Islanders fear 'hundreds of new open market homes'
The 105 affordable new homes contained in the Draft Local Plan could be subsidised by hundreds of open market properties, some islanders fear.
The 135-page document envisages building the affordable homes - comprising a mix of social rented, self-build, and affordable ownership at 80% of market value - on potential sites around Hugh Town and Old Town. All the homes will be allocated according to local need criteria, which was recently revised.
The new properties will have to be cross-subsidised by open market housing.
Dan Marcus, the Council's Lead Member for Planning, told This is Scilly: "In the Local Plan, we’ve made it clear that affordable homes will be cross-funded by private housing builds because that is the current fashion at the moment, they’re the only people who can actually get money to build housing. Until the government allows Local Authorities to legally borrow money to build housing, we’re left with getting private contractors in."
He went on to say that a feasibility study states that the ratio of private to social housing should be 1:1, "so you build one open market house to fund one affordable house".
He added: "So in saying we need 105 affordable houses, there’ll actually be 210 houses."
However, one concerned islander insisted that the chances of a 1:1 ratio are very low as mixed housing builds elsewhere in the UK have never exceeded 35% of affordable housing. Housing charity Shelter has also reported that private developers are taking advantage of legal loopholes to slash the number of affordable homes they end up building.
The islander said: "The idea that you can achieve a 1:1 ratio of open market to affordable housing baffles me. Mainland developments where building costs are lower and volumes are higher struggle to build one affordable home for every five open market homes (this includes Duchy developments such as the first phase of Poundbury).
"There needs to be absolute transparency about the potential implications of using open market housing to facilitate 'affordable' housing (that at 80% of open market value isn't really affordable anyway), just saying that we will build the minimal amount of open market housing necessary masks the fact that we could be looking down the barrel of a huge pile of open market houses to deliver unaffordable social housing. Going back to maths lessons - show us your calculations."
Dan was unable to guarantee that the ratio would not exceed 1:1, saying, "we don't know what the market is going to do".
But he added: "We need to remember this Local Plan will be reviewed in five years’ time. No-one is going to come and built 200, 300 houses in one go. That’s not going to happen. What you might get is five or ten being built, if we’re really lucky and the wind falls in the right direction.
"At that point the Local Plan will be being reviewed or just about to be. Or we might have a change in government policy. If the Local Authority can borrow money, and become its own Housing Association, that makes much more sense and is more aligned to how people can see it happening on Scilly.
"So we’ve got to remember that a) economically and logistically it’s very unlikely that we will get 200 houses built in one go, b) it’s going to be a trickle and we’ll be reviewing it, and c) we have to change our housing situation. There is no way of continuing in the same way. To be negative about this situation is a bit ostrich-like. This isn’t the outskirts of Truro or Exeter, we haven’t got a queue of developers."
He also pointed out that the Local Plan provides a vision and strategic direction. How Scilly achieves its desired 105 new affordable homes is not in the Plan's remit to discuss.