The members of the Affordable and Sheltered Housing working party include Jane Gomm, Evelyn Hastings, Vivien Hunt, Kevin Murphy and Bill Ungless,
17th April 2014
The Housing Working Party has been engaged in researching alternative ways of providing affordable and sheltered housing in the village. Discussions have been held with the Common Lands Charity, SCDC, and the Fox's Trust in Southwold. SCDC's enabling officer, having previously carried out a housing needs survey in Walberswick and the surrounding villages, confirmed that there is sufficient evidence of need in the village, particularly of one and two bedroom units. It is intended that, with the participation of the Parish Council, a report will be produced later in the year setting out a strategy for action.
03 June 2015
This report has been prepared by the Affordable and Sheltered Housing Group in accordance with the recommendation of the Parish Plan Stage 2 Report, approved in October 2012.
Please Note: This report was written by the Working Group in June and July 2014.
Some of what we wrote in the report with reference to social housing is now redundant. Legislation and government policies in the planning and housing arenas are in a constant state of flux. The new government has a different agenda for housing. Housing Associations will struggle because once they have to sell their houses (in accordance with forthcoming legislation) they will have a reduced stock able be used on which to raise mortgages to build further houses. Local Authorities and Housing Associations (or registered providers) will have to completely rethink how they will try to meet housing need and that will impact on what unmet housing need there will be in villages like ours. This, in turn, will affect how villages themselves address the problem.
Since the report was written Jane Gomm, Paul Denny and Katherine Gomm have retired from the group for personal reasons.
Report from the Walberswick Affordable and Sheltered Housing Working Group to the Parish Plan Steering Group, dated 1st July, 2014
In order to make this report accessible as a standalone document, we have deliberately set out the issues involved in some detail and repeated some of what is already in the Parish Plan.
At pages 16 and 17, the Walberswick Parish Plan Stage 2: Report and Action Plan (dated October 2012) recommended the following steps be taken in connection with affordable and sheltered housing:
3.3.1 Undertake feasibility studies of possible sites and buildings within the village as the basis for consulting with the Planning Authority. Submit an outline proposal to the village for the potential location of affordable and sheltered housing.
This was to be carried out by the Housing Working Party/Walberswick Parish Council. Its timescale and importance were said to be dependent on the survey results.
3.3.2 Carry out a more detailed survey to ascertain the housing needs of all villagers who may wish to be considered for affordable or sheltered housing.
This was to be carried out by the Housing Working Party/Walberswick Parish Council. Its importance was said to be high and the timescale, short term.
3.3.3 If the results are positive, develop a detailed scheme including financing and the establishment of an appropriate legal structure.
Again the same organisations were to carry this out and the importance and timescale was said to depend on the survey results.
A working group comprising Jane Gomm (Chair), Vivien Hunt (Secretary), Paul Denny, Katherine Gomm, Eveline Hastings, Kevin Murphy and Bill Ungless, has been working towards fulfilling these recommendations. The purpose of this report is to summarise our work and conclusions to date.
The Parish Council believes it is essential that applications for new housing are considered in this context. Planning Policy SP3, which seeks to encourage young people to stay in the district and also to meet the needs of the ageing population, is particularly relevant to the circumstances of Walberswick.
TERMS OF REFERENCE
The phrase “Affordable and Sheltered Housing” trips off the tongue but is in practice a complex term that can be understood in many different ways. The working group has therefore spent a considerable amount of time debating its terms of reference
In a policy context “Affordable Housing” means housing that is available for sale or rent at prices below the market. Eligibility for such housing is decided by local and national government.
We do not think this is necessarily what respondents to the village questionnaire had in mind when they indicated a need for more affordable housing. We have taken it as meaning that they might have been thinking of the desirability of “...sustainable, inclusive and mixed communities...” that is providing affordable housing for people with local connections, particularly people brought up in the village, or skilled craftsmen or tradesmen, whose presence might be desirable to make the village self-sustaining. It needs to be recognised that whilst such people may not be able to afford to buy or rent in the village at current market prices, that does not mean that they would necessarily be eligible for Affordable Housing under nationally applied criteria. Moreover, even if they were eligible, they might not necessarily be offered a house in Walberswick.
