Policy Option 30 - Affordable Homes

Policy Option 30 - Affordable Homes

Affordable homes are greatly needed across Oxfordshire. The OGNA Phase 1 Report stated that 'evidence points to a very significant scale of need for affordable housing in Oxfordshire'. Across the county, average house prices are at over 10 times median earnings, and up to 17 times median earnings in the city of Oxford. The high cost of housing has significant impacts for those living and working in Oxfordshire, as well as on economic growth. High house prices have led to those working in Oxfordshire needing to commute longer distances to and from their workplace, which in turn puts increased pressure on transport infrastructure across the county.

Increasing land values across Oxfordshire combined with land availability constraints, means that it is likely that house prices will worsen during the plan period. Innovative methods of construction, such as 'Modern Methods of Construction' (MMC) can reduce the building cost of housing, including affordable housing, whilst also securing energy gains for residents. Community-led housing (CLH) schemes are also an innovative way in which affordable housing supply can be boosted. CLH schemes also help to deliver not only much needed affordable homes, but also additional benefits to the communities they serve, as the homes are delivered by local people for local people. As identified in the OGNA Phase 1 Report, other initiatives such as local authority house building (supported by national Government) could help to boost affordable housing delivery, and also help councils to return to their historic role as provider of homes in the four districts and the City of Oxford.

Importantly, the delivery of affordable homes is also influenced by Government funding and initiatives aimed at increasing affordable housing supply (both for rent and purchase) including home ownership through subsidised routes such as shared ownership and the First Homes scheme. First Homes are a specific kind of discounted market sale housing and is the Government's preferred discounted market tenure and should account for at least 25% of all affordable housing units delivered by developers through planning obligations. In order to quality as a First Home, a property must be sold at least 30% below the open market value, however local authorities and neighbourhood planning groups have discretion to require a higher minimum discount of either 40% or 50% if they can demonstrate a need for this. Local authorities are also encouraged to ensure that First Homes work well in their area, which may include requiring a higher minimum discount, lower price or income caps, or local connection/key worker requirements. This provides an opportunity for all the Oxfordshire authorities to understand their individual needs.

Public funding is also a key factor in helping to support delivery, and locally this has been secured through the Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal and is also available at a national level through the Government's Affordable Homes Programme. A variety of methods will be needed to ensure the delivery of affordable homes in Oxfordshire is maximised, and the inclusion of an affordable homes policy in the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 is a way in which it can help achieve this aim.

The provision of affordable housing is well established nationally and locally, with the NPPF setting out clearly that affordable housing should not be sought for residential developments that are not major developments, other than in designated rural areas (where policies may set out a lower threshold of 5 units or fewer).

Policy Options

In order to help address the acute affordable housing needs across the county, it is proposed that the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 includes an overarching policy that ensures maximum levels of affordable housing are delivered on new residential sites across Oxfordshire. This would mean that the detail surrounding tenure mix and affordable housing requirements (expressed as a percentage) would remain a decision for local authorities to include in their local plans in light of local evidence. The Oxfordshire Plan is not setting a county-wide figure for affordable housing.

One alternative policy option would be to include percentage requirements and/or tenure mix targets in the Oxfordshire Plan to ensure a consistent, strong and diverse affordable housing mix across the county. However, this is not the preferred policy option as it could potentially overlook the differences in the housing market across Oxfordshire. Affordable housing requirements vary across the Oxfordshire authorities and it is important that all the authorities retain this flexibility to be able to respond to local circumstances. It would also be difficult to ensure that the policy has the necessary flexibility to plan over the longer term to 2050, when the needs of Oxfordshire might change. The remaining alternative option would be to not include an affordable homes policy in the Oxfordshire Plan, but instead leave all decisions and detail regarding affordable housing to local plans.

Preferred Policy Proposal

Policy Option 30: Affordable Housing

In order to help address affordable housing needs across the county, the Oxfordshire Plan would require local plans (and neighbourhood plans where relevant) to seek maximum levels of affordable housing on residential (use Class C2/C3) development sites of 10 units or more, those in excess of 0.5ha (subject to local viability considerations), and within the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB’s) development sites of over 5 units.

In order to ensure residential development sites are well integrated and cohesive, the affordable housing units should be visually indistinguishable from market housing on site, and thus 'tenure blind'.

Affordable housing units should also be distributed throughout the site to prevent concentrations of affordable homes in one particular area. Any limitations on number of affordable units being clustered in groups should be set out in local plans, informed by local evidence and site-specific circumstances.

Tenure mix targets and affordable housing requirements (expressed as a percentage) will be for local plans to decide in the light of local evidence.

Innovative arrangements such as Community Led Housing schemes will be supported.

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Alternative Policy Option 30-01

Instead of leaving tenure mix to local plans, should the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 set tenure mix targets across Oxfordshire?

This could be added to the policy set out above. An example of how percentages could be split (that reflect existing local plans and between the City of Oxford and neighbouring Districts) is as follows:

  • 25% Affordable Rented
  • 35% Social Rented
  • 15% other routes to affordable housing (including shared ownership)
  • 25% First Homes

But the risk of this approach is that it is less robust and reflective of changing circumstances over the longer-term period that the Oxfordshire Plan is intending to address.

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