We Can’t Afford to Neglect Affordable Housing

In Kidlington affordable housing is not just difficult to find, it’s pretty much impossible. Recognised as one of the most expensive areas of the district to live in, Kidlington does have some affordable housing in areas but the problem is that most of it is owned and allocated by the City Council. Indeed large areas of the village have been given over to the city’s needs, not least Grovelands which was built almost entirely for the City Council’s use.

And soon we’ll have even more, with the local plan partial review, which was adopted in 2020 after 3 years of objection and protest from local residents and pressure groups, providing yet more housing for the City’s needs with the 50% so-called affordable element having been signed over to the City Council’s control in a closed meeting during the first lockdown in 2020.

We all know that the term ‘affordable housing’ is virtually meaningless in Oxfordshire, but even so, very little is built in Kidlington. Even when the district council’s policy to to ensure that 30% of all new housing on larger estates is ‘affordable’, we hardly see anything being built that fulfils that criteria.

The flats above the Co-op were essentially given over to the flying school for their exclusive use, even though 3 of the apartments were meant to be available for residents needing affordable accommodation. At least 15 of those flats should have been designated affordable, but the district council messed up the planning application and we ended up with just 3 units available, with the rest being let on the open market. The agreement with developer in that case was so badly negotiated that in 3 years only 1 of those flats has been let on an affordable basis. The terms demand that the council must nominate someone within a 28 day window once a year which is almost impossible to do.

Flats on the old Co-Op car park site now almost exclusively let to a local flying school at market rent

15 more flats are due to be built on the Kidlington Garage site at the top of the Bicester Road. When the planning application was agreed the developers were supposed to provide £609,000 in lieu of the 5 affordable apartments. But 6 months later they returned to the planning committee with a viability assessment that argued they couldn’t afford to make any contribution at all. Nothing! Zilch!

This is because the government mandates that developers should be guaranteed a profit of 20% on all developments (how nice it would be for other businesses to be guaranteed a profit by the government!). This leaves it open for developers to game the system and make claims that they can’t meet this profitability threshold and thereby reduce or, as in this case, completely remove their responsibility to provide any affordable units or money in lieu.

I and my fellow Green Councillor Fiona Mawson thought this was wrong and we tabled a motion to refuse the planning application if no affordable element was provided. Sadly, as we and our opposition group are outnumbered on the planning committee, the plans were approved by the Conservative majority.

Subsequently I brought a motion to the council to increase our affordable requirement on larger developments from 30% to 50% to bring us in line with the City policy. As we have agreed to that percentage on the developments being built in and around Kidlington for the City Council, I thought it only fair that we should give our own residents the same consideration. I was pleased to see that the motion was passed almost unanimously.

It’s still sobering to think though that out of around 90 apartments that have been built in Kidlington in the past 5 years, only 3 have been designated affordable and as I explained above, out of those 3, only one has actually been let to a family that needed it.

Cherwell is desperately in need of a change of direction in this issue. We need a council who is prepared to stand up to developers and push for better deals for all our residents. Moreover we need to ensure more affordable developments are brought on line that will benefit local families rather than forcing them to split up as grown children need to move away from their area simply because they can’t afford a home of their own. I believe a change of administration next month could see that better direction and I hope to be a part of that.


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