Gareth Bradford and Rob Lamond presented a report which provided an update on the implementation of the regional approach to housing affordability and which sought the agreement of the Board to the principles of the proposed definition as set out in Section 5 of the report and its application through the Single Commissioning Framework (SCF).
The Chair highlighted that the house price to earnings ratio in 2018 for the Redditch Borough Council and Stratford on Avon District Council areas were considerably higher than other areas in the region and, indeed, above the England average. He also referred to the difficulties faced by those who could afford to rent private properties but struggled to raise the initial deposit required. Gareth Bradford advised that there were a number of initiatives to assist those encountering such difficulties including ‘Rent to Own’. He reminded the Board that under the SCF, any developers seeking financial support were required to provide a minimum of 20% of affordable houses on any development above 200 units. To date, this had been successful in delivering an increase in the number of affordable units and was having an impact on the market.
Councillor Peter Bilson queried whether other funding partners, especially Homes England, supported this approach. Gareth Bradford confirmed this to be the case. Councillor Joanne Hadley commented that an increase in the number of social housing units as well as affordable units were required. Rob Lamond explained that provision for such units were included within the definition of ‘Affordable Housing’.
The Chair referred to the need for appropriate accommodation to be provided for ‘Key Workers’ in areas close to, for example, hospitals. He referred to a concept where additional car parking could be provided at such sites with residential accommodation provided by it. He suggested that such a concept would work easily as well adjacent to railway stations and transport hubs and requested the Officers to investigate this matter further. Gareth Bradford reported on an approach from a local NHS Trust for such an initiative and this was being investigated currently by the One Public Estate Board. He offered to arrange for a report on this matter to be submitted to a future meeting. He advised that the WMCA was also considering the suitability of its assets (car parks, bus stations etc.) for such initiatives.
Councillor Daren Pemberton commented that this was far from a new idea as a similar principle had been used for the development of Bourneville. He acknowledged the issue with affordability in the Stratford on Avon District and advised that the Council had a policy requiring 35% of affordable units to be provided on all developments. This was challenged consistently by potential developers who referred to the 20% requirement under the SCF. He requested the assistance of the WMCA in challenging arguments on the viability of developments. Councillor Ian Courts commented that there was no easy answer to the problem but that local authorities needed to adopt a consistent approach.
In response to a further comment by Councillor Ian Courts, Gareth Bradford assured the Board that the suggested definition had been confirmed by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to be in compliance with Planning Policy Guidance and the National Planning Policy Framework.
Karl Tupling reported that Homes England financial support was not available for developments funded through Section 106 Agreements other than in exceptional circumstances. He offered to make Homes England viability model available to Gareth Bradford.
Councillor Peter Bilson reminded the Board that other development models, including the establishment of ‘Local Housing Companies’ were available. He acknowledged that this particular option would not be suitable for some local authorities but commended its consideration.
Gareth Bradford offered to circulate a list of examples and case studies where the WMCA had been successful in acquiring land at a significantly lower level than the initial valuation. He invited Homes England to provide examples of interventions it had been involved in. Karl Tupling agreed to make such examples available but advised that these would need to be anonymised in order to protect commercial confidentiality.
Gareth Bradford reported that an approach had been made to H M Government in July 2019 for grant funding of £300 million for affordable housing shovel ready schemes. He suggested that a similar request be made to the ‘new’ Government.
1. That the proposed regional definition of housing affordability to secure an increase in the delivery and accessibility of genuinely affordable homes in the region that meet local needs be endorsed;
2. That the application of the proposed regional approach through the Single Commissioning Framework process, in order for the WMCA’s housing and land investments and acquisitions to drive a more bespoke and locally informed approach that enabled increased supply of affordable homes be approved;
3. That the excellent support and engagement received by the WMCA from a number of local authorities across the region in developing the above approach be noted;
4. That the One Public Estate Board be requested to submit a report to a future meeting of this Board on the provision of housing / car parking schemes adjacent to hospitals / transport hubs etc.;
5. That a list of examples and case studies where the WMCA had had been successful in acquiring land at a significantly lower level than the initial valuation be circulated to the Board;
6. That Homes England be requested to provide a list of anonymised examples of interventions it had been involved in for circulation to the Board;
7. That a further request be made to H M Government for £300 million of funding for affordable housing shovel ready schemes;
8. That a report on the current position with the Local Housing Companies established by Birmingham City Council and the City of Wolverhampton Council be submitted to a future meeting.