Council reduces red tape to boost affordable housing

Public and private providers in the Borders are falling well short of meeting the established regional need for 268 affordable units per year.
Public and private providers in the Borders are falling well short of meeting the established regional need for 268 affordable units per year.

Councillors have conceded this week that planning demands on private developers to provide affordable housing in the region have been counter-productive.

Currently, these builders, if constructing five of more homes on a single site, have been expected to ensure, as a legally-binding condition of consent from Scottish Borders Council, that 25% of them are affordable to people on modest incomes.

But this week, SBC’s quasi judicial planning committee agreed to raise that threshold to 17 units and to settle for commuted payments from developers wishing to build fewer properties.

The cash – levied at between £6,000 to £30,000 per required affordable unit depending on location – will be used by the council and registered social landlords (RSLs) to fund new housing for rent, shared-equity deals or low-cost purchase.

The decision acknowledges the need to make housebuilding on smaller sites more economically viable to private sector developers.

And it recognises that, under the current planning policy regime, “public and private providers are falling well short of meeting the established regional need for 268 affordable units per year”.

The council last year agreed to borrow over £18m and form its own arms-length company to acquire sites and work with private sector builders to deliver 100 new affordable homes a year. But that still leaves a notable shortfall and on Monday the committee heard a report which suggested parts of the regional economy were barely out of recession.

After the meeting, planning committee chairman Councillor Ron Smith admitted: “The previous threshold often made it uneconomical for house builders to take on small sites due to the requirement for on-site affordable housing, while very small numbers of affordable homes in a development also tend to be less appealing to RSLs. As a result, some small sites suitable for housing development have remained undeveloped and have contributed nothing towards meeting housing need in the region.

“The hope now is that these small sites will be developed, and will contribute towards affordable housing through the commuted sums applied.”