Number of new homes built each year needs to DOUBLE to meet targets
PUBLISHED: 05:30 25 November 2019 | UPDATED: 09:09 25 November 2019
House-building in parts of the region needs to more than double to meet targets – sparking major concerns about the potential impact on communities.
The big increase in the number of new homes built in Suffolk and Essex in recent years has already seen some villages grow by 50% - but more is required to meet targets.
Government figures show Suffolk and north Essex councils delivered around 3,500 new homes a year since 2014/15 - way behind the 5,500 annual total required.
In some council areas, such as Ipswich and Waveney the number of new homes built last year was less than half their annual target.
Although several councils, such as Babergh and Mid Suffolk, claim their completions last year actually exceeded targets - contrary to the government figures - many politicians have questioned whether continued growth was feasible.
Alastair McCraw, chairman of Brantham Parish Council, which has seen hundreds of homes approved in recent years, said the push for new housing had placed a "huge burden on communities".
Mr McCraw, who is also a Babergh councillor, said communities such as Brantham felt the wrong sort of housing - mainly large 'executive homes' - had been imposed on them, leading to "very unpleasant" rows.
"Feelings are running as high as with Brexit," he said. "The comments you see on Facebook can be really quite nasty."
Much of Brantham's new housing came when Babergh was far behind on its housing targets. It meant developers could invoke the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which overrides local policies and carries a "presumption in favour of sustainable development".
Mr McCraw said the NPPF had been described as "the developers' charter" as it meant "the cards were always stacked in their favour".
Developers behind large schemes in Suffolk Coastal, such as Taylor Wimpey's 163-home development in Framlingham, also used missed targets and the NPPF to win appeals with the Planning Inspectorate.
Campaigners in Tendring claim developers targeted their area because of the council's failure to adopt a local plan.
John Hall, who helped defeat plans for 100 homes in Lawford, said: "We're not opposed to new housing but we want to see permissions granted based on local policies not some speculative developer."
Developers themselves have also questioned whether the government's targets were achievable without major changes to the industry. Research by consultancy McBains reported in February that fewer than half of house-builders believed the target for 300,000 new homes a year by the mid 2020s could be met.
McBains' managing director Clive Docwra warned a lack of appropriate land, slow planning permission and skills shortages were holding back the sector.
"In particular, the construction industry relies on thousands of skilled EU workers because of skills shortages in the domestic workforce," he added.
Leading house-builder, Hopkins Homes, has also called on the government to help tackle the skills shortage.
Executive chairman James Hopkins said: "While domestic policy is largely supportive of development and home ownership, it is not possible to predict what might happen as the country exits the European Union and the economic repercussions of these decisions."
Mr Hopkins also raised concerns about the planning system, which he said "continues to pit developers against local communities to achieve the new homes targets". "Getting support from local communities is of course a challenge for any house-builder but ensuring new homes are in keeping with existing communities goes a long way to improving levels of support from local people," he added.
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"We constantly strive to achieve this, we want to provide beautiful homes for our local area which will stand the test of time and become part of East Anglia's rich landscape and heritage, rather than subjecting communities to a slew of identikit homes which could be anywhere."
The Suffolk Preservation Society has also focussed on the type of housing coming forward through its 'Manifesto for Suffolk' launched this summer.
Director Fiona Cairns said that as "many have accepted the inevitability of vast levels of development by a handful of mass developers", it was important to push for high quality and sustainable development.
The dominance of major large developers - which are responsible for 60% of all new housing - has also led to concerns about so-called "land-banking"
The Local Government Association said there were 423,000 homes nationally with permission that have not yet been built - meaning targets can be missed even if planning permissions are granted. "This is why the LGA has called for councils to have more power to act where house-building has stalled," the LGA said.
Home ownership out of reach for many after decades of under supply
Decades of housing shortfalls have fuelled a "crisis" in affordability which has left ownership out of reach for many young people today.
Government figures show average house prices in Suffolk are now almost 11 times greater than local annual wages - despite a recent slowdown blamed on uncertainty over Brexit.
Prices in some parts of the region, such as neighbourhoods in Southwold or Fingringhoe, now top £500,000, while across Suffolk as a whole the average home is nearing £247,000 - up 57% in just 10 years. Meanwhile, wages have grown by just 17%. It means the £105,000 estimated mortgage available to someone on an average £23,591 salary would be insufficient for even the very cheapest parts of the county.
Even rented properties have become out of reach for lower earners after increasing in cost by almost 25% in the past five years.
Luana Beer, who has been living with her sister in Ipswich, said she had been unable to find somewhere affordable for her and her autistic son, despite working three jobs. "The system is crazy," she said. "It depresses me totally - I don't know what else to do."
Neil MacDonald, who is responsible for housing at Ipswich Borough Council, said a housing shortage was "fundamental" to the problem of affordability - but IBC worked to incentivise landlords to take households from the council waiting list.
Will Jeffwitz at the National Housing Federation, said the Eastern region had suffered some of the worst effects of the housing crisis including a severe lack of affordable and social housing.
"Home ownership is now out of reach for most young people who are instead forced into insecure and increasingly expensive private rented accommodation; whilst those on the lowest incomes are being left with virtually no options for finding an affordable home," he added.
Mr Jeffwitz said the only way to solve this crisis is to increase delivery of affordable home.
Over a series of features, this newspaper will investigate some of the causes of the housing crisis and what is being done about it.
Council houses are being built for the first time in decades. And new Community Land Trusts are emerging to offer affordable housing to local people.
But amid the rush for new homes, some communities feel they are being made to take more than their fair share.
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