The Town needs homes that young people and families can afford. Especially those who want to work in the Town and do not have very high incomes or inherited capital.
What is the root of the problem?
The price of homes in Henley is hugely inflated by the demand to live here and by the shortage and hence the cost of land. For new builds in the town to be within in the reach of first-time buyers, the value of all property must first fall. Even if this could be engineered, it would be highly contentious.
What is the solution offered by our District Council?
SODC requires that any new development of more than 11 properties must include 40% of “affordable” homes. But, if a developer claims that this would not be economic, they do not always enforce it.
So what is meant by affordable?
For rented properties: 80% of the average local market rent.
For home ownership: below market levels but mortgages costing more than the rental price.
For more detail see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-38067626
What about Government policy?
The tenants of any existing social housing, including property owned by Housing Associations, have the right to buy the house in which they live. The government promised to build a replacement for each house sold, but it has never risen higher than 1 in 5. So each sale results in a capital gain for the tenant but the loss of another truly affordable home to the community.
So it is all a waste of time?
No. The 40% minimum requirement, as defined above, does prevent developers from building only large detached houses for the very wealthy. We at least maintain a mix of new homes.
Why so many care homes?
If a developer gains permission for a care home, then they are not required to either include an affordable element, nor to make the required payment to local infrastructure. This is attractive because it results in a much higher profit for them.
A further complication is that if a charity sells some land, the trustees may be obliged to sell to the highest bidder. The highest bidder will be the company that can make the most profit, and they will do that – by building a care home.
In 2015, when the Conservatives controlled the Town Council, a plot of land close by Tesco was mooted for development. The land had been included in the Neighbourhood Plan for new houses and, significantly, is owned by the Town.
As the Town had full control over the development, HRG proposed that permission should be for 100% affordable housing. The Conservatives poured scorn on this idea stating that they did not want to create a “ghetto”. They refused to shift from the obligatory 40% and that is what was passed. This was a good test of their real attitude to affordable housing.
Since HRG regained control of the Council, no development has been approved that did not have the required 40% of affordable properties included. In addition, the proposed nursing home by the college in Deanfield Avenue has been successfully opposed.
So all is now OK?
Not at all. New flats, the size of large boxes with no amenity space, are for sale at £450,000. That is neither affordable for most people, nor is it space for a family home. Henley needs homes within the budget of key workers. HRG is actively exploring possible solutions in a creative manner but will not make promises we can not keep.
This is a complex subject. This overview is informed but not authoritative. If you have any comments, please contact HRG. We would be pleased to hear from you.