Change planning policy – that is what Number 10 can do for Brighton and Hove

When asked last week by the BBC Politics Show what I would ask the potential candidates for Number 10 to do for the people of Brighton and Hove, I had quite a list.

Friday, 21st June 2019, 10:00 am
Nancy Platts, leader of the Labour Group on Brighton and Hove City Council. Photograph: Michael Crabtree

To have back the 40 per cent cut to local government funding would help us provide the services we need for local people. To resolve how we will fund social care for our ageing population so they can live the rest of their lives in dignity. To stop denying climate change and start taking global action so our young people have a future.

But I settled on housing – or more accurately planning policy. Yes, it might sound a bit dull, but it is how we decide where we can build houses, and more importantly how we can make sure there is enough affordable housing.

Firstly, I have a big problem with the definition affordable – to who? The official definition is 80 per cent of market rate. With the average rent for a three-bedroom home in Brighton and Hove £1,650 a month and the average wage £25,500, the equation clearly doesn’t work for people who live here.

Locally, our council policy is to get between 20 per cent and 40 per cent affordable homes in every new development. Unfortunately that is trumped by national planning policy that allows developers to build fewer affordable homes and instead build luxury flats, party houses and holiday lets so they can maximise their profits.

When challenged, developers flourish their Ace card which is that the district valuer, a government body that provides independent valuation and property advice to local authorities, has agreed their scheme would not be financially viable if they build a greater proportion of affordable homes. This is very frustrating for councillors on the planning committee because it means if they vote against a development, the developer can appeal and the council would likely incur costs if we lost.

Clearly, this is not good use of council funds at a time when we are struggling to make ends meet.

So, to the next occupant of Number 10, please change planning policy so that developers put people before profit. Stop locking local people out of the housing market, because we all need somewhere affordable to live.