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Tuesday
Feb072012

Equity housing respond to questions

Our thanks to Lynn May for putting the following questions to Equity Housing, who replied swiftly and apologised for not coming to Saturday's meeting.

  • What  is your definition of “affordable” housing? (I appreciate that the selling  price may be subject to the housing market at the time of sale but I assume  you can give a minimum figure.)
  • The properties  will be developed for Shared Ownership. Shared Ownership is primarily aimed at  first time buyers but can include current home owners in exceptional  circumstances such as relationship breakdown etc. Under the terms of Shared  Ownership, we can only sell an initial share in the property of between  25-75%. You are correct that on most schemes, the purchaser can staircase out  to 100% should they have a change in circumstances and be able to afford to,  however given this is a designated rural exception site, the maximum share  that a purchaser can buy through staircasing is 80%. At present, we estimate  that the full open market values will be in the range of £150-175,000. Clearly  this is just an assumption used for financial appraisal purposes and this will  be set much closer to the point of release. Our funders insist that we go to  market with an independent valuation no more than 3 months  old.

 

  • What  is your definition of “local people” in the context of your application? Would  residents of Ashton Hayes have first priority in terms of purchasing one of  these “affordable” houses?
  • This will  be stipulated within the final Section 106 agreement. At present we have an  initial draft and yes, residents within Ashton Hayes will be given first  priority on the properties. This will also apply to those deemed to have a  'strong local connection' to the Parish i.e. immediate family or employed  within the village. This then cascades out to the next parish (s) but the  Local Authority haven't completed this section yet so I am unsure as which  villages it refers to, following a further period, if we still haven't  allocated all of the properties, it moves to a ward level and finally after  this, the Local Authority will approve eligible purchasers. This cascade  process is the fairest way of ensuring that local residents and those with a  strong local connection get first priority on the properties but also protects  ourselves in ensuring the properties are not left empty indefinitely. We would  be delighted if all of the properties were sold to local residents and their  families. This is the purpose of us wishing to develop affordable housing  within the area - to meet local needs.

 

  • I  understand from its Planning Statement (clause 3.2) that Equity Housing would  be happy to enter into a Section 106 agreement “in order to ensure that the  developments would be affordable in perpetuity.” Is this correct and if so,  how would this be achieved? (The FAQ section of Equity Housing’s website  refers to purchasers being able to “staircase” their ownership to 100%. This  presumably means that they can then resell their properties at full market  value.)
  • I think I have  covered this above. The only other point I would make is that there is one  exception to the 80% maximum share clause and that is the mortgagee in  possession clause. Therefore a purchaser can only ever buy up to 80% however  should a property be repossessed then the mortgage lender does have the option  to sell 100% of the property value. Without this clause, we would find that  purchasers would be unable to obtain mortgages given the risk to the lender of  having a more limited pool of purchasers who would only meet the eligibility  criteria of affordable housing. This is obviously a very exceptional  circumstance and whilst we assess applicants ability to sustain a mortgage on  the property at point of sale, we obviously cannot account for future changes  in circumstances. In any case, the mortgage lender will always come to  ourselves at the first sign of a pending repossession to ask if we wish to buy  the property from them. We usually find this is beneficial to do as it is our  equity that takes the 'first hit' on any legal costs etc associated with the  repossession hence the chance of this clause being exercised are relatively  slim. If we did buy back, then we would look to sell as shared ownership  again.

 

  • I note  your commitment to the statutory minimum level of sustainability (Code 3.)  However, you will be aware that Ashton Hayes has been bidding for some six  years to become the country’s first carbon neutral community, an aspiration  overwhelmingly supported by residents and underpinned by hundreds of thousands  of pounds in Government grants. I am not alone in wishing to see a much  greater commitment to sustainability in this pioneering village than adherence  to minimum standards. Would Equity Housing be prepared to increase its  commitment to Code 5 (which is the minimum set by some local authorities) – or  even higher?
  • As discussed,  we have funding to develop this scheme to Code level 3 primarily  through a fabric first approach. We are also keen to install Solar PV to the  roofs of the properties to assist with running costs for residents. We are  hopeful that this will achieve a Code level 4 dwelling but cannot commit to  this at this stage until the code assessment has been worked up in more  detail. Im afraid level 5 or 6 is not financially viable for us. We are  developing a Code 5 scheme in Stockport at present and the outturn costs are  c.£20,000 per unit extra over compared to Code  3. 

 

  • What measures does Equity Housing  propose to take to address drainage issues given the problems the village has  had over many years with flooding?
  • This is a  question I will have to refer to our design team but I can assure you that  drainage is an important component within the Code for Sustainable homes hence  we will have to consider any attenuation as required, potentially through  sustainable urban drainage or similar. I will come back to you on this point  as soon as possible.

Is Equity Housing proposing to build a footpath to connect the site to the centre of the village?

 

Not that I am aware of. I understand that there is an existing footpath bordering the site and that this will be retained. The plans show a footpath running down the side of the site, which is intended as a safe waiting place to cross the road to access the footpath on the other side of Ashton Lane and tidies up the boundary of the site. We feel this is a much safer enhancement to the situation that existing properties already have to face of coming straight out of their garden gates onto the highway.

 

  • I note  that the proposed development includes space for two cars per property. Is  additional car parking being made available on the site for visitor  parking?
  • 200% parking is  the requirement that the Planning officer has requested which we have complied  with. 

 

  • Has  Equity Housing’s application 11/05914/FUL been developed specifically with  Ashton Hayes in mind – or is it a generic application that is being rolled out  in other areas throughout the country? I ask because there is a reference to  Lancashire County Council in the Design and Access Statement as in:  “Externally vehicular access to the site has been discussed and agreed with  Lancashire County Council Highways and the new access road will be proposed  for adoption.”
  • The planning  application is specific to the development and I have personally sat  in several design team meetings to look at this development and  meetings have been held with the planning officer over the development. I can  only assume that our consultant has worked on a design and access statement  they have used on another development as the format for design and access  statements remains fairly static with scheme specific details filled in and I  apologise for this element of our  submission.

 

  • I  recognise that the reference to Lancashire County Council may be a typing  error. If so, it does demonstrate a level of carelessness over this  application which is of great concern. What assurance can you give that a  similar level of carelessness has not characterised other aspects of your  planning application?
  • I certainly  hope that all other aspects in the application are correct and again apologise  for the error. 

 

  • Does  Equity Housing have plans/proposals for further residential development in  Ashton Hayes (i.e. beyond the current planning application?) If so, what are  they?
  • No. At present  we do not have any other proposals for future  development.

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