We are pleased to report that despite a number of apologies, there was a healthy attendance at our public meeting held on Friday evening 11th September 2015. A lively discussion took place following our presentation which outlined the workings of a CLT and the progress made so far on our first project; this being to provide affordable rented housing within the Parish of Mark for local people with proven close connections.
Details of 16 sites considered were given together with CLT’s recommendation. A vote resulted in a 3 to 1 majority in favour of the proposal to support the choice of the Northwick Road/Mark Causeway fields as the preferred site for the development of 12 affordable rented homes. These are most likely to consist of 4 x 1 bedroom houses, 4 x 2 bedroom houses, 2 x 3 bedroom houses and 2 x 2 bedroom bungalows. For the benefit of those who did not attend this meeting, the location of the one acre site will be in the fields on the left on entering Northwick Road from The Whitehorse Inn.
This mandate means that your CLT will now proceed to the next stage which is to apply for a grant to fund the necessary surveys etc and commence talks with the various Housing Associations to select one to be our partner in this project.
Our membership continues to grow, we now have over 80 members and would like more to join and support us as it is for the benefit of all in our community. Applications for membership can be obtained from Mike Schollar (Tel: 641603).
Mark CLT would like to extend its thanks to all those who attended the public meeting and hope you will continue to support its aims in the foreseeable future.
Listed below is a summary of the questions raised together with the answers given at this session:-
Q Where will the homes be on the site?
A This is to be decided. If we have support in principle for the Northwick/Causeway site, MCLT can apply for grant to meet all the costs involved in preparing a design. This means that we can employ an architect, engineer, land surveyor, ecologist, quantity surveyor etc. We will work with them, the District Council’s planning department, the County Council’s highways department and our housing association partner to develop a layout, drainage and highways access. We will then come back to the wider community for feedback on the design.
Q Why are you proposing that homes should all be for rent. Could some be for shared ownership to help people get on the housing ladder?
A The housing survey found that the overwhelming need in the village is for rented housing; probably because much of the rented housing we use to have was sold under the Right to Buy. In addition, we are proposing to develop on rural land that can only be developed for housing if it is to provide affordable homes for local people. A condition of developing on such land is that shared owners are restricted to owning no more that 80% of their home, something that makes finding a mortgage very difficult.
Q Does the CLT get an easy ride through the planning process?
A In some ways, more is expected of us because we are proposing to develop on land that would not normally be allocated for housing. We need to show that there is a need for affordable homes for local people, and that we are building on a site that is well located in terms of the current development boundary and village facilities. Any planning application will also need to meet all of the same technical requirements as any other development in terms of highway design, drainage, parking etc etc. Once a planning application is made though, CLT schemes tend to be well received by planning committees because they come from within the community and usually have much less opposition than developer-led applications.
Q Could a scheme for affordable homes be proposed by a developer?
A Yes, where there is a need for affordable housing, a developer could offer to meet it by proposing a scheme of market and affordable homes. We would be consulted on this but it would not be led by the community, the land would not be owned by the CLT and we wouldn’t have the same involvement in the choice of site, the design and the criteria for letting the homes.
Q Why have you decided to recommend this site?
A Because it is next to the development boundary for Mark, near village facilities, available on the sort of terms you need to make affordable housing viable and there are no obvious development obstacles. There will no doubt be obstacles to overcome in terms of drainage and road access but none of the other sites we looked at had all of these qualities.
Q Why can’t we have a vote on all of the sites you looked at?
A We simply felt that, as Mark people, we were in a good position to consider all the pros and cons and come to a conclusion about what to recommend. It’s not an exact science and a degree of judgement needs to be made. The recommendation has therefore been made in good faith – if the feeling had been against the site then there was an opportunity for people to say so and we would have gone away to consider others.
Q Would people be able to remain in the homes for ever?
A Yes, but on some conditions. Obviously people would need to keep to their tenancy agreements. If people’s needs change and they want a bigger or smaller house then we and our housing association partner would help them to find one, within the village if possible. There might also be some new checks on income which could mean that if earnings rise above a certain level then either a tenant would be encouraged to move into a market-priced home (something many would do anyway) or asked to pay a market rent rather than a subsidised one. Either way, when the property comes to be relet it would be to a local person who needs it. When we talk about a ‘need’ for affordable housing, this is checked though people registering with Somerset Homefinder, the county-wide waiting list. Applicants with a connection to Mark then have priority, even if their need might be less than someone from elsewhere. In this way, Mark people have an opportunity for an affordable home who might otherwise stand very little chance of being offered one.
Q What about the Right to Buy?
A All the signs are that the government is going to continue to protect new rural homes from being bought by their tenants. This protection has been in place for new rural homes for many years. There may be an arrangement whereby tenants of the new homes do have the Right to Buy but that it will apply to a home in a town or city, rather than their home in the village. The new Right to Buy legislation is due to be published in October so we will see what the impact on our project will be.
Q Who will decide who lives in the new homes?
A MCLT will agree the eligibility criteria in terms of the strength of people’s local connection – the number of years they must have lived here, closeness of any family connection etc. Our housing association partner will then use these criteria to prioritise people applying through Somerset Homefinder. Before offering anyone a tenancy, though, our housing association partner will ask us to verify applicants’ local connections. We won’t be given any confidential personal or financial information – we don’t want that – and nor do we want the right to veto anyone because that could open us up to accusations of favouritism or prejudice. But we will be given the stated local connection of each applicant and, based on our knowledge of people in the community, we will ask the housing association to look again where we don’t think there is a genuine local connection.
Q Why have you recommended this mix of house-types?
A This mix meets the needs of people who responded to the housing needs survey and are registered on Somerset Homefinder. It’s also a good balance of different types which should serve the village well over many years. We need to show that the mix is appropriate to the needs of the village in any planning application.