Reaction to controversial proposed hike in housing for St Albans district

As the dust settles on controversial government plans to reduce house prices in unaffordable areas like St Albans, local planners are coming to terms with what the proposals mean for the district.

If the White Paper ‘Fixing Our Broken Housing Market’ goes through, St Albans district council (SADC) will be forced to build thousands more houses than estimated under the defeated Strategic Local Plan - up from 450 to 913 each year.

This would mean SADC would need to build 16,434 more houses between 2018 to 2036.

The increased housing requirement has hit St Albans so hard because it uses an affordability ratio, and prices in this area are more than four times the average earnings.

Backlash to the proposals has focused on the argument that much of the district simply does not have room for such a dramatic increase in houses without encroaching on Green Belt land.

St Albans district Cllr David Yates said the new approach needs careful consideration: “In areas such as St Albans, where Green Belt constraints will make it difficult to meet the Government’s number in full, it will be important to make sure that the homes that are built are those that we really need.

“Simply building 16,434 new homes and giving them away free to people would only reduce the average house price in St Albans from 16.76 times the average income to 11.85 times the average income. That would be no help at all to the people we really need to help.”

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District Cllr Iain Grant commented: “If a consistent method for calculating housing need now helps address the concerns previously voiced by neighbouring authorities and helps the council move forward on the delivery of much-needed affordable and social housing in this district, it’s a shame it wasn’t brought forward with the initial National Planning Policy Framework.”

He said they will continue to press for housing in areas most in need, as well as the necessary infrastructure alongside any new developments.

An associate planner at Property consultancy business Bidwells, Richard Butler, said: “It is quite an increase for St Albans which is alarming for them but it shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise, in that the other evidence was indicating that [housing need] did need to be much higher than those put forward in the defeated Local Plan and [St Albans] has gone through a patch of not delivering houses.

“In other areas there is a definite approach to finding housing requirements and meeting them - certainly I would say they have tried do to their best to try and meet the growth need - but the approach from St Albans was to try and avoid it.”

He said SADC needs to consider all areas for growth, and just because a site is labelled Green Belt not to automatically discount it. He described using Green Belt as neither “right or wrong”, simply “a control measure”.

The chairman of St Albans development and town planning company DLA, David Lane, said the proposal should be welcomed: “It will be a consistent methodology around the city - the methodology will be accepted by everyone, both councillors and developers, and so it will save a lot of time at planning inquiries.”

He accepted some Green Belt will be lost, but that concern needs to be balanced against the need for more housing. David also believes the only way to slow the inflation of house prices is to build more council housing, not encourage more private sector sites.

Adding: “It won’t push house prices down until people stop viewing a house as a financial asset rather than shelter.”