Agenda and draft minutes

Select Committee - Affordable Housing - Wednesday, 19th February, 2020 2.00 pm

Venue: Darent Room, Sessions House, County Hall, Maidstone. View directions

Contact: Gaetano Romagnuolo  Email: 03000 416624

Note No. Item

14:00 - 14:45


Bob Heapy (Chief Executive, Town & Country Housing), Kerry Kyriacou (Executive Director of Development and Sales, Optivo) and Mark Leader (Property Director, West Kent Housing Association ) pdf icon PDF 107 KB

Additional documents:


1.    Apologies had been received from Mr Bond. 


2.    The Chairman welcomed guests and members and explained the background to the Affordable Housing Select Committee. 


3.    A Member asked that witnesses consider good affordable housing outside of Kent in their answers and the discussion. 


4.    Bob Heapy explained that Town and Country Housing Group was a charitable provider of housing operating in Kent and Sussex.  It developed around 400 homes per year and in May 2019 it merged with Peabody Trust. 


5.    Kerry Kyriacou explained that Optivo had over 45,000 homes across London, the South East and the Midlands.   He suggested that when looking outside of Kent Cambridge would be a good location with challenges with affordability and some excellent ideas. 


6.    A Member asked what would an affordable house be if it were linked to wages, would it be twice, three times the available wages for example.  This was a difficult question to answer, the hope was that ‘affordable homes’ were affordable to someone on benefits.  With regards to shared ownership this varied depending on location and market conditions.  In any event there was a dichotomy between East and West Kent in terms of affordability and market.  Social rents were based on a framework prescribed by government with affordable rent linked to the local market.  It was hoped that the rents would be as low as possible but as soon as this was lower than Homes England charged companies couldn’t afford to buy the land. 


7.    The guests confirmed that both their organisations were charities, this meant they were favourable because they did not pay corporation tax and the profits generated were reinvested into more homes or better service. 


8.    A Member asked whether the organisations had difficulty buying land or whether there were problems with planning permission.  Mr Kyriacou explained that all homes built were lifetime homes, it was their intention to maximise affordable housing but if a house builder purchased the land they wanted to maximise value and this could lead to minimising affordable housing.  Whilst committed to buying the land the organisations recognised that they were in competition with developers.  It was vital that the planning authority retained the importance of affordable housing.


9.    Mr Heapy explained that he had had mixed experiences with planning authorities, some were very good with open conversations and others were more difficult.  Regarding Council owned land the experiences were mixed. 


10. In response to a question about Parish Councils, Mr Heapy explained that they did work with Parish Councils, Town and Country Housing were convinced that small rural interventions made a difference to supporting rural communities. 


11. A Member asked how best KCC could support affordable housing schemes and the guests explained that any influence on planning authorities was beneficial, the intention was to make schemes sustainable and to keep communities together. 


12. A Member asked how borrowing would be affected in the future with increased borrowing costs.  The guests explained that if it cost more to borrow this reduced  ...  view the full minutes text for item 1.

15:00 - 15:45


Interview with Cllr Kevin Maskell, Housing & Health Deputy Portfolio Holder, Sevenoaks District Council, and Gavin Missons, Housing Policy Manager, Sevenoaks District Council pdf icon PDF 98 KB

Additional documents:


1.            The Chairman welcomed Cllr Maskell and Mr Missons and thanked them for attending


2.            Mr Missons presented a series of slides (included in the agenda pack) which he had prepared in response to the questions sent to him in advance by the Research Officer. The presentation set out statistics for the District’s housing stock and type and the priorities of the housing strategy which was adopted in 2017 and then focused on rural and modular housing in Sevenoaks district. It set out the background to the District Council’s housing strategy and ideas for joint working between the District Council and the County Council.


