Shropshire ‘big scheme’ developers use legal loophole to avoid building affordable homes
Snatchfield development likely to yield only 7 or fewer affordable homes - and quite possibly none!
AONB eaten up for developments that boost developer profits - not to meet local housing needs
We are told, not least by our local County Councillors, that the necessity to build on Snatchfield is driven by the need to provide affordable homes for our young people and care workers. However how likely is it that destroying the AONB open countryside would provide these homes?
Leaving aside the issue of whether or not Shropshire Council have proven the need for the number of affordable homes required (which is very dubious given the most recent Office for National Statistics data for Shropshire) evidence shows that developers in Shropshire frequently use a legal loophole to overpower local communities and avoid building affordable homes for just such people.
According to recent data analysed by Shelter and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) developers in eight rural councils (including Shropshire) are using a legal loophole to dodge building affordable homes.
Developers use 'viability assessments' to argue that building affordable homes could reduce their profits to below 20%, which gives them the right to cut their affordable housing quota. The Shelter/CPRE analysis shows that almost half of the affordable homes that councils had required developers to build were lost when ‘viability assessments’ were used. A tactic often used by developers building big housing schemes is to over-pay for land but recoup costs by squeezing the affordable housing commitments.
In fact Shropshire Council’s own Affordable Housing Provision Policy (DP3) actually steers potential developers to this loophole by including an exception clause which allows developers to claim:
‘The provision of reduced rates of affordable housing due to viability concerns’.
Polly Neate, Shelter chief executive has said: 'Developers are using this legal loophole to overpower local communities and are refusing to build the affordable homes they need’.
Crispin Truman, Campaign to Protect Rural England chief executive, said: 'It cannot be ignored any longer. Too much of our countryside is eaten up for developments that boost profits, but doesn’t meet local housing needs because of the viability 'loophole'.
The Shelter/CPRE study found that in one year alone the viability assessments loophole was used to reduce the 1,966 homes that were meant to be affordable - according to the housing policies set by the local authority - by 48%, a loss of 938 affordable homes that should have been built.
If we put to one side the issues of Snatchfield as AONB open countryside and the price paid for the land, Snatchfield has been acknowledged to be an expensive site to develop because of the many problems inherent to the site and its access.
The ‘viability’ loophole in Shropshire’s Affordable Homes Policy would almost certainly be legally invoked by any developer of Snatchfield and reduce the number of affordable home to 7 or fewer (and quite possibly none).
Shropshire Council are very aware of this issue. But in pursuit of their ‘high growth’ housing target they appear unconcerned about the negligible gain in affordable homes and the huge damage to the landscape, environment and biodiversity that the development of Snatchfield would cause.
We all know that the development of Snatchfield, or any other major development site in Church Stretton, will not be about addressing the needs of our community. It will simply be about satisfying an arbitrary and over-inflated housing target and the profit of big developers.
That is why we continue to press for the production of a separate Development Plan Document for the Shropshire Hills AONB. This Is the only way to both safeguard the special qualities of the AONB and address local housing requirements.