Petition calls for tougher measures on developers over affordable housing

Shropshire Council is being urged to bring in measures to make it harder for house builders to get away with not providing enough affordable homes on their developments.

The petition has been submitted to Shropshire Council
The petition has been submitted to Shropshire Council

The council has affordable housing quotas of 10, 15 and 20 per cent for developments in different areas of the county, but has discretion to accept reduced numbers where providing the policy-compliant level of affordable housing would impact the viability of the scheme.

A petition has now been launched asking the authority to make use of the District Valuer Service, as a matter of policy, to review developers’ viability assessments where they are being used to justify reducing their affordable housing contribution.

The petition was started by local campaigner Stephen Mulloy, who said he felt compelled to try and change the system after seeing a number of large developments granted approval in recent months despite offering lower numbers of affordable homes than would normally be required.

These include the Ironbridge Power Station redevelopment, which was approved with 10 per cent affordable housing – after initially proposing just five per cent – despite being in an area of the county where the required figure is usually 20 per cent.

Mr Mulloy said: “Nationally we are not building enough affordable housing and Shropshire is no exception.

“We have an evidenced based target rate for affordable housing in the local plan, but since 2012 the government has allowed developers to reduce their contributions by submitting viability assessments that show their development is not viable if they have to contribute the full amount.”

Mr Mulloy said this had led to “a growth industry for specialist viability consultants”, who carry out viability assessments for developers and reviews for local authorities, which he said was concerning because of the “potential for bias and even conflicts of interest”.

“These assessments are easily manipulated by being pessimistic about future sales values and inflating development costs, or even using complex formula linked to internal rates of return which are too deep to penetrate,” said Mr Mulloy.

“The District Valuer Service is a government body that does not work in any capacity for developers.

“They provide a specific service for local authorities to assess the viability of development schemes and their ability to provide affordable housing.

“As such they are truly independent, but for some reason Shropshire Council does not use them.”

Mr Mulloy added: “In short, the system is failing and it seems that developers are calling all the shots.

“We have over 6,000 people in affordable housing need in Shropshire and this petition is their chance to have their say and bring this issue front and centre to the council and insist that the District Valuer Service is used for reviewing viability assessments.”

The petition is live on the council’s website until November 26, and needs to reach 1,000 signatures to secure a full council debate.

A spokesman for Shropshire Council defended the way the authority handles viability assessments.

He said: “The vast majority of development schemes in Shropshire provide policy compliant levels of affordable housing. In a small number of cases, developers present additional viability considerations which could impact on their ability to comply with these affordable housing rates, and in such instances the council require detailed viability assessments to be submitted for consideration.

“In assessing these submissions the council uses specialist independent viability consultants to assess the information, the results of which are then used in the determination of the application.

“It is commonplace for specialist viability consultants to work on behalf of both private and public sector bodies, but importantly there is always clear consideration given as to whether this represents a conflict of interest.

"Such consultants are regulated by the Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors (RICS), and as such are held to high standards of professionalism. Shropshire Council therefore consider there is a fully transparent and independent process in place to assess viability appraisals by developers.”

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