Reflections on a recent FACLT development session:

Every month the FACLT board has a development session, which is intended to improve our understanding of housing matters, planning issues, the role of CLTs, etc. In the most recent session, on the 12th February, John Clarke gave a presentation entitled “Housing development in Frome and Mendip: The current position.” I found his presentation and the discussion it prompted to be both very interesting and highly informative, so I’ve decided to write up my notes and reflections on the session for the FACLT website. Here goes!

John started by telling us that he has an interest in planning issues and is a sub on the Mendip planning board. He wanted to feed back his understanding of some of the complexities of Mendip’s Planning Strategy and how it relates to Frome.

John summarised the Mendip District Council (MDC)’s position as follows.

MDC is responsible to Somerset County Council and to the Government to provide concurrent five-year plans to:

“identify and update annually a supply of specific deliverable sites sufficient to provide a minimum of five years’ worth of housing against their housing requirement set out in adopted strategic policies, or against their local housing need where the strategic policies are more than five years old.”

That statement is taken from paragraph 73 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

In plainer english I understand the statement to mean that MDC must have sufficient designated sites for development to allow for the building of enough new homes to meet the area’s housing need.

MDC’s current five-year plan is running between 2019 – 2024. Based on local and Government policies the plan identifies that 3,171 new homes are required during this period. The plan states that 793 of these new homes will be built in Frome.

Figures from December 2019 show that in Frome 683 new homes have either been built or received confirmed planning permission. So, in theory, Frome only needs to plan and build 110 more homes to meet the 793 required for the period 2019-2024. John cautioned that MDC may take this figure as a minimum. In line with the NPPF MDC may add a further 15% which brings the total to 125 new homes required in Frome over the next five years. As the NPPF states:

“The supply of specific deliverable sites should in addition include a buffer of:

a) 5% to ensure choice and competition in the market for land; or

b) 10% where the local planning authority wishes to demonstrate a five-year supply of deliverable sites through an annual position statement or recently adopted plan 38, to account for any fluctuations in the market during that year; or

c) 20% where there has been significant under delivery of housing over the previous three years, to improve the prospect of achieving the planned supply.”

However . . .

John told us that across the district MDC has not been able to secure sufficient land to meet its five-year housing land supply. This shortage of land means that the NPPF takes precedence over any local plan. This in turn means that MDC has less control over where new homes are built. As a result MDC councillors may be obliged to recommend approval of planning applications for sites they have not chosen.

All this raises the possibility that MDC will have no option other than to recommend planning approval for large developments such as Selwood Garden Community.

John then went on to discuss the local need for affordable housing.

The figure mentioned above of 3,171 new homes of which 793 are to be built in Frome includes both homes for the open market and affordable or social rented housing.

MDC’s position on affordable housing is that:

• Any development over 10 dwellings will need to provide up to 30% affordable housing.

• The Council aims to deliver 80% of all new affordable housing in Mendip as Social Rented housing and the remaining 20% as intermediate housing such as Shared Ownership.

• The local plan 2006-2029 intends to deliver 2,500 affordable homes.

• By March 2020, Mendip had delivered 1,313 affordable homes of which 402 are in Frome.

According to MDC figures from 2018 to the present day the number of people on the MDC housing list for Frome whose housing need is either in the Gold or the Silver category is fairly consistent, totalling between 256 and 276. These figures indicate that 276 new social rented homes are required to meet the current housing need. These must range from one bedroom to five bedroom homes.

This number is likely to be an under-estimate. For example, it doesn’t include those who meet the Bronze category of housing need. FACLT board members suspect that a significant number of local people in need of social housing do not even apply to MDC as they feel the chances of being housed in Frome are so small. The Board is hoping that the forthcoming Housing Needs Survey, which Fair Housing for Frome is preparing, will give a clearer idea of the number of local people who need affordable housing.

John’s presentation provoked wide-ranging discussion around questions such as:

• Is Frome vulnerable to the planning of large developments within Mendip?

• Does Frome have sufficient infrastructure to support a significant increase in population? If not, what could be the alternatives?

• How does Frome meet its land requirement now that all brownfield sites have been developed? Is there now a need to consider greenfield sites?

• Would a new ‘garden village’ built outside Frome boundaries with all the required infrastructure be preferable to a large ‘garden community’ on edge of town such as Selwood Garden Community?

• How best do we provide sustainable housing that fits with climate change imperatives?

• How do smaller sites with two or three new homes fit into MDC plans?

• Why does Mendip not build 100% affordable housing for rent?

• What are the disadvantages of piecemeal development which historically is the way developments have occurred in Frome?

• What role does FACLT have in guiding developments?

• The MDC Gold category for housing includes homeless people. How are homeless people supported as they move into social housing?

No doubt these questions will test us again and again as FACLT grapples with the challenge of creating genuinely affordable homes for local people.

Delia Goddard – Director – Frome Area Community Land Trust

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