By Stephen Atkins and Harold Goodwin, Faversham Community Land Trust
We have many hidden homeless in Faversham - very few people bother to register because they know that social housing, council housing, is a thing of the past. The Swale Housing list has 1300 households registered for genuinely affordable homes across the borough. This figure grossly understates homelessness. The Arc4 Faversham Housing Needs survey revealed that in 2019 there were 721 hidden homeless in Faversham alone, the details are on our website. Many of the homeless do not bother to register as they correctly gauge that they will not accrue sufficient points to be allocated an affordable home when competing with those appraised on the points system as having greater priority. If you are reading this and you need a home please register with Swale, by doing so you help us make the case for more affordable housing for local people.
The AECOM report for the Town Council on housing market assessment, found that 811 affordable rented homes are needed for those who are homeless, living in overcrowded accommodations or unable to start to live independently or start a family. There are undesirable social consequences when young people are forced to continue to live at home unable to transition to adulthood in their own homes, unable to start a family until they are in their forties or when families are compelled to move away from Faversham and the support of their wider family.
BUILDING TO MEET DEMAND NOT NEED
The government’s National Planning Policy Framework (the NPPF) contains a formula that local authorities are required to use to determine how many houses they must ensure are built. Housing targets are set by central government and do not reflect local needs, particularly for locally affordable housing for families. Central government housing targets determine the number of units to be built in Swale, developers seek the highest possible profit on developments and the margins are higher on their /four-bedroom houses. Swale planners negotiate on the housing mix but the developers are in the stronger bargaining position. Swale is required to deliver a five year land supply – this means granting sufficient planning permissions for developers to build sufficient homes to meet the central government determined target. Local authorities are able to build very few houses, Swale intends to build a few, but it is the market demand for homes which determines how many are built. Trapped between the housing land supply and delivery tests, Swale planners struggle to get developers to deliver affordable homes.
THE PLANNING LOOPHOLE
As Shelter has pointed out councils “with a high housing target to meet and a limited supply of land could be forced to accept a less ambitious affordable housing policy to get landowner buy-in for their plan.” Central government’s Housing Delivery Test requiring their housing targets to be met strengthens the hands of developers and landowners in their negotiations with local planners about the mix of housing.
The average operating margin made by developers in 2019 was 13.2%, the top performers made over 30%. Housemark regularly analyses the financial results of Housing Associations, in November last year they reported that the average overall operating margin for UK housing associations improved in last financial year to 24.4%.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN FAVERSHAM
There is a bewildering range of affordable housing, generally it means housing which is available at 80% or less of the market price or rent. For many Faversham people, a discount of one-fifth is not enough to make housing affordable for them. As the AECOM report reveals between 2010-11 and 2020-21, out of a total of 883 dwellings built 172 were affordable, or 19.5% of the total against a policy target of 35%. Of the affordable dwellings only two were for social rent, let at circa 50% of market rent, 133 for affordable rent (80% of market rent), 12 for other rent and 25 as affordable home ownership products.
In the last decade house prices have increased by 82% and entry level homes by 75%. Local people are priced out of the housing market. AECOM calculates that household incomes above £40,000 per year are required to rent in Faversham and over £60,000 per year to take a mortgage. AECOM’s figures starkly reveal the problem and as the Faversham Times reported recently semi-detached houses in Faversham are now being rented for over £20,000 per year. Many Faversham people cannot afford homes in Faversham.
This chart shows the startling cost of renting or buying a house in Faversham
In the last edition of the Faversham Eye, we reported on the Faversham Community Land Trust’s campaign to encourage the volume housebuilders building in the town to provide a more balanced housing mix. We are delighted to say that we have been successful! Crest were persuaded to resubmit their scheme at Lady Dane and reduced the number of 4 bed
homes by 50%, replacing them with 2- and 3-bedroom homes. A Crest spokesman commenting on the amended layout said, “we decided to add more smaller homes to the project after consultations with FCLT and a meeting with Swale Council”. Claire Martin the Chair of FCLT commented “the Trust are delighted that Crest responded positively to our
planning representations and we are hopeful this will set a precedent for the introduction of a balanced mix for the 3,500 homes to be allocated in Faversham under the emerging Local Plan”.
21ST CENTURY ALMS HOUSES
The AECOM report concludes that two-thirds of the affordable housing built in Faversham should be for social rent. The Community Land Trust is seeking to find land to build 21st century almshouses, homes available at social rents and held in perpetuity for the benefit of Faversham residents. There is very little land available for housing within the parish boundary. Please join us in campaigning for more locally affordable homes in Faversham.
The Town Council’s emerging Neighbourhood Plan is asserting that residential schemes should include a mix of accommodation to meet local housing need, including accommodation suitable for families (3 bedrooms) as a predominant part of the mix, smaller accommodation (2 bedrooms or less) suitable for first time buyers or renters or those seeking to downsize; and accommodation suitable for older people and those with limited mobility. The policy also favours affordable housing provision that remains available in perpetuity, including First Homes and community-led housing.
KILN COURT & OSBORNE COURT
Kent County Council owns the land at Kiln Court and Osborne Court. Originally Faversham’s Workhouse was located there. From 1948 the buildings were used by KCC as an old people’s home with some 200 residents, a hospital and an ambulance station run by the NHS. KCC closed the old people’s home and the NHS closed the hospital in 1984. KCC is now selling the land. We have sought, without success, to get assurances that given the original uses of the land, a significant number of social rent properties should be built there.
THE ENGINE SHEDS
The Faversham Community Land Trust is concerned both with locally affordable housing and with the development and conservation of buildings that have community value. We aspire to promote the regeneration of the Engine Sheds, adding to Faversham’s remarkable collection of repurposed railway heritage buildings, providing community buildings to the east of the town where they are sorely lacking and creating a pedestrian, mobility, buggy and cycle route into town from the new developments to the east. There is more about this initiative in Faversham’s Heritage Matters on page 40.