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Letter: Guildford Is Deprived of Affordable Housing

Published on: 1 Jun, 2016
Updated on: 1 Jun, 2016

Guildford Housing House NumberFrom Tony Rooth

lead councillor for housing and Conservative ward councillor for Pilgrims

Surely Guildford has a serious housing shortage? “No!” according to the shouts of several in the audience at the recent council meeting about the draft Local Plan.

But let’s face reality. Guildford may actually be one of the most deprived places in the country for affordable homes.

A recent government ONS [Office of National Statistics] survey found Guildford to be not only the UK’s least deprived town but also the 4th town in the country on a list of those with the highest house prices.

A separate home survey shows average prices of £276,000 to buy a 1-bed flat, £400,000 for 2-bed and £526,000 for 3-beds in GU1. Our private rental market is equally costly with monthly rents rated on average as high as £740 for a single room, £1,000 for a 1 bed , and £ 1,495 for a two-bed flat .

emails letterLower paid workers including teachers, nurses, police officers and carers just don’t earn enough to live here in rented, let alone their own accommodation. So the draft Local Plan provides for 40% affordable housing in new developments.

Our borough also needs many more smaller homes available for all ages and needs. The young looking for a first home, older ‘empty-nesters’ wanting to downsize and stay local and those wishing to move or work within the borough.

The draft Local Plan requires at least 80% of new build housing to be 1, 2 and 3-bed, supported by suitable infrastructure including transport, education and healthcare.

We must make best use of land available hence the council’s firm policy of building on “brownfield first”. However, brownfield covers only 9% of the borough’s land area.  Realistically, therefore, although with regret, we have to look at using a small part of our 89% green belt to meet our clear housing need.

Otherwise, Guildford may become ranked as one of the UK’s most deprived towns for homes that most people can afford to rent, let alone buy.

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Responses to Letter: Guildford Is Deprived of Affordable Housing

  1. George Potter Reply

    June 1, 2016 at 1:00 pm

    In response to Tony Rooth, I’ve rarely read rhetoric so divorced from reality. He identifies the problem well enough, but the Local Plan he’s supporting is definitely not the solution.

    Guildford absolutely has a lack of affordable homes, especially homes available for affordable rents.

    However, 80% of the typical market house price does not constitute “affordable” by any stretch of the imagination. Yet that’s the definition the council is using for the affordable housing requirement in the Local Plan.

    In the real world, most people, especially those on low incomes, won’t be helped by building “affordable” houses which in reality are just slightly less extortionately priced houses.

    How about building more honest-to-goodness social housing? That would be far more help than overpriced, pack-em-in “affordable” housing.

    Although, given the millions of pounds which the Conservatives took from the house-building reserves to pay to build GLive (before handing it over to a private company), I expect attempting to build social housing might be another case of “there’s no money left”.

  2. John Robson Reply

    June 1, 2016 at 1:36 pm

    Surely the Conservatives had the old brownfield / green belt stats to hand when they misled the electorate and pledged to “protect the greenbelt”?

    GBC’s Local Plan won’t deliver affordable houses, unless it’s “economically viable” and for the low cost, minute, cardboard boxes that prospective developers do deliver, how will GBC ensure these are not bought off plan by overseas or buy-to-let investors? They won’t and they can’t because it will probably be against European law.

    If the housing crisis is so chronic:-

    a. Why haven’t GBC replaced the council housing that the Conservatives’ policy has caused to be sold off?

    b. Why haven’t they compelled the university to build out its student accommodation so families can reclaim the town centre student ghetto’s conveniently created by the university so they can errr solve their housing crisis?

    In this economic period of constant uncertainty, where there is little guarantee of continuous employment and where people have contracts not careers.

    Do the Conservatives really expect us to believe that people who have lives and families in other towns will instantly uproot those families at the thought of being offered a £200-300k two-bed cardboard box, with no guarantee of school places and where it takes 30 minutes to “drive” two miles into town.