We describe in this Report the work we have done on affordable housing but the more we have researched the subject and the more we have talked about it, the more we think it is important to emphasise that our focus is Walberswick, not the national housing shortage. Our remit is the needs of Walberswick residents. We are not aiming to create more affordable housing in Walberswick as an end in itself.
What is Affordable and Sheltered housing?
“Affordable Housing” is defined, for planning purposes, by the present government in annex 2 of the National Planning Policy Framework dated March 2012.
Social rented, affordable rented and intermediate housing, provided to eligible households whose needs are not met by the market. Eligibility is determined with regard to local incomes and local house prices. Affordable housing should include provisions to remain at an affordable price for future eligible households or for the subsidy to be recycled for alternative affordable housing provision.
There is no current government definition of “Sheltered Housing” but according to Wikipedia on 10.06.14:
Sheltered housing is a British English term covering a wide range of rented housing for older and/or disabled or other vulnerable people. Most commonly it refers to grouped housing such as a block or "scheme" of flats or bungalows with a scheme manager or “officer”; traditionally the manager has lived on-site although this is not always the case these days.
How is Affordable and Sheltered housing provided?
In rural areas there are currently two main streams of Affordable Housing.
- Local Planning Authorities generally have policies in their local plans which require, on any housing site above a small number of units, that a certain percentage of those units be built and provided as affordable housing. The percentage is usually between about 25% and 40%. Once constructed, the units are usually transferred to a housing association or similar organisation, which manages them thereafter. The affordability element of the affordable dwellings is provided through cross subsidy from the openly marketable dwellings on the site and the use of government grants and other funding to purchase the affordable dwellings. However Suffolk Coastal DC have stated (a) that no land allocations for housing have been identified for the period 2014-2027 by the Strategic Housing Land Availability Appraisal (SHLAA) process and (b) that the minimum number of ten housing units allocated to Walberswick by the District Council for the period has already been built or approved.
- Local plans generally also contain policies for “exception sites”. Sites on the edge of, but outside the envelope of the village, may, in principle, be granted planning permission for affordable dwellings, but not for other forms of development. The affordability element is provided by the low value of the land. The land value is likely to be somewhat above the current use value (usually farming), but significantly lower than the value if openly marketable dwellings could be built on the site.
Sheltered Housing may also be affordable; in which case the situations described above could apply. There are also many open market sheltered housing schemes which are provided in accordance with normal market considerations.
Affordable and Sheltered housing in Walberswick
There is currently no sheltered housing provision in Walberswick.
There are currently 23 Affordable dwellings in Walberswick, 15 three-bedroomed houses and 8 two-bedroomed. These houses are owned by the Flagship Housing Group and the Orwell Housing Association. In the case of The Reedlings, the new development off The Street, it is understood that one affordable house has been transferred to Saffron Housing Trust Ltd.
How are these houses allocated?
Orwell Housing Association sets out its allocation policy on its website as follows:
If you are looking for a council or housing association home in Babergh, Braintree, Colchester, Ipswich, Maldon, Mid Suffolk, Suffolk Coastal and Waveney District Council you now only have to complete one application form. Your needs will be assessed against the same clear set of criteria no matter where you live.
The Councils have adopted one common allocations policy against which everyone will be assessed. An applicant will only need to apply to one of the Councils but can be considered for housing in any of the areas.
Each home that is made available through Gateway to Homechoice will go to the applicant with the highest need in the highest band. If two families or people in the same band bid for the same home, it will go to the people that have been waiting the longest.
“Gateway to Homechoice” is defined on its website as:
“... a choice based letting system, advertising Council and Housing Association properties in the local authority areas of Babergh, Braintree, Colchester, Ipswich, Maldon, Mid Suffolk, Suffolk Coastal and Waveney.”
