Scrutiny finds government-owned sites “taking too long” to come forward for affordable housing
The Environment, Housing and Infrastructure Scrutiny Panel has today published its report: Affordable Housing: Supply and Delivery Review [S.R.14/2021]. The review was launched in May 2021 in response to growing concern of the issues surrounding housing supply and affordability and has been informed by expert housing advisers, ARK Consultancy.
Overall, the Panel found that whilst Planning policies are evolving to recognise the need to improve access to land with development potential, the Planning team within the Infrastructure, Housing and Environment Department is considerably under-resourced, resulting in lengthy delays to planning application approvals.
In addition, there is further scope for the Government of Jersey to take on more of a leadership role in the delivery of affordable housing supply through the swift release of government-owned sites and by encouraging more collaborative partnership working amongst housing providers, developers, the parishes and Jersey Development Company.
The Panel’s final report has culminated in a total of 64 key findings and 61 recommendations ranging across a number of key areas. These recommendations include:
- Housing need and demand
- The Objective Assessment of Housing Need (OAHN) should be updated and include a methodology for assessing housing affordability.
- Policy guidelines for determining eligibility for social rent and affordable purchase properties should be revised.
- A suitable contingency measure should be put in place, should it be determined that the sites zoned for affordable housing will not deliver the required type and number of properties suitable for right-sizing within the local parish.
- Needs-based financial incentives should be explored to encourage elderly people to ‘right-size’, as often they don’t have the financial means that will enable them to move.
- The housing needs of some younger groups (such as those with learning disabilities, homeless or young care leavers) with specialised housing requirements should be understood more fully.
- The current definition of affordable housing should be revised to make provision for relating this to income levels.
- The potential impact of buy-to-let properties on housing affordability and any suitable measures to restrict and/or control this purchase type should be further understood
- There should be further exploration and consideration of restricting the sale of existing share transfer properties.
Land supply, promotion and ‘housing enabling’
- A formally agreed Planning pre-application process with an appropriately set fee, as well as other fact-tracking initiatives within the planning system should be introduced.
- A more timely release of government-owned sites across all affordable housing providers where appropriate and according to their development/site requirements.
- A compulsory purchase ‘backstop’ should be imposed on sites zoned for affordable housing where appropriate to ensure sites are developed within a reasonable timeframe.
- Land promotion activity should exercise compulsory purchase in specific, but limited circumstances.
Funding and subsidy of affordable homes
- Government should undertake a careful appraisal of the impact on development economics, viability and affordability, of rebalancing the current housing subsidy system in Jersey to allow for a higher level of capital subsidy.
- The level of Andium’s annual revenue return to Government should be reviewed in light of any proposed changes to social rent setting.
- Government should consider the release of government-owned sites for affordable housing at less than their market worth. Any subsidy thereby invested in schemes could be protected by means of a second charge on the resultant development schemes.
Leadership, collaboration and partnership working
- Government should help facilitate the delivery of affordable housing by encouraging suitable developments to be delivered via joint delivery partners where appropriate, including, but not limited to: Andium Homes, Jersey Development Company, parishes, developers and constructors.
- It should be the role of the Strategic Housing Regeneration Team to engage actively with parishes across Jersey in the pursuit of improving affordable housing supply. Parishes should also have representation in the Strategic Housing Partnership.
- Furthermore, parishes should be engaged to support any new affordable purchase product so there is a consistent approach to low-cost home ownership.
Skills, capacity, resources and resilience
- In partnership with providers, constructors and construction-related consultants, Government should look to expand construction and development skills opportunities for young people and for existing workers in the industry.
- Suitable options for providing Government-led incentives should be considered to ease pressure on the construction sector and to ultimately help facilitate the development of more housing amidst various barriers the industry will inevitably face with labour/skills shortages, supply chain disruption and rising cost of building materials post-Brexit.
- Opportunities should be explored to fast-track the release of government-owned land as swiftly as possible, mitigating, as far as possible the potential risk of other competing priorities and lack of resources from delaying the release of government-owned sites.
- Government should identify the extent to which the planning team is short on personnel sufficient to support the planned increase in housing production. Once that shortfall is clarified, the Government of Jersey should develop a recruitment (and retention) strategy which aims to have planning (and housing enabling) staff classified within the definition of a key worker.
- Consideration should be given to how planning requirements for parking provision on new developments can be suitably relaxed with the aim of promoting better scheme viability. Consideration should be given to how this policy can be flexible to recognise demand for parking in town may be less than that of developments out of town. It is important that planning policy of this nature suitably aligns with the Sustainable Transport Policy where the aim is to reduce vehicle usage.
- The proposal to introduce requirements for Passivhaus standards on new affordable homes and large development outside of the built-up area should be deferred until the next longer-term Island Plan. The aim of doing so would be to enable Andium Homes to run pilot schemes which conform to Passivhaus to test its suitability to Jersey. As part of this pilot scheme, consideration should be given to the suitability of other approaches, such as that used by the Scottish Government with the Energy Efficiency Standards in Social Housing 2.
- The current policy position on the use of planning obligations to support affordable housing development should also be carefully reconsidered. This policy should encapsulate requirements for zoned land to remain in affordable housing use in the long-term (or in perpetuity) and for larger market residential development sites to deliver a specified proportion of affordable homes from an agreed date and having taken on board the views of the construction sector in ensuring this is deliverable by such a date.
Population policy and key workers
- Jersey’s population policy should be finalised without delay and consideration given to how the agreed policy will impact on current policies for new housing provision. The policy should link effectively with the definition of, and need for, key workers including additional housing development and planning personnel.
- The definition of key worker should be expanded to include vital roles in affordable housing development, planning and construction. The expanded definition of key workers would also need to be accompanied by an expansion in the amount of subsidised housing available for approved incoming key workers.
- Additionally, a ‘rent-to-buy’ offer should be developed by the end of 2022, which enables key workers to establish long-term roots in Jersey and means that those workers do not necessarily need to move in order to acquire their homes.
Connétable Mike Jackson, Chair of the Environment, Housing and Infrastructure Panel, commented: “We are grateful to all Islanders and stakeholders who submitted their views to this important review. It is evident from our findings that there are numerous barriers and challenges to the supply and delivery of affordable housing in Jersey. Addressing one, or even some of these in isolation is not likely to solve Jersey’s affordable housing crisis. Moving forward, the Government of Jersey needs to ensure a more holistic and collaborative approach is taken to housing and planning policy in order to address affordability and supply issues. We look forward to receiving a formal response from Ministers before the end of the year.”
Scrutiny Press Release.