The UK Government’s Department for Communities and Local Government has announced that obligations for developers to provide affordable housing on their sites have brought the UK construction industry to a standstill. In light of their report, which was issued to the industry last week, local planning expert Michael Stein of MSPlanning is urging Jersey’s government to take notice of the announcement before imminent decisions are made on the future of the contentious H3 Policy on Affordable Housing for the Island.
‘The UK Government’s announcement should be taken very seriously by our States members,’ explains Mr Stein. ‘At a time when Jersey’s construction industry is already suffering from ongoing economic pressure, they are considering adding further, significant, financial constraints through affordable housing requirements for developments, which will only exacerbate the current problem and will result in further job loss in the local construction industry. This simply can’t be allowed to happen. The UK Government has recognised the crisis that is being created by their crippling affordable housing policy and Jersey has to sit up and take notice before hugely damaging policy decisions are made for the Island.’
The report states: ‘It is vital that the affordable housing element of section 106 agreements negotiated during different economic conditions is not allowed to undermine the viability of sites and prevent any construction of new housing… The Government estimates that up to 75,000 new homes are currently stalled due to site viability… The Government will now introduce legislation, to be effective in early 2013, which will allow any developer of sites which are unviable because of the number of affordable homes, to appeal with immediate effect.’
Conditions in the UK are more favourable than in Jersey, as most affordable housing in the UK is provided on large, low value, agricultural sites or on contaminated industrial land.
Planning policy in the Island is however directing all new development into existing urban areas, where sites are smaller and more constrained and have much higher land values. The affordable housing policy adopted by the States in 2011 was always doomed to fail and the announcement from the UK underlines the urgent need to review what is proposed and come up with an alternative, more viable solution that will meet Island needs.
The Coalition Government’s priority mirrors that of Jersey – to get the economy growing. Jersey’s plans for affordable housing have been based on these UK plans which are now being amended significantly and the announcement cannot be ignored.
Stein continues: ‘What Jersey is doing right is looking at under-used States land and using States funding to provide much needed affordable housing in the Island. The only problem is that these sites are unable to deliver in the short term. Because the greatest need is in the short term, the States needs to bring forward other sites for affordable housing. The only brownfield sites Jersey has are glasshouses and, therefore, the sites of Samares Nurseries and Longueville Nurseries, referred to in the Island Plan, and other well located glasshouse sites in the Island should be brought back to the States for re-zoning, rather than putting the onus on the construction industry and private developers to service this affordable housing need through their private development plans’.