It is evident from this explanation that houses cannot be reserved for use by local people or people with local connections. Whilst this method must have advantages, or presumably it would not have been adopted by so many Councils, it can be seen that it leads to difficulties if someone with strong local connections to Walberswick wishes to find an affordable dwelling in the village. (All Councillors are likely to know of cases where the use of Homechoice has produced what might appear to be an unjust or unfair outcome.)
We set out below how we have responded to the three issues and possible initiatives identified in the Parish Plan and summarised in the introduction above.
3.3.1 Feasibility studies of possible sites and buildings
The working group has:
- Requested the Walberswick Common Lands Charity to use part of its land for affordable or sheltered housing. Currently, it is unable to do so. However we do feel that lines of communication should be left open to see if in the future any housing scheme might be managed by the Charity.
- Searched the village for possible infill sites that could accommodate one or two affordable or sheltered units. The problem with this approach is twofold:
- Residents are generally not in favour of infilling green spaces within the village.
- Any green space within the village that would meet our purposes could also be used for market dwellings and thereby attract a higher sale price.
We think it may be possible to obtain access to a plot between the end of Adams Lane and Nightingale Crescent. This land is likely to be owned by either Suffolk Coastal District Council or Orwell Housing Association. The land is within the village envelope and might enable, say, two 1-bedroom units.
- Looked for sites which could be used as “exceptions sites”. There are two obvious sites. These are the two parcels of land to the immediate west of the village immediately to the north and south of the B1387. They are both believed to be in the same ownership. We have not discussed this land with the landowner.
- Discussed the matter with a representative of the Fox Trust to see if its methods of supporting those in Southwold would provide a useful precedent.
The Fox Trust provides, currently, 19 separate units of living accommodation close to the centre of Southwold, but not services, to residents. In effect it compliments the work of the Walberswick Common Lands Charity, which does provide help to residents but does not let properties. We understand, from the meeting, that elderly or otherwise vulnerable people in Walberswick who are financially needy are also eligible and could apply to the Fox Trust for accommodation.
- Met with a consultant who works for Suffolk Coastal District Council and Waveney District Council facilitating the provision of affordable housing within those two districts.
A desktop survey of housing need in Walberswick and the adjoining parishes was carried out on behalf of the consultant before our meeting with him. He said it showed sufficient evidence of need to justify an exceptions policy development. The desktop survey and informal notes of the meeting are appended to this report. The consultant was confident that it would be possible to attract a housing association (or registered social landlord) to carry out the development.
We, at present, do not recommend such a development for the following reasons:
- A development of approximately 12 units on the edge of the village, in which possibly some, but certainly not all the residents would be local would have the same disadvantages as a similar sized market development.
- The village, through the Parish Council, would probably not be consulted or requested to nominate potential occupiers. Hence an important part of the Parish Plan report (see page 16, which stated, “Whilst acknowledging the complexity of implementing any new policy, this report recommends that initiatives to provide sheltered or affordable housing in the village should in most cases be controlled by Walberswick residents) would not be achieved.
- Many people in the village would be unhappy about building on the edge of the village.
- Already some people who live in Adams Lane say they feel cut off from the rest of the village. A new build of 12 more affordable dwellings may increase this sense of separateness.
- Considered whether, in theory, as a village, we could do a self build or community build project on one of the same parcels of land. There is likely to be government grant aid available, but what funding is available changes frequently and so we haven't researched it since the working group carried out work pre the Parish Plan Stage 2 report. Such a project, to be as affordable as possible would need advice and assistance from (retired) professionals in the village (architects, surveyors, accountants, engineers etc) and also from tradesmen who would need to advise or assist the community builders. Self or community build would be likely to provide more sustainable housing, dwellings more appropriate to the needs of the occupiers and it would enable occupation of the properties to be controlled by the village.
We, at present, do not believe such a development is feasible for the following reasons:
- Land for such a scheme would need to be purchased from the landowner. The land value would be low because the site would be an exception site, but the landowner wouldn't be obliged to sell.
