Call for policy review on affordable housing

IT is asking too much of private builders to demand that 25 per cent of the houses they build on any particular site should be affordable, writes Andrew Keddie.

That is the view of Councillor Carolyn Riddell-Carre (Con, Selkirkshire), Scottish Borders Council’s executive member for planning, who is urging the public to support a review of that policy because of the economic downturn.

Despite a dearth of new build housing activity and general stagnation in the construction industry, the maintenance of the 25 per cent requirement is the “preferred option” in the main issues report (MIR) of the council’s local development plan which is out to public consultation for the next 10 weeks.

The plan, if approved, will set out a framework against which future planning decisions on housing, employment land, town centres and the protection of green spaces are made.

Mrs Riddell-Carre, who is not standing for re-election next month, told Monday’s meeting of Selkirk Community Council that the present affordable housing policy was too prescriptive and should be reviewed.

“It’s all very well to demand 25 per cent affordable housing on a site of luxury houses each worth, say, £250,000, but for developments in the medium price range, the 25 per cent requirement is a real burden on viability and will have the effect of pushing up prices.

“It’s a difficult one,” she said. “We want affordable housing, but we don’t want low-cost market housing becoming too expensive. I believe the policy needs reviewed because, at the end of the day, 25 per cent of nothing is nothing.”

Earlier on Monday, at a meeting of SBC’s planning committee, Mrs Riddell-Carre failed in a bid to amend supplementary planning guidance on replacement windows.

She believed it was unfair to demand that householders in listed buildings and conservation areas must replace rotting sash and case wooden-framed windows “like for like”.

She admitted that 20 years ago double glazing units were “hideous” but she believed technological advances meant this was no longer the case.

Although failing to get the guidance amended, Mrs Riddell-Carre won an assurance that planning officers would review the issue and report back to a future meeting of the committee.