Ensuring Northumberland has enough affordable homes

Northumberland County Council
Northumberland County Council

There is currently an average shortfall of 151 affordable homes each year in Northumberland, according to the county council’s latest assessment.

The Northumberland Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA), which was updated in June this year, provides detailed market analysis of housing needs.

It provides up-to-date evidence of affordable-housing need in the county and identifies an annual net shortfall of 151 dwellings per year from 2017 to 2022.

As at the end of December last year, there were 1,116 outstanding commitments for affordable homes anticipated for completion over the next five years against a need for 1,870 affordable homes overall, meaning a residual need for 755 additional affordable homes – an annual average of 151 over the next five years.

However, more positive is the outcome of the council’s housing strategy, which is due to be updated shortly.

The strategy for 2013 to 2018 aimed to deliver an additional 1,300 new affordable homes and during that period, there have been 1,405 affordable-housing completions.

A report to the council’s communities and place committee last week informed members about the retention of affordable homes and how this is managed through enforcement of agreements.

Phil Soderquest, the authority’s head of housing and public protection, explained that the biggest threat to the county’s affordable-housing stock is Right To Buy and ‘that will be an issue for as long as it continues’.

The two main methods of retaining affordable homes are covenants, often put in place by the former district councils, and section 106 legal agreements, which form part of planning permissions granted for new developments.

Mr Soderquest said that the challenge with covenants is that the county council is not necessarily consulted when properties are sold.

“We are active where we know there’s a breach,” he added. “We are reliant on people notifying us.”

In relation to section 106 agreements, he informed councillors that there had been a number of instances recently in which affordable homes have appeared on accommodation sites such as Airbnb, which resulted in the council intervening so that letting does not take place.

In the case of both section 106 agreements and covenants, the council does not have enforcement powers it can enact, with High Court injunctions being the means of dealing with breaches.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service