Affordable Housing – the facts
The Town needs homes that young people and families can afford, especially for those who want to work in the Town.
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 of available land. For new builds to be within the reach of first-time buyers, the value of all property must first fall. This 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, they do not always enforce it, if deemed uneconomic by the developer.
So what is meant by affordable?
For rented properties: 80% of the average local market rent.
For home ownership, mortgages must be below market levels but cost more than the rental price.
What about Government policy?
The tenants of any existing social housing, including property of 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 the loss of another truly affordable home to the community.
So it is all a waste of time and why so many care homes?
No. The 40% minimum requirement of “affordable” homes does prevent developers from building only large detached houses for the very wealthy, ensuring a mix of new homes.
But if a developer gains permission for a care home, they are not required to either include an affordable element, or make the required payment to local infrastructure. This results in a much higher profit for them. A complication is that if a charity sells land, the trustees may be obliged to sell to the highest bidder, often resulting in a new care home.
In 2015, when the Conservatives controlled the Town Council, a plot of land close by Tesco was mooted for development. It had been included in the Neighbourhood Plan for new houses and is owned by the Town. As the Town had full control over the development, HRG proposed 100% affordable housing. The Conservatives criticised this idea saying it would 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 (with limited amenities) are for sale at £450,000 – neither affordable, nor offering adequate family living space. HRG is actively exploring possible solutions in a creative manner but will not make promises we cannot 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.