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Thursday, 6 February 2014

Affordable (sic) Housing Consultation

Cornwall Council are currently consulting on their Affordable Housing Supplementary Planning (SPD) Document. The consultation will run until Friday 14th March and details can be found here.

What can I say? Where do you start?

Central Westminster Government, regardles of the colour party that is currently occupying number 10, wants to see lots of new houses built. In fact there is now a presumption in favour of allowing development. The London based parties want to be seen 'to be doing something'. They also need to provide the people and organisations which finance their activities with ample opportunity to generate the profit that ensures the cash donations continue to flow.

The answer, of course, is to encourage lots of development, brag about how many 'affordable' homes have been 'delivered' and, at the same time, claim that lots of jobs have been 'created'. Meanwhile their wealthy, fund-raising buddies have increased the value of their property portfolios and the dosh flows round the system. All the time, the difference between wages and houses prices or rent grows ever wider.

Of course our local planning authority are required to play the game - required  by law. That it is all a game is clearly demonstrated by the SPD.

Cornwall Council proudly proclaim:

'Ensuring the housing market offers enough decent homes at a price which people can afford is one of the Council’s highest priorities.'

But what is an 'affordable' home? Well there are half a dozen or so definitions of affordable housing 'products' all of which are supposedly matched to the ability to pay. When it comes down to it though, what is needed is lots of 'affordable rent' or 'social rent' houses.

Rentals are crucial because, as Cornwall Council recognises, it would require a gross household income of around £37,000 with a 10% deposit in order to purchase a house in the bottom quartile price category in Cornwall. In other words even the cheapest houses in Cornwall are out of reach of the people who live here (so tell us something we didn't already know!)

Even though Cornwall Council realises that you will have to bin your aspiration to buy your own home, at least it recognises the desperate need to build low cost rentals as the only realistic way to meet local housing need. In fact, its stated policy is that at least 70% of any planned affordable houses should be low cost or social rented houses.

Well at least that sounds like a sensible policy. If you have a limited capacity to provide the housing which is needed at least target the area where you can have the most positive impact. 

And perhaps it might be - except for the over-arching get-out clause - economic viability. Developers won't build if they can't make a profit (fair enough). But, the problem is that, as our public bodies are not allowed to build house to provide people with homes anymore, the only way for local housing need to be met is to depend on the charity of developers (not a good place to be!) If developers aren't feeling charitable then local housing need won't be met. Yet this is the only option that the Council has - if it isn't 'economically viable' then the houses won't get built. So in desperation the Council takes a policy and waters it down. Just like Westminster it has to be seen to be doing something doesn't it?

Cornwall Council knows and documents that demand for high housing numbers is driven by in-migration. It knows that the people that live here are unlikely to ever be able to afford to buy their own home and it knows that a sensible way to provide homes for people in need is to build social rented homes.

The problem is that it isn't allowed to develop policies which will solve the problems that it has identified. It can't avoid allowing houses to be built simply for profit and to keep the Westminster merry-go-round turning.

For me, Cornwall Council affordable homes policy sums up why we need to change things. Why Cornwall needs to make the difference. We should be able to create policy which is tailored for the benefit of Cornwall and not for party political purposes. We need to build homes which will meet local need - if they don't then why build them? We need government for Cornwall which is prepared to grasp the nettle and say enough is enough. We need government which has the ability to make its own decisions and which has the ability to provide homes for people instead of delivering property portfolios for corporations.

We need a Cornish Assembly which can start to meet the challenges which face us in Cornwall.


  1. Stephen, 2 questions Firstlly, how would MK propose to fund the construction of social rented housing? Secondly, if we achieve devolved government, given our extremely vulnerable economic situation, without increased hand outs from Westminster, which surely would decrease, not increase, if we tell them to clear off, how would we even maintain, never mind increase, investment in public services? Thanks, Chris Smith

  2. Hi Chris,

    A National Assembly would allow a wide range of strategic financial decisions to be made. It would effectively give us a blank sheet of paper.

    How did we build a substantial council owned property portfolio after the war - during much greater austerity? It is all about political will - and this would depend on whichever Cornish government was elected.

    There would also be the opportunity to provide more resources for the development of such things as commuity land trusts - helping people to help themselves.
    It is also highly likely that the cost of building housing would reduce. If there was a policy of allowing development only for local need then developers would not be able to pay inflated prices for land.

    If you read MK's proposals you will see that we are not asking anyone to 'clear off'. We want a wide ranging and respectful debate on how to bring greater democracy to Cornwall. We advocate that a Cornish National Assembly would be awarded a needs based financial settlement (or block grant) to use as its budget. Once decided the settlement would be reviewed each time the Westminster Parliament conducted a spending review. So if the UK government spending decreased as a whole then so would Cornwall's share. If it increased then again so would Cornwall's share.

    We believe that our 'vulnerable economic position' is, in part, attributed to mismanagement from Westminster. Surely we could make better financial and investment decisions than people who are based 300 miles away - or who have to consider a wider south west area before Cornwall's unique needs.

    We would also have complete control of European Funding. Look at how much has been wasted on the failed Heartlands project. It is offical policy of the people that dispense our European funding to go for big 'iconic' projects - so that people can see where where their money has been spent. MK would rather make investments where they can MaKe a difference (even if this was a little more invisible) and improve our economic vulnerability.


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