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Delivering affordable housing in Eden

What is affordable housing?

Affordable housing means homes for local people at an affordable rent, and also low cost home ownership properties, which are kept at below market value in perpetuity. The key characteristics of affordable housing are as follows:

  • Affordable rented accommodation - the Government has recently brought in new guidelines in respect of properties let at sub-market rents, of up to 80% of a market rent; the term also relates to traditional social rented homes

  • Low cost or 'intermediate' home ownership tenures included shared ownership (part rent/part buy); shared equity (the Housing Association or other party retains a share in the property); and discounted sale (the owner purchases the property at a fixed percentage discount from open market value, and then future sales of the property are at the same level of discount).

What are our key policies in relation to affordable housing?

We have adopted a proactive policy approach towards maximising the delivery of affordable housing. The relevant policies include:

  • Our Core Strategy which sets the affordable housing target at 30% on sites of 4 or more properties (subject to an economically Viability Assessment in cases where the developer does not feel this is financially deliverable). On small schemes of 1 to 3 units, an affordable housing contribution, based on 3% of the open market value of the properties will be required - this goes into the Affordable Housing Fund to support the development of new affordable housing;

  • The Housing Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) which adds additional detail to the Core Strategy policies, including details on how affordable housing will be delivered through the planning system, including information on residential design standards.

Why is affordable housing needed?

The delivery of affordable housing is a high priority for us. This is because many local people have found themselves unable to get a foot on the housing ladder, due to high property prices.

Property prices in Eden are among the most expensive in the North West, with an average property price in 2012 in excess of £217,000, despite the area being a relatively low wage economy. These problems have only been exacerbated since the 'credit crunch' with most lenders requiring large deposits - often around 25-30% - which are beyond the means of most first-time buyers.

This is why we will give favourable consideration to any genuine proposal for the delivery of affordable housing within the District.

In what localities can new housing be delivered in Eden district?

An appropriate level of development will be focused on the key service centres of Penrith, Alston, Appleby, and Kirkby Stephen, with smaller scale development permitted in our local service centres (villages with adequate services). There are 46 local service centres, listed in our Core Strategy. Outside the key and local service centres, the Rural Exception Policy applies, and any development would need to meet an identified affordable housing need.

What about development in rural areas?

Development is not usually permitted in smaller villages (that is non local service centres), hamlets and open countryside. However, we operate a Rural Exception Policy, which is supportive of small scale development as long as it meets an identified affordable housing need. Any new affordable dwelling should be part of a coherent group of three or more dwellings, and would need to reflect the character of the natural and historic environment.

The SPD also provides guidance on the conversion and re-use of rural buildings an converting holiday letting properties to affordable housing outside Key and Local Service Centres.

What about residential development on farms?

Guidance is provided within the SPD in respect of residential development on farms, including agricultural workers dwellings.

Affordable self-build: how would I go about building my own house in a rural area?

In certain circumstances it may be possible to build your own house in a Rural Exception Area. The location and specifications would need to meet the usual development standards relating to an exception site, and you would also need to demonstrate that you meet the following criteria:

  • Established local connection to the location of the proposed site (as defined in our Core Strategy)
  • Currently unsuitably housed
  • In need of affordable housing and unable to meet those needs on the open market
  • Demonstrable need to live in the vicinity

The property would need to be affordable to successive occupiers at the same level of discount as our Homeseekers' Register, and the maximum internal floor area would be 125m².

What should I do if I don't feel my proposed housing scheme can viably deliver the level of affordable housing the Council aspires to?

There will be some sites where it may not be economically viable for the developer to provide 30% affordable housing; for instance where the site has high abnormal costs, such as remediation expenses associated with redeveloping contaminated former industrial premises. In such cases the developer may provide an Economic Viability Assessment, identifying why they believe the site is unable to deliver 30% affordable housing and setting out a lower offer.

A standard template is available from the Affordable Housing Officer. We will carry out an appraisal of the assessment, and may seek independent advice from a chartered surveyor.

Who would manage the affordable housing?

Affordable housing is usually managed by Local Housing Associations, although we have set up a Homeseekers' Register to manage initial sales and re-sales of discounted sale properties (typically at a discount of 40% from the open market value). In certain circumstances, developers may manage the affordable housing themselves, subject to our agreement.

If you have a site which you feel may be suitable for the delivery of affordable housing, then we would like to hear from you. We will consider any proposal providing the site meets an identified housing need, and is situated in a sustainable location.

What design standards do I need to follow?

The housing SPD provides guidance on a range of areas relating to residential design. This includes design and layout of affordable housing exception sites, a barn conversion design guide, and guidance on residential conversions.

How do we seek to deliver affordable housing?

We work closely with housing developers, Housing Associations, landowners, Parish Councils, local communities, and funding agencies such as the Homes and Communities Agency, to bring forward new affordable homes. Initiatives supported by us include:

  • the development of Rural Exception sites;
  • self-build affordable housing;
  • Community Land Trusts - where community assets are managed by local people.