    This Local Plan isn’t for the deprived and the people, written by Westminster, this is for the developer and profits.

    Finally, if we have too much green belt, why are GBC proposing to expand it at Tongham and Ash?

  3. D Fassom Reply

    June 1, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    The Local Plan is based on an assessment of required housing numbers. This used to be around 400 houses per year for Guildford Borough. The new plan is based on a new study by a firm that advises developers, among others, and this firm refuses to share it’s methodology even with the councillors and officers charged with developing the plan, let alone a public that would like the courtesy of honesty and transparency.

    Now, they have estimated around 750-800 houses per year are suddenly needed. What a surprise you may ask.

    Yes, let’s develop affordable houses and flats in the areas where these key workers actually work. This tends to be in Guildford (use brownfield) and in the university (where there already is land allocated for building but the university is refusing to build because they want to release green belt land that they also own to make a whopping profit.

    Cllr Rooth should insist that his councillor colleagues push for the release and public scrutiny of the housing number assessment, we can then design a plan that actually delivers what we need based on facts, not numbers, the basis of which is unknown, from an advisor.

    There are currently over 3,000 properties for sale or rent within five miles of Guildford town centre already. Cllr Rooth should think on that before despoiling the nation’s green belt with thousands of more boxes and attendant traffic on the basis of suspect numbers.

  4. Jules Cranwell Reply

    June 1, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    Yet more spin from the Tories who promised to protect the greenbelt. 8% of the current green belt is not ‘small’ by any stretch of the imagination.

    Perhaps Cllr Rooth could explain just how a young family can afford the “affordable” price tag of £320,000 for a three-bedroom house, and how he will compel developers to deliver these, given the “subject to financial viability” clause GBC has handed them.

    He should be compelling the developers to build on the brownfield, rather than handing over the countryside, where they will only be interested in building executive homes, to maximise their profits.

  5. James Wild Reply

    June 1, 2016 at 10:44 pm

    I wonder what effects Cllr Rooth perceives the new starter homes policy is going to have on the delivery of social rented affordable homes and the council waiting lists?

    The council must have had targets to reduce the waiting list for social rented housing and I would have thought that this new policy to allow the 20% starter homes count towards affordable is a major set back to these targets

    Also, what about the delivery of the social housing on the large strategic sites? Are these sites going to yield up their 40% affordable element up front or are they going to be allowed to stagger the delivery of the land for these homes?

    These are important questions because as we know the large strategic sites are programmed to deliver most of their allocations in the last 10 years of the plan and it would be good to understand the council’s thinking on this.

    On the starter homes policy, the government has put a £250k price cap on starter homes outside of London. House builders will obviously try to argue that they will only be providing the smallest of flats for this money. How is the council going to insist on two-bed and three-bed units? Is this written into proposed policy?

    Finally, I do not envy Cllr Rooth’s task with all the recent planning changes and wish him all the best in getting this much needed social housing delivered.

  6. Roland McKinney Reply

    June 2, 2016 at 12:05 am

    Could Cllr Rooth provide a link to the ONS survey he mentions? As the ONS do not normally conduct surveys I’d be interested to see it, it would signal a huge change in the remit of the ONS. I’d like a link to the second survey mentioned too.

    I’ve just looked at one-bedroomed properties listed by Rightmove within Guildford. There are 40, of which 27 are lower in price than £276,000. So the average price given by Cllr Rooth seems to be on the high side – but this is irrelevant to those on or close to the minimum wage, or zero hours contracts.

    They cannot afford even these so called “affordable” homes. So it is astonishing that the GBC Local Plan wants to expand traditional bricks and mortar retailing, as well as warehousing and distribution. These occupations are mostly low paid, at or close to minimum wage. So the Local Plan wants to expand the number of people employed within Guildford, on the minimum wage, but wants to build “affordable” houses outside the town – which these workers can’t afford anyway. Where will they be housed?

