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 that KCC should be proud of. It was a platform for discussions about infrastructure first.
10. Mr Fenton considered that collaboration was very important, there were some good examples in Ashford. It was also necessary to give housing attention at a senior level, possible at Cabinet level.
11. Regarding KCC being a land provider and supplying care there was a discussion about whether this was feasible, it had been done before using land and other commissioners of services. Mr Fenton confirmed that the standard of social housing was no different to private units, they were different homes because of the way Homes England valued them but the quality was the same. There were concerns about the trend of converting good quality commercial development into housing.
12. The Chairman thanked Mr Fenton for attending the Select Committee and for his helpful responses. He explained that the evidence would be typed up and shared, if Mr Fenton had anything else he wanted to feed into the process it would be welcomed.