensure sustainable development, and the committee are suggesting that the Regional Development Agencies should have simplified Compulsory Purchase Powers to ensure a good supply of brownfield sites for housing. Public agencies such as the NHS, which are having recruitment problems, should be given flexibility in using their significant land holdings to enable social housing schemes to proceed. The report wants to see the Housing Corporation better ensure the quality of social housing, particularly in the South East where costs per unit are higher. This is important as we move to higher density housing in order to maximise brownfield use and minimise greenfield take.

Finally, there are enormous issues about the availability of skills in the construction industry, as many training facilities were run down in the 1980s. The committee has noted the potential of the off-site fabrication of housing components to improve productivity, quality and environmental benefits - with a weather eye to ensure the mistakes of the pre-fab era of housing are not made again. I was particularly interested in this as we have a company called Torwood in Ipswich that is developing very skilled jobs in off-site fabrication.

As with all such reports, the Government is obliged to respond, and I hope that some of these objectives are delivered through the Government's new "Communities Plan". Further information about the work of the committee is available at the following websites:

I hope this report is of interest to members of The Ipswich Society.

CHRIS MOLE MP

    Front cover of issue 151 Cover, issue 151

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