Greedy developers were forcing people out of the Penistone area by finding ways to ignore Barnsley Council’s policy on affordable housing, Penistone Area Councillors believe.
Tory Leader John Wilson said the current system was “stacked up in favour of the developers. Every single development comes along and affordable housing is nothing compared to our existing policy,” he said.
And Coun Ann Rusby said: “I do feel we allow the developers to get away, especially in this area.”
The council was discussing Barnsley Council’s housing strategy and plans to increase the number of affordable homes on any major development from 25 to 30pc.
Builders who do not provide sufficient affordable homes on a development of more than 15 houses are expected to pay the cost of creating homes elsewhere. But councillors heard that that need not be in the Penistone area.
Sarah Cartwright, Barnsley’s Housing Growth Development Manager, said her team would always push for lower-cost homes as part of the main development.
But she added: “We’ve also got to think about where our housing needs are and how affordable housing will fit in. We negotiate an agreement that covers the whole of the borough so there is more flexibility to provide the affordable housing in the areas that need it the most.”
She wanted on-site provision but land in Penistone was more expensive, which pushed up the cost to developers.
“You have to negotiate it with the developers and they want to keep it as tight as possible. Their preference is often to keep the money in that small area because then you’ve got less chance of spending it and they get it back at some point if you don’t get through the money.”
Coun Rusby claimed the 25pc affordable housing was never achieved. She said there was not one affordable house at the Grammar School Gardens development, only 16 out of 139 in a planned development at Hartcliff and six out of 66 at Hoylandswaine.
“I do think you allow the developers to dictate where these affordable houses go, they are not going where the local people want them.
“We are not arguing strongly enough for it. If we said do it or you can’t build on that site, they’d start to think.
“It’s greed and they should be made to build there. You can’t keep saying people have to live in a cheap area, it’s not on.
“Take a young professional couple who haven’t got the financial backing that say two solicitors, man and wife, or doctors have: you’re telling me that they have no right or that it is somehow detrimental to the site and that this young couple who are earning less should have to go elsewhere.
“I can’t see why we have this policy of 25pc affordable housing, which is going up to 30pc, when we never ever achieve anything like it.”
She said there were also issues for older people wanting to downsize and make their existing home available for larger families. It meant they had to move out of the area, “an area where they’ve probably lived all their lives. It’s discrimination.
“We are an aging population. Why would one single old person want to live in a three or four-bedroomed house that needs heating and all the rest? There’s nowhere for them to go in the area.”
Chairman Robert Barnard said paying compensation rather than building affordable homes “may be OK but it is providing affordable housing somewhere outside Penistone. It is forcing people to move out of the area to get on the housing ladder. This is the main complaint.
“If people think any policy is negotiable they’ll try to negotiate. If they realised it’s a take it or leave it there’s no point in negotiating.”
Coun Wilson said the policy was a good one but was treated more as an aspiration: “There’s so much within the policy that is biased towards the developer,” he said. “If the developer says 30pc is no good and here’s my evidence that I’ve paid somebody to produce for me and then the Planning Board says OK, it doesn’t stack up in Penistone, we forget the policy.
“I don’t think any of my comments have held much weight, they are just brushed aside, as is this policy in most cases. I don’t think we ever achieve our 25pc. We should robustly say this is our policy, don’t deviate from it. If you can’t do it we’ll wait until the developer does come along who will adhere to our policy.
“It’s stacked up in favour of the developers and it’s been proved time and time again. Every single development comes along and affordable housing is nothing compared to our existing policy.
Ms Cartwright said if a developer was not willing to provide the affordable housing required they had to provide a business case to show there are viability issues with the scheme.
“There is a need for all types of affordable housing in the Penistone area,” she said. “So when we get an application in we can give evidence to the developer to say you need to provide this affordable housing. But we’ve always got to think about where we have sites to develop it.”
Labour councillor Joe Unsworth, chair of Penistone Planning Committee, said affordable housing was not the only issue with plans for another 1,400 houses in the area. “There’s creaking infrastructure in the area, with schools, roads and health services under stress,” he said.
Ms Cartwight said the policy was about building new houses but it also about ensuring Barnsley had got the correct quality of houses. The aim was to build around 25,000 new houses at the rate of up to 1,400 a year across the borough. Around 200 a year would be affordable. There was also a need for more private rented houses and 2,500 large higher-value houses.