3.            So far in the current financial year, 219 new-build homes had been completed, an excellent achievement, but this only scratched the surface of the number of new homes needed each year. The District Council had achieved 40% of its housing contribution as affordable housing on one scheme, had enabled the delivery of its first affordable modular housing scheme, had achieved 100% affordable housing on a land-led development and established a rural housing work programme.  Quercus Housing, the District Council’s own housing company, had been set up in 2019 and had acquired its first affordable housing development, as well as exploring some temporary accommodation across the district. The presentation then set out information on housing developments in Edenbridge, Swanley and Westerham, the latter being the Quercus Housing project.


4.            In its community engagement, the District Council had been told by older people that most older people seeking to downsize to smaller retirement homes did not want to live among other older people but in mixed communities of all ages. The District Council therefore sought to enable the development of 1- or 2-bed housing suitable for any and all age groups, to meet the Lifetime Homes Standard by building in features to cater for the needs of an ageing population so these did not need to be retro-fitted later. Further phases of the development in Oakley Park in Edenbridge would be built in 2021-22. 


5.            The Mallards development in Swanley featured the district’s first modular affordable housing.  Asked how long this process had taken, Mr Missons explained that planning consent had been granted in April 2019 after a straightforward application process and groundworks had been started soon after. Mr Missons went on to explain that developments could be undertaken by experienced precision engineers and units could be constructed in one day with minimal snagging. The modular units were proving both popular and fashionable, particularly with young families.  The opening ceremony for the Mallards development would take place shortly and he undertook to provide details, once known, so Members of the Select Committee could attend.


6.            Rural housing had previously been developed on an ad hoc basis, working with interested Parish Councils, but this did not address the needs of households requiring affordable housing who lived in other parishes. The new Rural Housing Work Programme (RHWP) had been developed to address this and introduce a formal process of  ...  view the full minutes text for item 2.

16:00 - 16:45


Nick Fenton (Chairman, Kent Developers Group) pdf icon PDF 94 KB

Additional documents:


1.    The Chairman welcomed Mr Fenton and explained the background to the Affordable Housing Select Committee. 


2.    Nick Fenton gave a brief introduction to his role as the Chairman of the Kent Developers Group.  He explained that it was vitally important to develop on social housing which was currently at 23%. 


3.    A Member asked about viability and infrastructure, Mr Fenton explained that with regards to viability, most developers worked on returns rather than profits.  It was possible to look at pension funds to assist, with close working with the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) and KCC along with money from Government, this would make developments viable.  There were concerns that affordable housing was the last thing discussed and therefore due to the viability argument developments could end up with 5% affordable housing.  There was a perception that developers did not like affordable housing and this might be try in some instances but from a returns basis developers often preferred affordable housing. 


4.    There were issues regarding skills and planner shortages, most districts had vacancies for planning officers.  There was a need to reflect on what was needed in each district and to find ways in which people could afford to buy whether this be through shared ownership or housing association. 


5.    Mr Fenton was involved in developing a viability protocol and there would be a template 106 agreement which would reduce some of the costs for legal advice on both sides.


6.    There were concerns that developers were returning to planning authorities stating that affordable homes were not viable because the economics had changed.  Mr Fenton explained that the schemes were based on the costs and values at that time and it was only possible to examine each scheme on its merits.  The viability protocol was intended to encourage discussion between developers and to find a way forward.  Affordable Homes often got cut because they were the last to be considered.


7.    Discussing KCC’s decisions over its own assets, particularly land, KCC could consider affordable housing rather than selling off to developers on the market.  Mr Fenton encouraged KCC to work with the development industry to find alternative ways to deliver.  Homes England were an important part of the mechanism for delivery, they had a significant resource and increasing staff and would invest time in areas were delivery could happen.  It was possible to draw significant support from them.  


8.    The Committee felt strongly that proper investment was needed in social housing as well as affordable housing.  Large developers were building current developments in a very efficient way, modular developments were not so efficient, it was necessary to look at different ways of building.  Members asked if there were opportunities for KCC to support with regards to the environmental aspect.  Mr Fenton explained that Government Regulations needed to change. 


9.    There was praise for Kent’s Growth Infrastructure Framework (GIF), this was presented to Kent Developers Group on a regular basis.  The GIF was an exceptional piece of work  ...  view the full minutes text for item 3.