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07/04/2015

Affordable housing DIY

If we're to meet the nation's housing needs, councils need to start building affordable homes again, argues Birmingham City Council planner Lesley Sheldrake. A scheme in the city is leading the way

Birmingham has a severe shortage of affordable homes. This is due to falling housing delivery rates and changes to national planning policy. Those changes have led developers to seek removal or reduction of previously agreed affordable housing obligations and to pursue ‘prior approval’ change of use schemes, which provide market but not affordable homes.

To try to redress the balance councils have to take the initiative and start building public housing again. In 2009 Birmingham decided to do just that after the introduction of government financial freedoms.

Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust (BMHT) was launched to:

• 
Deliver more affordable homes
• 
Help to boost job opportunities
• 
Kick-start regeneration schemes.

BMHT initially sought to develop 124 homes for rent on four sites. Timely use of funding was paramount so the council set up its core team of dedicated officers from planning management, urban design, landscape, housing regeneration and highways to rigorously assess proposed schemes.

"BMHT schemes have now provided 702 homes for rent and 614 dwellings for sale on 35 sites across the city"

This identified constraints at an early stage and provided subsequent efficiencies in following the process through from design until completion of the development. Detailed permission was sought up front; an essential part of the process that allowed homes to be constructed to bespoke designs as soon as possible by the council’s development partner.

With reductions in grant funding, most sites now provide a mix of tenures to help viability. A financial model has been developed by BMHT that allows the developer to ‘build now and pay later’ to cut risks and upfront costs. BMHT schemes have now provided 702 homes for rent and 614 dwellings for sale on 35 sites across the city.

The model has also been used on several larger stalled regeneration schemes where master plans include sites for retail/community facilities and open space focusing on placemaking.

Related ‘development agreements’ ensure that other benefits are provided, including apprenticeships and contributions for the Building Birmingham Scholarship to help train planners and urban designers of the future.

BMHT has led the council to provide affordable homes for five years and it continues to do so. The integrated design, planning and delivery process has also ensured that the council can make a robust and timely contribution to provision of new affordable homes.

Lesley Sheldrake is a planning officer working in planning management at Birmingham City Council
 

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