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Guest Blog: How to Make a Neighbourhood Plan that Works for Locals

By Duncan Powell, group planning director, Acorn Property Group

It’s approaching five years since St Ives council restricted the sale of new-build homes to people using it as a primary dwelling, as part of its Neighbourhood Plan to make housing more accessible to locals

However, ‘policy H2’ is having the opposite effect; delivery of both open market and affordable housing has dropped off a cliff since 2017.

So what is the solution?

The problem for St Ives and similar areas is excessive demand; it’s a desirable location for holiday homes. This has created a competitive market that has pushed up prices, making it harder for locals to find properties and buy.

H2 aims to curtail demand from second home buyers by restricting new build sales, with buyers having to prove it is their home for the majority of the year.

Looking for ways to boost the delivery of open market and affordable homes that benefit local people is the right thing to do. But this policy isn’t the right approach.

Cornwall needs open market and affordable housing, the two tenures are linked, and the market relies on the private sector to facilitate the delivery of affordable housing through open market sales.

If you restrict open market sales, you restrict the delivery of housing, which in turn restricts affordable housing. This is what has happened in St Ives.

Overall housing delivery numbers have plummeted since the introduction of H2, something which Chris Tofts, Head of Planning at law firm Stephens Scown highlighted in a blog after crunching the numbers.

The stats showed that while most locations in Cornwall without restrictions had seen housing delivery numbers increase, in St Ives, the delivery of new homes was 55% of the pre-H2 policy figures.

Because the restrictions only apply to new-build properties, it has pushed second home demand towards existing stock, which has had a knock-on effect on prices. The market was far from perfect before the policy was introduced, but it was delivering homes and delivering some affordable homes.

So how can we boost delivery, whether it’s open market homes for local professionals or those on lower incomes in need of an affordable tenure?

Centrally funded housing would be ideal, but in the absence of such a scheme, there is an alternative planning policy: Target restrictions on schemes where there isn’t provision of affordable housing.

For example, in a high value location like St Ives, if you have a site that doesn’t include an affordable contribution, on-site or off, then principal residence restrictions should apply.

But if the site is on the outskirts of the town with plans for 30 family homes, 10 of which are affordable, then the remainder should be available for sale without restrictions. Those open market homes will enable the delivery of the affordable.

The carrot of building homes unrestricted by H2, in return for some affordable housing provision, has got to be more attractive – and viable – for developers.

Taking a more supportive approach to new housing and actively pursuing it rather than blanket restrictions is the only way to resolve the housing crisis.