    As Cllr Rooth has endorsed this plan, perhaps he could tell us where these low paid workers will be housed, and why he thinks housing outside the town would be appropriate for them? Does he have a major social housing programme that he is keeping secret?

  7. Ben Paton Reply

    June 2, 2016 at 11:01 am

    The debate about housing “affordability'” is based on an apples and pears comparison – which is fundamentally misleading.

    It compares capital and annual income whereas it should compare annual income versus annual expense. Any comparison of capital to annual income at at time when interest rates are at secular lows (Bank of England Base Rate is at 0.5%) will inevitably produce very high ratios. And of course those who want to build houses deliberately choose this comparison because it provides another specious reason for building.

    The correct apples vs apples comparison is to compare someone’s annual income with the annual interest cost of a mortgage to buy a house or the rental cost to rent a house.

    Since interest rates are very low borrowing to buy a house is in fact more affordable. If the average home in Guildford costs £473,000 and was purchased on a 100% mortgage at a rate of 3% pa the annual interest cost would be some £14,000. That’s roughly half of average incomes in Guildford.

    The real shortage of housing in Guildford is in social housing – which is a direct result of Cllr Rooth’s Conservative Party policies of selling off council houses and not building any for a twenty year period.

    The council has access to extremely cheap loans from the Treasury. It appears to prefer to “invest” in office blocks than in council houses.

  8. Tony Edwards Reply

    June 2, 2016 at 11:27 am

    There would appear to be a severe shortfall in joined-up thinking in Cllr Rooth’s “affordable” world of housing. But then he’s a member of a Tory party which promised to protect the green belt and then reneged on that commitment, so logic is conspicuous by its absence.

    We should all fear for the future of Guildford at the hands of such councillors.

  9. John Perkins Reply

    June 2, 2016 at 1:09 pm

    Cllr. Rooth states that only 9% of the area of the borough is brownfield. That would be sufficient for 70-120,000 new dwellings using the Government target density per hectare.

  10. Alderman Gordon Bridger Reply

    June 5, 2016 at 12:03 pm

    Councillor Rooth has one of the most important portfolios and one of the most difficult.

    There is widespread agreement that in this case market forces have not delivered the right balance of houses we need to ensure as good, if not better, for future generations.

    The council’s target of 40% affordable is a desirable target but is going to difficult to achieve and as several correspondents observed pose problems.

    Apart from the questionable nature of 80% estimated rent being classed as affordable, the Government’s right to buy policy undermines the longer term benefits of the system.

    Funding these houses through the traditional method of requiring developers to use brownfield sites is not going to produce many houses and merely pushes up the prices of market houses, in order to subsidise them.

    The only fair and efficient way of funding significant numbers is through community gain from making some modest inroads into green belt land – the 1.6% does not sound unreasonable for surely we need to find houses for younger people and there are areas which could be used.

    The GBC Housing Plan will need to be more specific and differentiate between the economic need for housing and social need.

    Without economic growth, funding the latter will be a problem.

    In order to retain and allocate housing the best solution would be more council housing, but the Government appears to be putting restrictions on this solution and is unwisely encouraging sale.

    Another solution would be to encourage employers of labour, such as the University of Surrey, the Royal Surrey County Hospital, maybe schools and larger enterprises, even the council, to fund housing for key staff for say five years to enable them to be built.

  11. Cllr Tony Rooth Reply

    June 11, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    I obtained the information about Guildford being “least deprived (and fourth highest for house prices) town” from the ONS report entitled Towns and cities analysis March 2016.

    The house prices and rentals are from

    Finally, the borough council takes the lead on the provision of affordable social housing. We are one of the few councils to keep our council housing stock around 5,000.

    We have also recently built a further 65 and plan to build more on our own available sites including Guildford Park car park where we will submit plans for 160 new homes, including 40% affordable and a replacement car park – a win , win for housing and parking on a brownfield site.

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