St Albans must build twice number of homes under proposed new calculation

The government wants to reduce house prices in areas like St Albans.

The government wants to reduce house prices in areas like St Albans. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Thousands more homes may be forced onto St Albans district in a Government bid to bring house prices down.

Under a new future housing requirement calculation, implemented across the country under consultation as part of White Paper ‘Fixing Our Broken Housing Market’, St Albans district council (SADC) would be compelled to take on double the number of homes previously forecast.

From the period 2018 to 2036, SADC would need to build 16,434 more houses - 900 a year - where it was previously thought to be about 8,100.

The district’s failed Strategic Local Plan, which outlined all major developments until 2031 and was thrown out by the High Court earlier this year for lack of co-operation with neighbouring authorities, calculated the 8,100 figure.

St Albans would be particularly affected by the new method because the area exceeds an ‘affordability ratio’ - where house prices are more than four times average earnings. For every one per cent the ratio rises, the housing assessment also increases by 0.25 per cent.

The increase would be capped however - housing need cannot rise 40 per cent above previous estimates.

On September 14 communities secretary Sajid Javid announced the proposed methodology: “[The White Paper] marks a significant step in helping to meet our commitment to deliver a million new homes by 2020 and a further 500,000 by 2022.

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“It is so important that we fulfil that commitment, because the young people of 21st century Britain are reaching out, in increasing desperation, for the bottom rung of the housing ladder.

“For the comfortably housed children of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s to pull that ladder up behind them would be nothing less than an act of intergenerational betrayal, one that our children and grandchildren will neither forget nor forgive.”

However, critics argue that some authorities will be forced to forfeit Green Belt land to physically find space for the avalanche of required builds.

St Albans Civic Society committee member Eric Roberts said: “The communities secretary gave a clue of this [in the White Paper] so this is no surprise and this new attack shows how vulnerable we are now because of the fact that we still don’t have an up to date Local Plan.

“Clearly there’s going to be some building on the Green Belt - this doesn’t mean a lot of the Green Belt just goes to be sacrificed, it’s got to be carefully thought through.”

Head of planning at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Matt Thomson, said: “Building executive homes in expensive areas will simply not address the crisis in housing for young people and families.” He believes it will lead to the loss of further areas of precious countryside, such as Green Belt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty: “We have to redress the critical decline of genuinely affordable housing, especially in rural areas. All the consultation proposes is to ‘streamline’ the current system, which is already failing.”

St Albans Chamber of Commerce director Jonathan Shreeves said a recent SADC planning policy committee acknowledged the need to produce a new Local Plan from scratch.

“After detailed discussion about the likely implications of the radical changes sought by the Government, the committee tasked officers to begin work on a draft Local Plan. This would involve, amongst other things, working closely with neighbouring districts and using the [new] methodology to calculate housing need.”

SADC’s planning portfolio holder, Cllr Mary Maynard, said she agrees more affordable homes need to be built for young people: “Our own young people and key workers like nurses and police officers are priced out of the area. However, over 80 per cent of the land in our area is Green Belt and the new approach means losing some of this as we have few brownfield sites.

“We need to balance building the affordable homes we desperately need with protecting Green Belt land. We can make our existing settlements denser by building on under-utilised commercial space, but this only goes a small way to meeting these housing need figures. To meet the government’s targets we must also allow existing settlements to expand into Green Belt as well as possibly building a new Garden Village.”

She will feedback SADC’s views to the Government, but said it is “inevitable” that Green Belt will be lost: “During the Local Plan process, we will decide exactly the number and sorts of homes we will need, where they will be located and what schools and other infrastructure will be required to ensure our district remains a great place to live.”