Gareth Bradford, Rob Lamond and David Warburton presented a report which updated the Board on the work which the WMCA and the Homelessness Taskforce had been doing since early 2019 on a new Regional Affordable Housing Definition. This was a commitment identified in the Housing and Land Business Plan for the WMCA to progress during 2019/20 and had been agreed at previous meetings of the Board. The report also sought endorsement for the recommended approach to an affordable definition (i.e. how it was to be calculated) such that the affordable definition more closely reflected the bespoke range of housing needs and ambitions in different parts of the region when applied. A key test of this work had been to ensure compliance and complimentarity with policies in statutory local plans prepared by local councils and to provide investor and developer certainty. The WMCA thanked the local councils, the private sector and housing associations across the West Midlands which had shaped this work to ensure that this was the case.
The report outlined also the broader work on affordable housing and homelessness being undertaken in the region. It set out the emerging evidence being gathered, for example, housing affordability in the West Midlands, to inform this work and a potential future Spending Review bid to Government. The report sought agreement to a proposal to trial a new regional definition, initially only across the WMCA land/investments being taken forward through the recently agreed Single Commissioning Framework. The trial would demonstrate the regions’ ambitious approach to affordable housing and being at the forefront of the housing affordability agenda whilst gathering further evidence of impacts.
The Chair commented on the difficulties which could be encountered in requiring developers to designate a percentage of a development for affordable housing if it compromised the viability of the development and that this could often lead to assertions that other requirements of Section 106 Agreements for the provision of essential infrastructure could not be met. David Warburton set out clearly that the definition would apply only to those developments where the WMCA was intervening or investing under the new Single Commissioning Framework. Gareth Bradford clarified that the paper encouraged the use of the affordable housing definition beyond the WMCA in other organisations in the region but housing policies in local plans were a matter for local planning authorities. He reported on the positive partnerships being formed with developers, investors and associations who were embracing the principles and inclusive growth objectives of the Single Commissioning Framework including the minimum affordable housing standards.
Councillor Joanne Hadley welcomed the assistance of the WMCA in providing funding for the reclamation of contaminated land. She also referred to the issue of high levels of rent in private sector accommodation which often led to rent arrears and homelessness.
The Chair commented on the need to keep considering the wider regeneration aspects of developments and broader benefits of developments. He referred also to the need to assess continually viability as developments were built out and values changed. Gareth Bradford reminded the Board that looking at issues like clawback and overage had been a key part of the Housing Infrastructure Funding bid for Perry Barr and in the Single Commissioning Framework was a key part of the funding agreement with project sponsors.
Councillor Peter Butlin referred to the affordability issues in the Stratford on Avon District Council area where many residents were from outside the area but local residents were often in low paid occupations.
That the West Midlands Combined Authority Board be recommended as follows:
1. To agree the approach, as detailed in the report, to a new regional definition of housing affordability through a pilot programme, based on application of the new definition through the Combined Authority’s Single Commissioning Framework (SCF). All investments made through the SCF process would go though the WMCA approvals and assurance process with final sign off by the Investment Board;
2. For schemes not in the scope of the SCF where the WMCA has a brokering or influencing role, it would encourage councils and other partners to adopt Option B as detailed in the report, with local criteria being applied in a flexible, non-prescribed way to compliment local plan policy and build confidence in the approach and evidence success for further development.