Speech – Affordable Housing Amendment


Affordable Housing Amendment


Deputy Ferbrache began by urging us to make the right decision, having carefully considered the arguments. I fully agree with him. I therefore rise simply to add a couple of items to the evidence he laid before us, which I would ask members to consider before reaching their conclusion.

Deputy Ferbrache quoted two of the three points made in the letter we received from Mr Wilkinson, who he describes as a man of integrity and experience in this area. I wondered whether it was still necessary to complete the set, given that Mr Wilkinson has now emailed us all, urging us to support the IDP without amendment – that is, with the threshold starting at developments of five houses. But if the first two points of his letter were worth quoting in this Assembly, his third point should perhaps be given the same dignity. In it, he says: “The IDP would be better than further extension of the current Urban and Rural Area Plans.” He goes on to say: “Yes, GP11 will hold back development but, taking the planners at their word, no projects will be thwarted because of affordable housing provision. The IDP will open up other possibilities for development and should relax some current constraints, thereby creating construction work.”

He did not seem especially fond of policy GP11. But he agrees – as the GHA agree – that it can be made to work. That it will not stifle the economy, or leave construction workers on the dole.

And that is the other piece of information I would ask members to consider. Deputy Ferbrache has asked us to consider ordinary island workers in our vote. As a member of the Committee for Employment and Social Security, it is my job to care about ordinary island workers, so I take that challenge seriously.

As members of the Committee, we receive detailed monthly unemployment figures. Nerd that I am, I look at them in depth. I know that there is unemployment among people trained or experienced in construction and related sectors – as there is in every sector of our workforce. Looking at the figures now, last month it seems that 31 people who were currently unemployed last worked in a sector relating to construction – including sectors such as plumbing and electricity, which Deputy Ferbrache referred to. Half of those people are aged under 30. Only one in six is aged over 50. While that is still a concern, it is not, I submit, quite the same concern as was described to us, of lifelong workers being reluctantly laid off; nor are its causes likely to be quite those described.

Sir, the combination of planning covenants on larger developments and tariffs on smaller developments (which we will come to later) will help to ensure that landowners and developers – those who benefit most, financially, from our need, as a community, for housing – contribute fairly towards the development of housing for those who cannot access it at market rates. Those people, who are shut out of the housing market, include many of the ordinary workers, whose future is important to all of us.

We know the industry will adjust to this policy, because we know they are already meeting to talk about the best ways to get around it – just as Deputy Kuttelwascher has intimated. While that is hardly the most encouraging reason to support the policy, it is evidence that threats of the industry curling up and going away are simply that – threats.

There are far better arguments – social and financial – for supporting planning covenants, which Deputy Roffey set out so clearly in his opening speech. It works. It is inclusive. It shares the financial burden. Members will recall that planning permission in Guernsey can increase the value of land by up to 4,000% – from less than 90,000, to more than 3-and-a-half million pounds. Members will recall, too, that the calculations used to recommend 20-30% affordable housing on each development were based on developers’ margins – on finding a balance that recognises developers’ commercial nature and viability. Members will have different views about whether or not this is now, or was then, the correct threshold to set – but Members will recognise, I am sure, that the policy was motivated by the need to establish a reasonable and fair contribution from those who profit from development, in order to meet the needs of those who never could.

Deputy Fallaize and Deputy Roffey made the point well. Either the logic for planning covenants works, or it does not. There is no difference between former Housing Target Areas and other areas of land where development may take place. To be absolutely clear, all but two of those Housing Target Areas are privately owned. Requiring those private owners, but not to others, to be bound by planning covenants is manifestly unfair. On that basis alone, the amendment laid by Deputy Ferbrache and Deputy Oliver should be disregarded.

Grudgingly, I recognise the concern that one in five may be a step too far at this present time, and I accept Deputy Langlois’ argument that, in the Guernsey context, 10 units is a reasonable boundary between small and large developments. As such, I intend to support the Queripel amendment, and encourage fellow States Members to do the same.

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