birmingham council logo2The Birmingham Development Plan expresses the intention to build on brownfield sites – but will find it hard to get developers to do this.

It then says: “Having explored the capacity within the urban area it is clear that it will be impossible to provide sufficient new housing to meet the City’s growing population with a shortfall in the region of 30,000 dwellings . . . This means that we must also consider the potential for development on the edge of the City – which means on land currently in the Green Belt”.

The plan has been submitted to Planning Inspector, Roger Clews, in July but no public response has yet been recorded.

Nick Mathiason* records that the supply of affordable housing has gone into reverse:

“Government figures project 42,710 affordable homes will be built in England in the year to April – the lowest number since 2006 and a 26% fall since 2010”

boi logo smallerLast year research undertaken for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that of 82 of the UK’s biggest housing developments in 10 major cities only 40% met local affordable housing targets.

Under Margaret Thatcher’s Right to Buy’ policy, approximately two million council homes were sold at a substantial discount and local authorities were banned from using the proceeds to replace them.

Further setbacks to the affordable housing sector were George Osborne’s 2010 Whitehall spending review 60% cut to the affordable housing grant and last year’s additional 2.2% reduction. The government also allowed housing associations to increase rents on their new build homes to 80% of market rents; in many areas, particularly in the south east, such ‘affordable’ rents are too high for ordinary people.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, the homeless campaign group, fears that low cost housing providers are in danger of forgetting their core mission.

Viability guidance

Kris Hopkins, the planning minister, thinks that viability guidance is not the reason for falling numbers of affordable homes. It is a question of how councils administer it.

‘Viability expert’ Christopher Marsh, explains: “There’s no question if you deflate value and inflate cost while adopting a typical profit margin, the effect will be, potentially, to reduce the amount of affordable housing delivered, especially if land value is fixed. That’s undoubtedly true and I have seen it very many times. If local authorities were sufficiently well equipped (with specialist training and experience) you could safely say the overall amount of affordable housing would be greater.”

In Birmingham, it is alleged that not one of the nine biggest schemes met the city’s 35% affordable housing target

In one planned 353-unit Birmingham project, even the allocation of 12 affordable homes – just 3.4% of the scheme – was considered “unviable” by planning advisers representing the developer.

Time for change – put the public good first and be content with reasonable profit.

*Nick Mathiason, who frequently writes articles exposing links between the governing hierarchy and wealthy donors, is business correspondent at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and also works with the Task Force on Financial Integrity and Economic Development. He was previously Business Correspondent at the Guardian and Observer newspapers for 10 years.,