Oes Affordable Housing on Exception Sites impact on making rural villages sustainable or unsustainable?

RESEARCH PROJECT SYNOPSIS

The topic I have chosen is exception sites for affordable housing in rural villages and how they are secured through partnership working between Chichester District Council (CDC) and Hyde Martlet Housing Association (HMHA) (the district s main housing provider), and through contributions from Section 106 Agreements. I will look at two other District Councils (the Isle of Wight and East Hampshire) to see how their methods compare to CDC. I will also use a recent planning application for affordable housing on an exception site as a case study for CDC and HMHA methodology.

I will particularly look at the sustainability of rural villages when affordable housing is included in exception sites and how unsustainable villages are becoming without exception sites.

CDC in West Sussex aims to ensure everyone has an opportunity of a decent home which they can afford, and to ensure a sustainable local community in the many villages in the predominantly agricultural district, with a high proportion of elderly population.

REASONS WHY THE TOPIC IS CONSIDERED SUITABLE

The Chichester District has a significant need for affordable housing, with the list of those in need of accommodation growing by the day in the present climate.

I was involved when HMHA applied for planning permission for affordable housing on a local exception site. I was impressed by the way the HMHA listened to the Parish Council concerns and changed the plans accordingly. The local community got wind of the plans after 18 months of discussions. Despite the fact the public have always been invited to attend the monthly Parish Council meetings and especially the presentations by HMHA, attendance is low. As the public became aware of the application, it turned contentious. A petition was produced by a local group to object. It produced over 3,000 signatures. CDC operate a red card system for members to use, to ensure that an application comes before the Area Committee. I placed a red card on this one.

Being an elected member of CDC placed me in a difficult position, on the one hand supporting my constituents in my ward and on the other sitting on the Area Development Control Committee and having enthusiasm for the provision of affordable housing. The list of people who needed affordable housing within the Parish, were only locals. CDC has five different types of criteria for residents to fulfil, to decide who qualifies for affordable housing and these people qualified. I decided to support the application and not the objectors. This was an exception site and affordable housing would be kept in perpetuity.

This experience and this project will help me in future dealings with other Parish Councils to try to prevent affordable housing becoming contentious. It will also help me understand S.106 Agreements in relation to affordable housing.

A BRIEF SUMMARY OF TWO ARTICLES I HAVE READ WHICH HAVE BEEN PARTICULARLY HELPFUL TO YOU

1. The Planning Magazine Issue 1780 on 1st August 2008 published an article  Country Left in the Cold by Huw Morris with a Report Reaction by Trevor Cherrett
This article reiterates Matthew Taylor s review  Living Working Countryside published in July 2008. It offers a clear message for the review of PPS4, and highlights the growing importance of home-working and home-based businesses in rural villages. The Affordable Rural Housing Commission produced a similar review two years previously. There has been little response from government. The review concludes that planning procedures and policies hinder rather than help and calls for major overhaul. Trevor Cherrett, policy adviser for the Commission for Rural Communities, states the Review is visionary and feasible. Local Development Frameworks will achieve an evaluation of sustainability to ensure rural economic and social criteria are taken correctly.

2. Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) Findings:  How local planning authorities are delivering policies for affordable housing by Gemma Burgess and Sarah Monk 2007
This study provides an update on how local planning authorities (LPAs) have been implementing affordable housing policies in the context of changing and uncertain policy. LPAs in the case studies welcomed the new definition of affordable housing, which reduce the threshold at which S.106 contributions are required, but which increased requirements for planning obligations which make some sites unviable. Viability assessments added workload, but were felt necessary by many LPAs to address perceived inequalities in their negotiations with developers, who see a higher proportion of shared ownership as a means of reducing their financial commitment. The main concern is that further change in policy would adversely affect the capacity to meet affordable housing objectives. Although LPAs showed improving performance everywhere in obtaining affordable housing, increased complexities and uncertainties have had an impact on achieving the amount of affordable housing required. The study suggests there is still an uneven playing field between developers and LPAs. All LPAs had problems with policy change, leaving them with out-of-date local plans and equally out-of-date with affordable housing policies. It concludes that there should be greater consistency in the system across all LPAs, perhaps a website containing a database of all LPAs policies.

SUMMARY ACTION PLAN FOR THE PROJECT

As a District Councillor I am well known in the villages in the Funtington Ward and have a copy of the up-to-date Electoral Role to provide me with all the names and addresses. I spoke to several people who know me and they agreed they would like to assist in the research study and would answer a questionnaire to give local views on exception sites for affordable housing in the villages they lived in. I offered them a choice of a telephone interview, a written or email questionnaire, or an interview in person to suit their various different lifestyles. As well as these local interviews, I will also interview three different groups involved with affordable housing for their opinions, first 2/3 residents who live in affordable houses in a local village, secondly 3 affordable housing enabling officers from CDC, the Isle of Wight and East Hampshire and thirdly 2 social housing associations. I will approach the residents in affordable housing asking them for permission to participate and to give assurance that any information will remain completely confidential and remain anonymous, having checked the ethical review checklist. I will record these interviews and to help assess the different interpretations of the issues of affordable housing.

I intend to look at relevant legislation, planning policies and reviews. I also intend to research journals and articles for case law.

I will also seek to establish whether rural villages can provide a sustainable community despite the fact that local housing is often unavailable to local people due to high house prices and low numbers of rentals. I will examine whether the actual or potential loss of fundamental amenities such as a local shop, village pub and importantly the village school will result, and whether this is less likely to occur if there is local affordable rural housing. I will examine the long-term impact this might have on the rural environment and economy. I will investigate the social element by looking at the occupations and social networks of tenants in affordable housing and if/how they contribute to local skills/services in villages.

HOW THE TOPIC WLL EXPAND PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS

I anticipate that a successful conclusion to this research on this topic will improve my ability as a District Councillor for a predominately rural area, to observe people s views and critically analyse planning documents. The information gathered will help me reach my own conclusions by balancing all views in applications in the light of spatial planning criteria. I also conclude that the agree