Peterborough’s housing problems have been in the spotlight over the last few weeks.
The Peterborough Telegraph has highlighted some of the difficulties the city faces, with hundreds of families in temporary accommodation, homeless people moved in from London, developers trying to reduce the number of affordable homes they have to build and domestic abuse victims stuck in a refuge as they cannot find somewhere to live.
The answer to these problems and the performance of Peterborough City Council has drawn a mixed response from leading politicians.
Council cabinet member for housing Cllr Peter Hiller says he is “proud” of the authority’s performance, with Peterborough “growing exponentially compared to other similar sized cities in the UK,” But, Cllr Ed Murphy, leader of the opposition Labour group, branded the authority’s housing strategy a “shambles.”
Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Nick Sandford said the focus should be “less on housing numbers and more on building homes to high environmental standards that people can afford to buy and with the facilities necessary to create genuinely sustainable communities.”
The council’s Core Strategy sets out a requirement for all developments to have 30 per cent affordable homes - a target the authority has met since 2009. However, land owners have been reducing the number of affordable homes at major development sites after claiming unexpected costs meant the schemes were no longer viable.
In September the East Of England Agricultural Society And Milton (Peterborough) returned to the council’s planning committee which agreed to reduce the affordable homes provision from 30 per cent to 10 per cent for a 130 home development near the Showground.
Brexit and exceptional costs, including a new drainage system, were said to have made the scheme unviable.
And in July the council’s planning committee approved plans from Persimmon Homes for another 153 homes at Cardea in Stanground, with only five per cent classed as affordable.
And in September 2015 Lands Improvement Holdings had the number of affordable homes it needed to build out of 350 properties at the former Peterborough District Hospital (PDH) site reduced from 15 per cent to zero.
The PT recently submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the council asking to see all the documents and correspondence relating to that decision.
The FOI showed the council was told the land value had decreased by approximately £3 million from the due diligence stage. A letter from planning consultants Bidwells stated: “We advised there was anticipated to be a good market for the site.”
However, developers which were approached to build on the land said they did not want to invest in the brownfield site.
Bidwells added: “As parties withdrew from the process, the feedback we received was primarily that they already had sufficient exposure to the Peterborough market and there were alternative, primarily greenfield, locations in their land buyer area they sought to target if they were buying land at all.”
The council was also told from WSP Remediation Ltd that the demolition cost had risen by £1.4 million. Several reasons were given for this, including disturbed asbestos on the site through “vandalism and deterioration.”
Cllr Stephen Lane of the Werrington First group, who opposed the revised PDH application when he was on the planning committee, said: “My feeling is a developer when they submit an initial plan should be aware of the risk.”
A council spokeswoman said: “In the past two years the council has approved some schemes that do not meet the 30 per cent target.
“However, the council has also approved a number of schemes providing over 30 per cent affordable housing.”
This includes schemes in New Road, Woodston, and Manor House, Lincoln Road, where all 62 homes on the two sites are classed as affordable.
The spokeswoman added: “Sometimes it is necessary to agree to go below our affordable housing target on an eligible site to ensure delivery of both affordable and market homes to meet the needs of Peterborough’s housing sector and our growth targets.
“Government guidance states that where the applicant is able to demonstrate the planning obligation would cause the development to be unviable, the council should be flexible in its approach.
“The council is advised by the Government not to seek affordable housing contributions without regard to individual scheme viability.”
Asked about planning applications which reduce the number of affordable homes on a site, Cllr Hiller said that without accepting the changed schemes the developments would not go ahead.
He also pointed out that there was cross-party support when revised schemes with fewer affordable homes were approved. He added: “Every single case was looked at on an individual basis.
“We always have open book appraisals and independent experts looking at them.
“I think the housing team are doing a cracking job from a development point of view.”
Cllr Murphy said Community Land Trusts - which are set up and run by residents to develop and manage homes - and housing co-ops - where groups of people buy a property to live in - are the way forward. He added: “Where developers sit on land banks because the real concern is the profit line, the council should take direct control and build social housing.”
Cllr Sandford added: “It can’t be right that we are the third fastest growing city in the country, yet we also have a big homelessness problem. It implies that we building too many of the wrong type of houses.”
What are affordable homes?
According to the Government, affordable homes are:
“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.”
Intermediate housing is “homes for sale and rent provided at a cost above social rent, but below market levels.”
Cabinet member for growth, planning, housing and economic development Cllr Peter Hiller said homes can still be affordable even if they are not classed as affordable homes. He said: “People talk about affordable housing - look at Cardea which is fairly affordable any way.”