Housing was another topic on the Resources Scrutiny Meeting Agenda, it
included a full report on the subject. In Bexley those living in temporary accommodation had
risen by more than 150% in five years to very nearly 1,400.
Councillor Howard Jackson (Conservative, Barnehurst) had three questions.
He said “the new NPPF report is out” and “the Council is taking a more robust approach to viability”, a question that was somewhat mysterious to anyone not in the know because nowhere did the Agenda or its report explain any of those terms. (Google says the initials stand for National Planning Policy Framework.) Councillor Jackson asked what ‘more robust’ meant.
The next question was “why do we have to wait until 2021 to see the benefits?” Thirdly, if developers do not meet the requirements for affordable housing “what are we doing to make them explain to us?”
The Head of Planning, Robert Lancaster, said that robust meant more “early and late stage reviews”. Consultants would be hired too and the reviews would be made public.
NPPF was moving from a local individual basis to the wider area plan and Bexley’s local plan is not ready yet. There is also “uncertainty” over the London Plan “which is still six weeks or so” away from completion, hence the delay.
Councillor Linda Bailey (Conservative, Crook Log) said that “Planning Members feel they have their hands up their back with applications for affordable housing when we have to look at viability but we cannot refuse an application [because of affordable housing] because it is not a valid planning reason. It really does need to be looked at”.
She asked about the Community Infrastructure Levy which has been in use for the past five years but never been increased “and it is probably time it was looked at. Is it being looked at?”
“Developers in the north had complained that their land costs were so low that they could not afford the CIL but as you all know it has all gone up round there, so is it being reviewed so that would be more of an income coming in?”
The Head of Planning said that “the CIL charging schedule is being looked at but if you look for more CIL it clearly provides challenges for affordable housing. There are trade offs to be made between competing pressures but the CIL charging schedule is on the list”.
Assistant Chief Executive Jane Richardson reminded Councillors developers had employed Savilles to try to get a zero rate. In Dartford there is a zero rate. All the big housing providers, the Orbits of this world, even Peabody are facing challenges. The market is extremely difficult”.
Councillor June Slaughter (Conservative, Sidcup) said that government policies are leading to a decline in the supply of privately rented houses and provided several reasons why she believed that to be the case. She asked if CIL money had played a part in the provision of affordable housing. She was told that CIL can only be used for infrastructure like health and not affordable housing, “only to mitigate the impact on local people and services”.
“Developers ask to increase the height of schemes and reduce the amount of parking to deliver more affordable [housing] but we take a balanced view. Of course we are pushing for affordable housing but we are looking at multiple different issues at once. It’s a balance.”
Councillor Francis (Labour, Belvedere) asked what happened if BexleyCo put forward schemes that are deemed “unviable or not in line with policy. Do they employ their own viability consultant and would we be independently reviewing that advice?” He had heard rumours that they were about to bring forward an unviable scheme.
Mr. Lancaster said a BexleyCo planning application would be treated in the same way as any other. He would publish the applicant’s viability report “and our own”.
Councillor John Davey (Conservative, West Heath) who sits on the Planning Committee said “I always, and perhaps irrationally, feel I am being had over by the developer”. A late stage review would make him feel “a lot happier”.
Councillor Peter Reader (Conservative, West Heath) who is Chairman of the Planning Committee said "Members are so frustrated by the number of applications that come before us, the number of times that it comes with a viability assessment which purports to demonstrate that we can’t afford any affordable housing”.
“Members must have the knowledge to challenge it and we don’t get the viability reports soon enough. We mustn’t just sit on our hands and vote the thing through.”