Observer column: 09 August 2019
Hastings is the thirtieth most densely populated council area in the country, outside of London, with over 3,000 people per square kilometre. So it's not surprising there's a lot of pressure on available land for new homes. Any development site will be controversial. But we desperately need more homes, particularly ones that local people can afford.
In the Hastings Planning Strategy, approved in 2014, there was a need identified for 200 new homes a year during 2011-2028. Sites were identified for these homes in the Hastings Development Management Plan. Now, the council has to review this plan, getting appraisals done on the likely future demand for homes. Initial indications are that we might need to increase that figure to 500 a year, because of predicted migration into Hastings from elsewhere in England, as well as the present shortage of homes that has caused increasing levels of homelessness.
It may be that not all those homes have to go in Hastings - new housing developments in North Bexhill could reduce the requirement, although Rother Council will have increased targets to meet too.
It is frustrating that sites identified in the current Local Plan aren't being developed. There are a total of around 1,000 potential homes on sites where planning applications were submitted, but have not yet been developed. It's wrong that developers can leave sites like this, waiting for house prices to increase to maximise their profits. Councils need powers to seize these 'land banked' sites and bring them into use.
But even if every site in the current plan were developed, it would realise nowhere near the number of new homes we're likely to need. Added to that, there's the affordability issue. It's fine to keep building new homes, but not If people living locally can't afford them. In Rye and nearby villages, where house prices are even higher than in Hastings, families have to leave because they can't afford to rent or buy where their family has lived for generations.
That's starting to happen in Hastings, too.
So while we do need more housing, and we need to identify new sites for development, we need changes to government policy to build genuinely affordable housing, for local people. At the moment, neither councils nor housing associations have the money to build nearly enough affordable rented housing. We have to rely on planning rules that require developers to build up to a quarter of their developments as 'affordable' housing, but even this can be set aside because of a loophole that allows developers to say their scheme is unviable if affordable housing is included.
Hastings Council owns land that can be developed for around 400-500 homes, including one significant new site not in the plan, on land off Bexhill Road. Because that's being developed in partnership with Optivo Housing Association, it will include 40% of the homes at housing association rents, allocated to families on the council's housing waiting list. That site can only be developed with the help of a £6m government grant for flood mitigation work. But we will need more of these extra sites if we're able to provide sufficient housing for future demand. And if we're not to exclude local people, we'll need those homes to be genuinely affordable. That will require big changes to government housing policy. If that doesn't happen, our revised Local Plan can't provide homes that local people can afford.
Council Leader's column