- District Councils of all political persuasions can and do purchase land compulsorily for affordable and sheltered housing developments, but the consultant we met said that Suffolk Coastal District Council would not entertain making a compulsory purchase order.
- As with the previous proposal, many residents would be unhappy about extending the village.
- As far as we can ascertain, there is no appetite in the village for such a community effort which would require significant amounts of time and energy from many residents, not merely those who would be housed by such a project.
- Considered the possibility of a sheltered housing scheme. To be financially viable any communal scheme would need to cater for at least 30 people. Apart from the large capital cost, such a project would require a large site. We have been unable to identify such a site.
3.3.2 Carry out a more detailed survey to ascertain housing needs
The working group has not been successful in finding any appropriate sites for affordable or sheltered housing, let alone being able to carry out a feasibility study on such a site. It therefore begs the question of whether a detailed survey of housing needs in the village is useful. It may simply confirm in more detail the need the original Parish Plan Survey suggested, but would not, of itself, produce any suitable sites.
The cost of such a survey, carried out by a professional consultant would be in the order of £4,000 to £5,000 in the view of the District Council's consultant. The Parish Council or the Parish Plan Steering Group could carry out a less detailed DIY survey with some help from the Council's consultant which would provide a more up to date, but not necessarily more detailed snapshot of housing need than the original Parish Plan survey and the information contained in the Consultant's desktop survey.
We do not recommend a further survey at this stage.
3.3.3 If the results are positive, develop a detailed scheme including financing and the establishment of an appropriate legal structure.
Clearly, given the contents of this report the working group has made no progress on this recommendation in the Parish Plan Stage 2 report.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The Working Group has concluded that there is no easy and obvious way to provide more affordable and sheltered housing in Walberswick. For the time being, we make the following recommendations:
- The possibility of elderly or otherwise vulnerable people obtaining housing in Southwold from the Fox Trust should be made much more widely known.
- We could consider whether to approach the Orwell Housing Association and Suffolk Coastal District Council in order to press the case for the use of the land between the end of Adams Lane and Nightingale Crescent for affordable or sheltered housing.
- We consider that WPC and, indeed, all parties in Walberswick should strongly lobby the appropriate authorities to bend over backwards to facilitate the allocation of vacant housing to the young indigenous population of the Village.
- We will continue to monitor the village in the hope that a site or sites become available. Were this to happen then perhaps a detailed Housing Needs Survey would be appropriate.
- Every support should be given for the elderly to stay in their dwellings by carrying out any necessary adaptations to their homes (all in conjunction with Social Services) and by providing a more intensive form of visiting care. The proposed new General Practice building in Reydon, which should be complete this year, has always intended to house suitable staff to organise this. We suggest that the Health Action Group (HAG) follow this up when the new building is operation.
- The NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney CCG in conjunction with Sole Bay Health are pursuing Care Home development in Reydon for more vulnerable elderly, such as support for admission-avoidance, an in-patient dementia service, etc. Again we suggest that the HAG stress the importance of this to the NHS/SBH since, although not in Walberswick, a Reydon Home would be reasonably close for visiting and out-patients.
- In order to kickstart a similar project in the Village to the Fox Trust described above, any Trust would need to be bequeathed, or acquire, a property large enough to be converted to at least five flats and to have sufficient capital both to carry this out and to meet future maintenance and contingencies. More properties obviously mean fewer overheads per unit. Walberswick generally should bruit it that such a benefactor would be welcome, since at the moment, without this, the idea cannot be sensibly pursued. However, in order to meet such a contingency, a meeting is being arranged between the Housing Action Group and the Walberswick Common Lands Trust to explore the possibility of developing a similar scheme within Walberswick to that of the Fox Trust.
Members of the Affordable and Sheltered Housing Working Group: Jane Gomm (Chair), Vivien Hunt (Secretary), Paul Denny, Katherine Gomm, Eveline Hastings, Kevin Murphy and Bill Ungless