Developers planning thousands of homes across the Canterbury district could exploit a legal loophole which allows them to reduce the number of affordable homes they had initially promised to build.
Last year Canterbury City Council approved its controversial Local Plan, which is destined to produce 15,600 houses mostly on rural or agricultural land in the years up to 2031.
But an investigation has found that house builders have elsewhere broken promises made to get planning permission after protesting to local authorities that affordable home schemes threaten their profits.
Outline planning permission has been granted for the first phase of the controversial 4,000-unit Mountfield Park development on farmland to the south of Canterbury, of which 30% is earmarked as affordable.
While developer Corinthian has said nothing about reducing its affordable number, the city’s Labour group Alan Baldock is concerned builders may in the future evade their commitments to such accommodation.
“Developers have lots nice little tricks at their disposal,” Cllr Baldock said.
“They are always trying to do what they can not to build homes at the lower rate, the so-called affordable rate, and would rather wait until they think they can get a better market value.
“We’ve seen it time and again where developers sit on land and build nothing for three or four years. Only when the value of the land has gone up by, say, 20% do they then do the work.
“I’ve warned the planning the department at the council about this, but to no avail.”
In order to promote mass house building, the government has promised developers a 20% profit on their work.
Homeless charity Shelter and The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) carried out research which revealed that of 150 developments examined nearly 50% of the affordable housing earmarked for them had been cut after builders warned the schemes had become financially unviable.
The CPRE/Shelter report says: “The viability loophole is slashing affordable housing supply in the countryside. The profits of volume house builders are rocketing, yet affordable housing provision by the same developers is being undercut on the grounds that it is not profitable enough.”
Cllr Baldock also argues that describing the cheaper homes in large developments as “affordable” is misleading.
He said: “These houses are called affordable homes, but that only needs to be 80% of the value. And it means most people still won’t be able to buy a house – especially if the going rate in Canterbury is about £300,000 on average.
“What we have called for is the building of social housing which means property that someone on housing benefit can afford to rent.”
Communities secretary Sajid Javid, who oversees housing, has vowed to look into the issue of developer claims about viability.
Andrew Whitaker of the Home Builders Federation, a trade body which represents developers, insists it is not unreasonable for construction companies to negotiate with planning authorities over numbers.
He said: “There is a limit as to what can be extracted from development sites before they become unviable and you get no homes of any sort.”
The Canterbury district is set to see developments in Thanington, Herne Bay, Hersden and Sturry as it under goes an expansion of it urban footprint in the next decade or so.