Julie Cattell: Developers held to account over affordable homes

Cllr Julie Cattell
Cllr Julie Cattell

As chair of planning committee, I’m extremely proud of the number of housing schemes that we have approved over the last two and a half years.

But I am also acutely aware that we can – and must – improve our delivery of affordable homes within those schemes. That is why I asked officers to look into ways we can more robustly hold developers to account when they cannot provide the policy of 40 per cent affordable units in their schemes.

At the moment, where a developer has not submitted a scheme with the policy compliant 40 per cent, officers will request a viability statement to justify this. The statements are independently assessed by the government’s District Valuation Service (DVS). In some cases, this has resulted in an increased number of affordable units being negotiated. However, these statements and the DVS assessments are not available to members of the planning committee or the public.

Many London councils, who, like us in Brighton and Hove, have a critical shortage of affordable homes, have adopted an upfront ‘open book viability’ approach. Having researched the ways London councils have tackled the issue, officers developed a draft procedure in consultation with the local development community. This will be presented in a report going to the tourism, development and culture committee on January 11, which, if approved, will require housing developers who have not committed to meet the council’s planning policy to provide 40 per cent of the proposed dwellings as affordable to submit a publicly available viability statement at the same time as their planning application.

All viability statements will be required to follow a standard methodology in terms of scope and type of information supplied, creating a clearer and more consistent approach for the benefit of applicants, officers, councillors and, crucially, members of the public.

If approved in committee, the new procedure will be in place by March, and bringing this proposal forward shows our commitment to deliver as much affordable housing as we can, as well as to continuous improvement of the planning service.

Julie Cattell is Labour’s lead member for planning on Brighton & Hove City Council.