Rural council in North Yorkshire to gift land to developers so they can build affordable housing

A small rural council is set to consider taking the radical step of turning back the clock to before the Thatcherite policy of selling council houses by gifting hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of publicly-owned land so much-needed affordable housing can be developed.

The proposal to be debated by Richmondshire District Council’s corporate board on Tuesday, would see small sites the authority owns at Honeypot Road, Brompton, Maythorne in Leyburn and at St Paulinus, Catterick Village, handed over to Broadacres Housing Association.

The properties would be kept as affordable housing in perpetuity to ensure a supply of housing for future generations of young people.

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Members will also consider awarding funding up to £217,000 from housing developers’ contributions for affordable housing to enable development of the Bainbridge Methodist Chapel in Wensleydale to create two homes at an affordable rent in a rural part of the district where finding suitable sites is difficult.

Land at the back of Honeypot Road in Brompton

The moves are the latest efforts by the council to address the lack of housing that is affordable to younger workers across the district.

It is believed the subsidies or gifting of land to developers could be used as a template for small-scale developments in parts of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, where the housing situation is particularly stark as property prices have soared there by more than 20 per cent over the last year.

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An officers’ report to the meeting states the gifting of housing sites would promote the delivery of affordable housing by making redevelopment financially viable as the cost of land is often a key barrier to developing affordable housing, particularly on small sites with high development costs and few opportunities to capture economies of scale.

It states: “By adopting the principle of gifting the sites the council is forgoing potential financial returns of between £208,000 (market value) and £45,000 (affordable housing value). These potential “losses”, added to a £50,000 council subsidy represent the council’s financial stake needed in the project to deliver the affordable housing units.”

Councillors are also being asked to consider using an extra £100,000 of developers’ contributions for affordable housing to increase the energy efficiency of the affordable properties at non-national park sites, which the authority believes could be built within a year.

Ahead of the meeting, the council’s spokesperson for operational services, Councillor Richard Good said overcoming the hurdles to developing small sites was crucial in Richmondshire.

He said: “The government is now saying developers have to provide affordable housing on developments of over 20 properties, but we don’t often get those in Richmondshire and certainly not in the national park.

“The damage that selling council houses has done over the years is tremendous. The waiting lists we now have for council housing is awful. If you look at all the villages in the national park they all have about four council houses that were built by the old rural district councils, pretty much all of which have been sold.

“Using public money for housing isn’t wrong in that sense as we used to do it for council housing. It is in the interests of all of us to create affordable homes or else we won’t have any young people living in the Dales or elsewhere in the district.”