West Oxfordshire Local Plan Housing Consultation

8 Affordable Housing

8.1 In this section we focus on the Council's approach towards the provision of affordable housing. This is essentially housing provided for those whose needs are not met by the open market.

8.2 Housing affordability is a key issue in West Oxfordshire because of the relationship between property prices and household incomes. Figure 8.1 below taken from the Oxfordshire SHMA (2014) shows the relationship between house prices and income in the form of a ratio between lower quartile house prices and lower quartile earnings. This is the Government's preferred indicator of affordability.

Figure 8.1 - Housing Affordability Ratio in Oxfordshire

 

8.3 In 2011 the ratio for West Oxfordshire was 9.89, higher than both the regional average (8.19) and the national average (6.57) and second only to Oxford City (10.0). This means that even the cheapest properties are almost 10 times the lowest income. The result is that in some parts of the District, even relatively small, modest properties are beyond the reach of most single income households.

8.4 Increasing the number, type and distribution of affordable housing for both rent and subsidised sale is therefore a key priority for the Local Plan. There are two main ways in which new affordable housing is provided through the planning system.

8.5 Firstly, affordable housing can be provided as part of a market housing scheme. Generally this is provided on-site, however in some instances a financial contribution can be made towards the provision of affordable housing elsewhere.

8.6 Affordable housing can also be provided through the identification of rural exception sites (RES). These are defined as small sites used for affordable housing in perpetuity where sites would not normally be used for housing.

8.7 Rural exception sites play a very important role in West Oxfordshire. Since 2006, of the total 824 affordable homes built, nearly one quarter (197) has been provided on rural exception sites.

Current Affordable Housing Policy

8.8 The Council's current approach towards the provision of affordable housing in market housing schemes is set out in Policy H11 of the adopted West Oxfordshire Local Plan (2006). The requirements of the policy are summarised below.

Table 8.1 - West Oxfordshire Local Plan (2006) Affordable Housing Requirement 

Site type and location

Affordable housing

% requirement

Local Plan allocated sites - Witney and Carterton

30%

Local Plan allocated sites - rest of District

up to 50%

Unallocated (windfall) sites of 0.5 ha/15 dwellings or more - Witney, Carterton, Chipping Norton and Eynsham

up to 50%

Unallocated (windfall) sites of 2 dwellings or more - rest of District

up to 50%

 

8.9 In order to consider the Council's future approach towards affordable housing, it is useful to consider the effectiveness of this existing policy approach.

8.10 Analysis of housing data over the period 2006/7 - 2012/13 shows that a total of 787 affordable homes were built (an average of 112 per year). The majority of these (78%) were delivered as part of a market housing scheme with the remainder (22%) delivered through rural exception sites.

8.11 In terms of the market-led schemes, the majority (85%) were built in the four main towns of Witney, Carterton, Chipping Norton and Eynsham with 15% (89 units) delivered across the rest of the District.

8.12 Whilst to a large extent this reflects the overall strategy (which focuses development at the four main towns) it does potentially bring into question the effectiveness of the policy in terms of delivering affordable homes in the more rural parts of the District.

Emerging Approach

8.13 In preparing the new Local Plan the Council has consulted on various potential approaches towards the provision of affordable housing. The most recent consultation (December 2013) was based on the following:

  • A contribution towards the provision of affordable housing to be sought from all residential developments involving a net gain of one or more dwellings
  • Small housing developments of 1-5 units would not be expected to provide affordable housing on-site and would instead be required to make a financial contribution to the Council to help deliver affordable housing elsewhere
  • Larger housing developments of 6 or more units would be expected to provide affordable housing on-site as part of the overall development mix
  • The on-site requirement is proposed to vary from 35% in the proposed 'lower value area' 40% in the medium value area and 50% in the higher value area (see Figure 8.2 below)

Figure 8.2 - Proposed Affordable Housing Higher, Medium and Lower Value Areas

 

8.14 The main issues raised in response to the consultation can be summarised as follows:

  • The current policy has failed to deliver affordable housing in rural areas
  • Use of a single dwelling threshold is unreasonable and will affect the delivery of small sites
  • The threshold for on-site provision should be raised
  • The policy is inconsistent with other Oxfordshire planning authorities
  • The 50% affordable housing requirement is too high
  • Commuted sum payments should start at 2+ dwellings
  • Affordable housing requirements should be balanced with other requirements e.g. CIL
  • The percentage target should be expressed as 'up to' rather than as a minimum
  • The policy should provide greater flexibility and allow individual site circumstances to be taken into account
  • The proposed commuted sums are too high and do not take account of the different size of market homes proposed (e.g. 1-bed flat would pay the same as a 4-bed house)
  • The different value zones identified are not reflective of the actual position in West Oxfordshire and are too crudely drawn using postcode data

8.15 It is important that these issues are properly considered before the policy is finalised.

National Policy

8.16 The Government's approach towards the provision of affordable housing is set out in the NPPF (2012). It states that where local authorities have identified that affordable housing is needed, they should set policies for meeting the need on-site, unless off-site provision or a financial contribution of broadly equivalent value can be robustly justified.

8.17 The Government has however recently consulted on whether small-scale schemes of 10 or less homes should be exempt from having to provide affordable housing. The District Council objected but at the time of writing the outcome of the consultation is not yet known.

8.18 The table overleaf sets out previous housing completions in West Oxfordshire by size over the period 2003 - 2012.

Table 8.2 - Housing Completions by Size in West Oxfordshire 2003 - 2012 

Year

Total completions

<10 (units)

<10 (%)

>9 (units)

>9 (%)

2003

567

131

23%

436

77%

2004

629

83

13%

546

87%

2005

733

153

21%

580

79%

2006

810

117

14%

693

86%

2007

865

169

20%

696

80%

2008

578

239

41%

339

59%

2009

384

136

35%

248

65%

2010

424

158

37%

266

63%

2011

359

159

44%

200

56%

2012

278

137

49%

141

51%

 

8.19 In the period since 2008 in particular, small scale schemes of less than 10 houses have made up a significant proportion of the overall housing supply. If these schemes were to be exempt, the ability of the Council to deliver new affordable housing would be significantly reduced.

8.20 Notwithstanding this, the Council recognises that Local Plan policies should not impact on the viability and deliverability of new housing.