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Revealed: How half of housing developments in Norfolk and Waveney fail to hit affordable homes target

PUBLISHED: 08:10 27 April 2016 | UPDATED: 11:13 27 April 2016

The affordable homes target was hit at a development in Wells but has been missed across Norfolk and Waveney. Picture: Ian Burt

The affordable homes target was hit at a development in Wells but has been missed across Norfolk and Waveney. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant

Half of the region's largest housing schemes failed to meet affordable homes targets, it can today be revealed, raising concerns that not enough is being done to help struggling families.

Data collected by the EDP, as part of our week-long investigation into the housing crisis, show 20 out of Norfolk and Waveney’s 40 largest applications over the last five years did not hit council-set targets for affordable housing.

With the average house price in the area now almost 10 times the average salary and the region in a house-building slump, it has prompted fears that low-earning families will be left struggling to afford rocketing rent prices or buy their own home.

The figures were deemed alarming by Steve Cheshire, Norfolk Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) chief executive, who said: “There is a human cost behind the numbers and it is of concern. When we did a survey recently of our clients, 55pc of those who responded had a household income of less than £1,000 a month. When you consider the average private rent is £786, that is obviously a significant problem.

“Covering rent and then bills becomes a severe problem, and it is no surprise that 32pc of clients that responded are struggling with debt.”

What is an affordable home?

The government defines it as a home for people “whose needs are not met by the market”. But rather than focusing on what the buyer can afford, it looks at the type – or tenure – of the home.

Largely, it includes homes that are not part of the private market.

Social rent – homes owned by local authorities and housing associations, charging roughly 40pc to 60pc of market prices

Affordable rent – homes let by local authorities and housing associations, charging up to 80pc of market rate

Intermediate housing – homes owned by housing associations, offering schemes to help people get on the ladder. It includes shared ownership schemes, where people can buy a share and rent the rest.

The government also offers schemes for homes in the private sector, which include its Help to Buy equity loans and mortgage guarantees.

Although chancellor George Osborne last year said work on 400,000 affordable homes should begin by 2020 to 2021, regional 
targets are set individually by councils according to factors including demand and supply, the costs of 
housing and wages, and are not legally binding.

And numbers in our area vary widely – for example, Great Yarmouth Borough Council says 10pc of developments of five homes or above must be affordable, while in Breckland, the target is 40pc for the same size scheme.

The high figure means Breckland Council fell short of its target on all five of its largest applications, including a major scheme for 5,000 homes in Thetford.

Charles Carter, Breckland Council’s executive member for growth, defended the council’s record.

“It is important for Breckland that suitable housing developments continue to be approved so we can meet the need for affordable and market value housing while supporting growth in the district,” he
 said.

“That’s why the council always strives to secure the high level of 40pc affordable housing on new developments where there is demand for affordable housing.”

He said the target was balanced against various factors, including if developers claim the scheme is unviable – that it would be unprofitable in market conditions.

James Hopkins, chief executive of regional housebuilders Hopkins Homes, said the firm was a “strong advocate” of affordable housing and that they were currently developing more than 1,000 affordable homes – a third of its total properties, about 500 of which are in Norfolk.

He added: “We are very proud of our record of delivering affordable housing throughout East Anglia. However, a small number of sites, notably brownfield, do encounter challenges that need to be overcome to make the site suitable and to allow development to begin, which can easily run into many hundreds of thousands of pounds.

“In these circumstances, the scheme can only become financially viable by lowering the proportion of affordable homes, which are sold below market value, to fund these exceptional additional costs.”

Stressing the importance of meeting the targets, Mr Cheshire said: “Across the nation 21m people do not have £500 as a savings buffer.

“It’s vital for the councils to 
do whatever they can to ensure 
there is affordable, sustainable 
housing within distance.”

Tomorrow, we will be looking at the problems on our roads.

We would like to know your experiences with housing in the region. Email lauren.cope@archant.co.uk

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